Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Southampton, League Cup Fifth Round

Emirates Stadium, London
Wednesday, November 30
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Kevin Friend
    • Assistants: Jake Collin and Matthew Wilkes
    • 4th Official: Mark Clattenburg
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 46 Arsenal wins, 19 Southampton wins, 25 draws
  • All-Time in League Cup: 4 Arsenal wins, 1 Southampton win, 2 draws
  • Arsenal's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Nottingham Forest, 4-0
    • Fourth Round: Beat Reading, 2-0
  • Southampton's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Crystal Palace, 2-0
    • Fourth Round: Beat Sunderland, 1-0
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-D-W-D-D-W
  • Southampton's League Form: W-D-L-L-D-W
Força Chapecoense.
You know I like to mix a lot of humor into these previews and some of my best jokes come when Arsenal are playing terribly. With Arsenal now unbeaten in their last 19 games, the bulk of this intro section was going to be about Theo Walcott's coffee maker.

But yesterday morning brought the devastating news of the plane crash in Colombia that killed all but three members of the Brazilian club Chapecoense, as they flew to the first leg of their 2016 Copa Sudamericana final against Atlético Nacional, for what would have been one of the biggest matches in the club's 43-year history.

In moments like these, we all come together as football fans, as sports fans, and as human beings. This tragedy could happen to any of us.

We turn our focus now to the League Cup, academic as it may seen, as Arsenal host Southampton in the quarter-final.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Giroud (ankle,) Debuchy (hamstring,) Bellerín (ankle,) Cazorla (Achilles,) Akpom (back,) Mertesacker (knee,) Welbeck (knee)

The only real bit of good news is that Lucas Pérez will return from the ankle injury he picked up against Reading in the fourth round and likely start up top. That should give Alexis Sánchez the chance to rest a bit, while Olivier Giroud is ruled out with an ankle knock he picked up against Bournemouth on Sunday.

Meanwhile, you have to feel for Mathieu Debuchy, who has had an Abou Diaby-esque run of injuries since joining Arsenal from Newcastle for £12 million in July of 2014. The French right back has made just 23 appearances for the Gunners. The hamstring injury he suffered after just 15 minutes against Bournemouth has been described as "serious" and Debuchy has been described as "distraught," as it looks like he's in for another lengthy spell on the sidelines. That's obviously not ideal news, since Hector Bellerín is still likely, at the very least, two weeks away from returning to that position.

I don't usually include Chuba Akpom in the discussion of first team injuries, but since this is a League Cup tie, it is worth noting that he is still out with a back injury.

I suspect Emiliano Martínez, who signed a new long term contract with the club on Thursday, will start in goal and there should be starts on the cards for some fringe first team players, like Gabriel and Rob Holding. Other than that, I don't usually make it a habit of predicting League Cup squads because it's hard to know just what mix of youth and experience Arsène Wenger will opt for.

Southampton Squad News

Out: Targett (hamstring,) Pied (knee,) Reed (knock,) Hesketh (ankle,) McCarthy (hamstring)
Doubts: Davis (illness,) Boufal (illness,) Tadic (nose,) Gardoș (match fitness)

Dušan Tadić, who has a knack for scoring at the Emirates (or creating the chances that lead to goals, as he did in September,) is a doubt after he suffered a broken nose on international duty. Steven Davis and Sofiane Boufal are both doubts after missing Sunday's match against Everton through illness. Florin Gardoș is a doubt, lacking match fitness, as he has not played a first team match all season as he returns from a knee injury.

Southampton will be without young midfielder Harrison Reed, who will probably be sold to Liverpool within the next two years, after he picked up a knock with the Under-23s earlier this month. Also injured are Matt Targett, Jérémy Pied, Jake Hesketh, and Alex McCarthy.

Current Form

So, Arsenal's unbeaten run is now 19 across all competitions. Arsenal's single-season record for such an unbeaten streak is 21 at the start of the 2007/08 season; spanning back to the end of 2006/07, that unbeaten run overall was 28 matches, tied for the third longest in English football history. We're a long way away from top spot on that list, however; the longest unbeaten run in English history belongs to Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest in 1978, who went unbeaten in 40 spanning two seasons. Remember, the Invincibles in 2003/04 lost six across all competitions: three in Europe, once to get knocked out of the FA Cup by Manchester United, and twice in the League Cup semi-final, losing both legs to Middlesbrough.

Southampton had been winless in four in the Premier League before beating Everton 1-0 at the weekend; Charlie Austin scored 41 seconds into the match as the Saints won against their former manager, Ronald Koeman. Southampton had not won since a 3-1 win over Burnley on October 16, drawing with Manchester City and Liverpool plus losing to Chelsea and Hull in the process. Not exactly the easiest run of fixtures, but that loss at Hull is puzzling. The Saints are currently 10th in the Premier League, six points clear of Hull for 18th place and relegation.

Match Facts

Arsenal have already hosted Southampton once this season, winning the league fixture 2-1 at the Emirates back in September. Arsenal, in fact, came from 1-0 down to win the match, something they did not do much of last season. The Saints took the lead in the 18th minute, as a Dušan Tadić free kick hit the crossbar, then Petr Čech's back, before rolling into the net for an own goal. Arsenal equalized from a Laurent Koscielny bicycle kick (seriously) 11 minutes later, then Santi Cazorla won it from the penalty spot in injury time. The reverse fixture at St. Mary's is in late February.

Arsenal last played Southampton in the League Cup in 2014's third round; the Saints came back from 1-0 down to win that one 2-1. Alexis Sánchez gave Arsenal the lead from a set piece in the 14th minute, but Tadić equalized from the penalty spot six minutes later, before a long distance goal from Nathaniel Clyne gave the Saints a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish. The match was David Ospina's first in an Arsenal uniform.

Prior to that 2014 tie, Arsenal had met Southampton four times in the League Cup and had won all four ties. The sides met in the 1969 second round in Southampton, ending in a 1-1 draw; Arsenal won the replay at home 2-0 after extra time. The sides met in the third round in 1977 and in 1979, with Arsenal winning both at home. In the 1985 fourth round, the sides met at Highbury; it ended 0-0. Arsenal, as they did in 1969, won the replay, this by a 3-1 scoreline in Southampton.

The Referee

The referee is Leicestershire-based Kevin Friend. Arsenal have seen Friend once thus far this season, for their 3-1 win at Watford back in August. He gave Arsenal an early penalty in that match, which Santi Cazorla converted in the ninth minute. He also ended up booking six Watford players, compared to just one for Arsenal (which was Jack Wilshere off the bench.) 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. 

This is the first time this season that Friend will be working a Southampton match. Last year, the Saints saw Friend only once, for a 2-0 home loss to Tottenham last December.

Friend is one of three Select Group referees who have not yet shown a red card this season; the other two are Michael Oliver and Anthony Taylor.

Around the Fifth Round
  • Tuesday: Hull City 1 - 1 Newcastle United, Hull City win 3-1 on penalties
  • Tuesday: Liverpool 2 - 0 Leeds United
  • Wednesday: Manchester United v. West Ham United; Old Trafford, Manchester
John Painting is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Bournemouth

Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, November 27
9:15 a.m. EST, 14:15 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Jones
    • Assistants: Adrian Holmes and Mark Scholes
    • 4th Official: Graham Scott
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 2 - 0 Bournemouth
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 3 Arsenal wins
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-D-W-D-D
  • Bournemouth's League Form: D-W-D-L-L-W
A few years ago, I had an idea for a novel that involved a Premier League team going through a season unbeaten, except this team would do so by drawing all 38 matches. The story would delve into the psychological ramifications of never being able to win or lose and, eventually, being relegated Invincibles. The idea basically falls apart, from that psychological standpoint, when you consider that English clubs have to win or lose in cup ties, so it doesn't entirely work out.

So here we are, as Arsenal have stumbled their way into an 18-match unbeaten run that is starting to feel like anything but. Since Santi Cazorla's injury, Arsenal have three wins and four draws. Wednesday's 2-2 draw with PSG has given the French club the advantage for top of the group with one game to play. Arsenal haven't lost since opening day in the league, but they're still sitting only in fourth. Then again, Spurs are unbeaten in the league and they're fifth, so there's always that.

It's not easy to keep winning when you combine Santi's injury with the strength of their November schedule: Spurs, United, and PSG aren't exactly easy fixtures to play consecutively. But I think there's this psychological component to an unbeaten run that can make it harder to play free-flowing football. Not that I'm saying Arsenal should just lose to get rid of the unbeaten run, of course; I would be perfectly content for Arsenal to win every single game they ever play, from now through the rest of eternity.

Anyway, Arsenal will host Bournemouth this weekend as they look for their first win since November 1. After this, Arsenal play Southampton in the League Cup midweek, West Ham at the Olympic Stadium next weekend, then travel to Basel for matchday six the next midweek, then host Stoke, then have a midweek league fixture against Everton, and THEN go to Manchester City. Then, a week off. Then, the busy (!) holiday period.

No rest for the weary, so Arsenal had better remember how to win games fast.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Bellerín (ankle,) Cazorla (Achilles,) Mertesacker (knee,) Welbeck (knee)
Doubts: Pérez (ankle)

Friday morning previews after Wednesday night games are always the most difficult, because the team news isn't usually available yet. So, by the time you're reading this, you probably know more about who's hurt and who's not than I do. Hello from the past!

All things being equal, I'll make some guesses here. After his unfortunate deflection on PSG's equalizer, I think you need to throw Alex Iwobi straight back into the mix to help him get his groove back. The same question, however, should be posed about Aaron Ramsey, who is really struggling for form, but can only regain form by playing. So, there's a catch-22 there.

I would start Olivier Giroud here and get a rest for Alexis, but we all know how the Chilean machine never stops. I would start Granit Xhaka too, but I clearly don't seem to agree with Wenger on this, for some reason.

Predicted XI: Čech, Jenkinson, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Xhaka, Coquelin, Walcott, Iwobi, Özil, Giroud.

Bournemouth Squad News

Out: Wilshere (loan terms,) Cook (ankle)
Doubts: Boruc (back,) Ibe (illness,) Surman (hamstring)

Jack Wilshere has started eight consecutive Bournemouth matches and played all 90 minutes in each of the last four, so hopefully he's found a way to keep himself healthier this season than in years past; of course, he'll be unavailable Sunday due to the terms of the loan agreement between the clubs.

Elsewhere in the squad, 19-year-old midfielder Lewis Cook is one month into a three-month ankle injury and is expected to return in January, because that's how the calendar works. Goalkeeper Artur Boruc is 50/50 with a lower back injury. Jordon Ibe, purchased from Liverpool for a club record £15 million this summer, is a slight doubt through illness. Andrew Surman is a doubt with a hamstring injury.

Predicted XI: Federici, Francis, Cook, Smith, Daniels, Gosling, Arter, King, Stanislas, Pugh, Wilson.

Current Form

As mentioned at the intro, Arsenal have extended their unbeaten run across all competitions to 18 matches, but at this point, they have now also gone three matches without a win. It's still Arsenal's longest unbeaten run in nine years, but now it's also their longest winless run since March! To be honest, there's not much more I have to say about this subject anymore.

Bournemouth are currently hovering in 10th place in the Premier League table, but they're only five points ahead of 18th place Hull City in the drop zone. Prior to the international break, Bournemouth suffered a 2-1 loss to Sunderland at home, giving the Black Cats their first victory of the season. They rebounded at the weekend, beating Stoke 1-0 at the Britannia. They picked up a draw against Spurs at home a few weeks ago, which is something they have in common with us, I suppose. They've also beaten Everton this season and hung six on Hull. All combined, that's a pretty mid-table run of results there, isn't it?

Match Facts

Arsenal have only played Bournemouth on three previous occasions, as last year was Bournemouth's first ever season in the top flight. Arsenal won both matches by 2-0 scorelines, winning in December at the Emirates through goals from Gabriel and Mesut Özil, and in February at the Vitality Stadium through goals from Özil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 88 seconds apart.

The other meeting between the clubs came 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.

The Referee

The referee is Cheshire-based Mike Jones. This will be the first match Jones has worked for either of these sides this season.

Arsenal won three of the four matches that Jones worked for them last season, including a 3-0 win at Watford, a 4-0 win over Hull City in an FA Cup replay, and a 1-0 win over Norwich late in the season at the Emirates. The other match, however, was the 3-3 draw at Anfield in January. Arsenal's last loss with Jones in the middle came in 2014 at Stoke City, which the Potters won 1-0 on a borderline penalty for a Laurent Koscielny handball.

For Bournemouth, Jones worked two losses against Liverpool, one in the League Cup and the other in their home league fixture in April. He also worked an FA Cup win over Birmingham City, a league win over Crystal Palace, and their 1-0 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in December, which I believe was the next-to-last nail in José Mourinho's coffin at Chelsea.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Burnley v. Manchester City; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Hull City v. West Bromwich Albion; KCOM Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. Middlesbrough; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday: Liverpool v. Sunderland; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Crystal Palace; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday (late): Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Sunday (very early): Watford v. Stoke City; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Sunday (late): Manchester United v. West Ham United; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Sunday (late): Southampton v. Everton; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat  for hot air.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Paris Saint-Germain, Champions League Group Matchday 5

Emirates Stadium, London
Wednesday, November 23
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials from Germany
    • Referee: Felix Brych
    • Assistants: Mark Borsch and Stefan Lupp
    • 4th Official: Jan Seidel
    • Additional Assistants: Bastian Dankert and Marco Fritz
  • Reverse Fixture: PSG 1 -1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 1 Arsenal win, 2 draws
  • Arsenal's European Form: L-L // D-W-W-W
  • PSG's European Form: D-L // D-W-W-W
58 hours after the fact, this goal seemed to piss off a
bartender in Brooklyn.
There's nothing like a late equalizer on the road to make 1) a draw feel like a win and 2) José Mourinho feel sad. Arsenal are now unbeaten in 17, but their performances in the last few weeks haven't exactly been convincing. Still, with a shot at winning their Champions League group for the first time in five years, how much can you complain?

Before moving on to tonight's match, I want to share an anecdote. On Monday night, I went out to a local bar with my laptop to grab a pint and do some writing along with a friend of mine and, upon arriving, found that the bartender had just put on a re-airing of Saturday's match on the only television in the bar. During the course of the opening exchanges, it became clear to me that the bartender didn't know what happened in the game and, while I'm not certain, might not have realized the game wasn't live; according to my friend, who was earlier than I was, he had switched off the actually live West Brom v. Burnley match. Also, as the game went on, it became clear to me that he was rooting for Manchester United, at which point I decided to keep my eye out to see how he would react to Olivier Giroud's equalizer. The answer? He turned the television off entirely.

So, here we are, matchday five and Arsenal's biggest home match of the group as they host an injury-hit Paris Saint-Germain side with first place on the line. Again, if Arsenal win, they will clinch first place in the group for the first time since 2011. Of course, that year Arsenal were unfortunate enough to draw AC Milan in the round of 16 and then spotted the Italians four goals in the first leg, so winning the group doesn't mean a cakewalk. I mean, right now, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are sitting second in their respective groups.

There is no easy path to a Champions League title, but winning the group should, at least on paper, make the path simpler. So let's hope Arsenal get back to winning ways and make a statement of intent tonight.

What Can Arsenal Clinch Tonight?

Oh, I get it.
The winner of this fixture is guaranteed to win Group A, as they will be three points clear at the top with one match to play and they will hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, since the first meeting ended drawn.

If this match ends in a draw, the situation gets a little more complicated. Both Arsenal and PSG are already through to the knockout phase, so this is only a battle of positioning. But if the match ends up drawn, then both sides will remain level on 11 points with one match remaining. Assuming both sides proceed to win on matchday six, then the winner of the group will be decided by tiebreaker.

If Arsenal and PSG have played two draws against each other, then the first possible tiebreaker to come into play would be away goals in meetings between the club. A 0-0 draw would suit Arsenal at home, as they scored once in Paris. A 2-2 draw or a greater score draw gives the advantage to the Parisian side. A 1-1 draw in this match would see that tiebreaker level as well, which would then mean total group goal difference will decide the winner. Arsenal currently have a three goal lead (+9 to +6) in that department.

Again, if the match ends drawn tonight, then both sides will still need to win on matchday six and Arsenal's trip to Basel is likely more difficult than PSG's home match against Ludogorets.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Bellerín (ankle,) Pérez (ankle,) Cazorla (Achilles,) Mertesacker (knee,) Welbeck (knee)

Arsenal are treading water without Santi in midfield.
The Gunners have three wins and three draws in six matches
without the Spaniard.
It doesn't sound like there are any changes to the available squad players after Saturday's draw in Manchester. Alexis Sánchez played the match while bundled in tape, but came through fine. Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott sat out of training for some extra recovery, but are both expected to be alright. Lucas Pérez is back in training with the first team and is ahead of schedule, but still remains short of a return.

At yesterday's press conference, Arsène Wenger was asked about a timetable for Santi Cazorla's return. Wenger's response was that "with inflammation it's always hard to tell," which isn't really much of an update at all, now is it? He later clarified that he's likely two weeks away from a return to training and two more weeks away from full fitness.

With everything in Group A on the line, I'd expect a strong outfield lineup, plus a return for cup keeper David Ospina.

Predicted XI: Ospina, Jenkinson, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Xhaka, Ramsey, Walcott, Özil, Alexis.

PSG Squad News

Out: Aurier (visa,) Rabiot (thigh,) Kurzawa (knock,) Pastore (knee)
Doubts: Di María (thigh,) Aréola (ankle)

Serge Aurier has been denied entry to the UK, which makes
it really difficult to play right back.
In a bizarre turn of events, right back Serge Aurier has been denied entry to the United Kingdom, as he has had his visa revoked at the last minute. The Ivorian international is currently in the midst of an ongoing court case in which he has been charged with assaulting a police officer. Aurier was found guilty of elbowing the police officer when the trial originally concluded in September and was sentenced to two months in jail, but the right back is free pending an appeal. Aurier was named man of the match in the reverse fixture, so this is fortuitous for Arsenal.

Ángel Di María and Alphonse Aréola have both made the trip to London, but are both doubts through injury. Di María appeared to have injured his thigh at the weekend, while Aréola has been out since playing on matchday four against Basel. If Aréola cannot play, Kevin Trapp will make his first start of the European campaign. Adrien Rabiot, Layvin Kurzawa, and Javier Pastore did not make the trip.

Predicted XI: Trapp, Meunier, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Maxwell, Verratti, Motta, Matuidi, Moura, Jesé, Cavani.

Current Form

Ángel Di María scored against Nantes at the weekend, before
coming off with a thigh injury.
In terms of European form, Arsenal and PSG have matched each other week-by-week in the Champions League this year, which is why this match is for all the marbles. Since their matchday one draw, PSG have beaten Basel twice and Ludogorets once, while Arsenal have beaten Ludogorets twice and Basel once.

Arsenal extended their unbeaten streak across all competitions to 17 last weekend with their 1-1 draw at Manchester United, but it's really starting to feel like this unbeaten run is papering over the cracks now. It feels like this is an Arsenal team that is doing just enough to avoid losses, but ultimately, three draws is the same as two losses in terms of dropped points.

PSG are unbeaten in nine since they lost at Toulouse on September 23. That was only their second loss of the season, having lost to Monaco back in August. This means that they're not running away with Ligue 1 this season; they currently sit in third in the table, behind Monaco for second on goal difference, three points back of Nice at the top. Over their nine match unbeaten run, PSG have won eight; three of those wins have come in Europe, five have come in Ligue 1, and the other match was a 0-0 draw with Marseille.

Match Facts

Smash 'n' Grab!
Arsenal stole a point from the reverse fixture on matchday one, similar to the way they stole a point from Old Trafford last weekend. However, Arsenal found themselves trailing much sooner than the 69th minute in Paris back in September; Edinson Cavani put the home side ahead 1-0 on just 42 seconds, but David Ospina kept the door shut the rest of the way, making three saves for the Gunners. Arsenal managed to find themselves level on 77 minutes when their first shot on target rebounded to Alexis, who buried the equalizer. Late on, both Olivier Giroud and Marco Verratti were sent off.

While PSG have had a knack for facing Chelsea in the knockout stages in recent years (including each of the last three,) they have only met Arsenal twice before in European competition. That came in the 1994 Cup Winners' Cup semifinal. Arsenal won that tie 2-1 on aggregate, nabbing a 1-1 draw in Paris and a 1-0 win at Highbury to go through to the final, which they won over Parma.

Arsenal have a mixed record at home against French sides, winning just five of their 11 such matches. PSG's record in England, however, is worse. They've only won once on English soil in eight tries; that came against Chelsea last year in the round of 16. One round later, however, they lost at Manchester City.

The Referee

Felix Brych is shown here during the 2014 Europa League
Final, doing his job polemically, apparently.
The match officials are from Germany; the referee is Felix Brych. I feel like it's been an exceedingly long time since Arsenal have had a German referee in the Champions League, largely a consequence of always finding themselves playing in a group with Borussia Dortmund or Bayern Munich. The last time Arsenal had a German referee, it was Deniz Aytekin for the first leg of the 2015 round of 16 against Monaco, which was a terrible result for the Gunners. Prior to that, the last time a German referee worked an Arsenal match was Wolfgang Stark in a 2010 group stage game against Partizan Belgrade.

This will be Brych's first Arsenal match. He has previously worked two PSG matches; both were road wins for the French sides and one of them was even in London. In the 2013 group stage, Brych worked a 4-1 PSG win at Olympiacos and in March, he worked PSG's 2-1 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge which saw them through to the quarterfinals.

In other semi-relevant matches Brych has worked, he took charge of the England-Wales match at the 2016 Euros, which was England's only win at the tournament. He also worked a scoreless draw between Leicester City and Copenhagen in this year's group stage.

In terms of honors, Brych worked the 2014 Europa League Final, in which Sevilla beat Benfica on penalties. The match is described on his Wikipedia article as having been "polemic," which doesn't sound right, does it?

Around Europe
  • Tuesday: CSKA Moscow 1 - 1 Bayer Leverkusen
  • Tuesday: Monaco 2 - 1 Tottenham Hotspur
  • Tuesday: Borussia Dortmund 8 - 4 Legia Warsaw
  • Tuesday: Sporting CP 1 - 2 Real Madrid
  • Tuesday: Copenhagen 0 - 0 Porto
  • Tuesday: Leicester City 2 - 1 Club Brugge
  • Tuesday: Dinamo Zagreb 0 - 1 Lyon
  • Tuesday: Sevilla 1 - 3 Juventus
  • Wednesday: Ludogorets Razgrad v. Basel; Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia
  • Wednesday: Beşiktaş v. Benfica; Vodafone Arena, Istanbul
  • Wednesday: Napoli v. Dynamo Kyiv; Stadio San Paolo, Naples
  • Wednesday: Borussia Mönchengladbach v. Manchester City; Borussia-Park, Mönchengladbach
  • Wednesday: Celtic v. Barcelona; Celtic Park, Glasgow
  • Wednesday: Rostov v. Bayern Munich; Olimp-2, Rostov-on-Don
  • Wednesday: Atlético Madrid v. PSV Eindhoven; Vicente Calderón, Madrid
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and all around cool dude. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat  where you could have followed that bartender anecdote live as it was happening.

Preview by Numbers: Manchester United v. Arsenal

Old Trafford, Manchester
Saturday, November 19
7:30 a.m. EST, 12:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Andre Marriner
    • Assistants: Simon Beck and Andy Garratt
    • 4th Official: Michael Oliver
  • This Match, Last Year: Manchester United 3 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 81 Arsenal wins, 94 United wins, 49 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-D-W-D
  • Manchester United's League Form: W-D-D-L-D-W
  • Weather: Chance of Rain, 41 °F / 5 °C
November is officially happening. Arsenal fans have historically lamented the month of November, as it is often the first time the club stumbles in their hunt for silverware. There are many reasons that tends to happen; it largely comes down to accumulation of fixtures and those little knocks players pick up finally start to take their toll around this time of year. We're seeing that yet again now.

Before diving into the negative depths of the team news, a little perspective. Arsenal are unbeaten 16 matches across all competitions, yet they're merely tied for the top of their Champions League group and they're in fourth place in the Premier League table, two points back of first place Liverpool. It's starting to look like a problem that Arsenal have already dropped seven points at the Emirates this season. Arsenal actually have one fewer point through 11 league fixtures than they did last year. Of course, last year, Arsenal failed to win matches 12 through 14 and still ended up top of the table at the halfway point, so there's still a lot of evidence that proves the "it's a marathon, not a sprint" point.

Those of you out there who are proficient in playing Arsène Wenger bingo will recognize that this team has showed more "mental strength" this season than in seasons past, but there's no better place to prove that case than at Old Trafford, where Arsenal have not won in the league in over 10 years. Add our dear friend José Mourinho into the mix and you've got a recipe for some fireworks.

Some might ask if you'd be happy with a draw at this juncture, but I think that if Arsenal want to win the league this year, they need to win this one.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Bellerín (ankle,) Pérez (ankle,) Cazorla (Achilles,) Mertesacker (knee,) Welbeck (knee)
Doubts: Alexis (hamstring)

I mentioned the negative depths of the team news in the intro and that largely centers on the ankle of Hector Bellerín, who has been ruled out for four weeks. Doesn't sound that bad at first, until you realize that Arsenal will play eight times in those four weeks and then travel to Manchester City in four weeks and two days' time. So, really, this is a terrible time to miss four weeks.

Is Carl Jenkinson up to the task? Do we still have Mathieu Debuchy? Like, has anyone seen him? Does he still want to be here? I've heard he has a calf injury, too?

Shkodran Mustafi has played at right back, including a start at that position in the 2014 World Cup Round of 16 match against Algeria. Mustafi had started the World Cup as a substitute, as Germany started Mats Hummels and Per Mertesacker in the middle with Jérôme Boateng on the right, allowing them to utilize Phillip Lahm as a deep-lying central midfielder. When Mertesacker couldn't start anymore, Boateng moved to the center and Mustafi got the start on the right against Algeria, but injured his thigh on 70 minutes, thus ending his World Cup. Lahm then moved back to the right back position where he is probably the best in the world, and the rest is history.

So, there's a good chance Arsenal can use Mustafi on the right if they need to while bringing in Gabriel or Rob Holding in the center. Good news, kinda.

Now, to Alexis Sánchez and the saga surrounding his leg muscles. If you've not been following the Chile national team, Alexis missed a World Cup qualifier against Colombia late last week, but slotted back in, all taped up, to start and score twice against Uruguay. Alexis has texted Wenger to say that he's fine, but let's face it, Alexis Sánchez could literally be on fire and he'd say "what, no, put me in, I'm good..." He'd probably say it in Spanish, though, so it'd be more like, "Es solo fuego, estoy bien."

Lucas Pérez remains out, so Olivier Giroud will start if Alexis needs the rest. Santi Cazorla's timeline for return, however, is still a bit of a mystery.

Also, Nacho Monreal scored for Spain while we were away, so let that sink in. Nacho. For Spain. In a World Cup qualifier. Nacho. Spain. Goal. Yeah.

Predicted XI: Čech, Mustafi, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal, Xhaka, Coquelin, Walcott, Iwobi, Özil, Alexis.

Manchester United Squad News

Out: Fellaini (calf,) Smalling (toe,) Bailly (knee)
Doubts: Rooney (knee,) Valencia (arm,) Shaw (leg)
Suspended: Ibrahimović (one match, accumulation)

Zlatan Ibrahimović will miss the match as he serves a one-match ban for yellow card accumulation, while Wayne Rooney is a strong doubt with a knee injury, one that forced him to return early from England duty. That would likely leave Marcus Rashford to start up top for United, which certainly hasn't hurt Arsenal in the past, I don't know what you're talking about...

Ander Herrera will return to the side after missing their win against Swansea through suspension, but United will be without three parts of their back line, as Antonio Valencia is a major doubt with an arm injury, Chris Smalling is out with a broken toe, and Eric Bailly is out with a knee injury. Luke Shaw is struggling for fitness with a leg injury, which could force Phil Jones into action at center back; Jones started against Swansea two weeks ago, but it was his first start since January. If that's the case, then Daley Blind would slide out to left back.

I've seen conflicting reports on whether Marouane Fellaini is out or just doubtful with a calf injury. Even still, Manchester United have such a glut of midfielders that Henrikh Mkhitaryan, purchased from Borussia Dortmund for £26 million this summer, has only started once in the Premier League, and even then he was removed at halftime.

Predicted XI: De Gea, Darmian, Jones, Rojo, Blind, Carrick, Herrera, Lingard, Martial, Pogba, Rashford.

Current Form

So, it's 16 unbeaten for Arsenal now, but the results aren't quite as positive as they were at other points in the season. It's been a bit of a roller-coaster unbeaten run, if such a thing is possible, but drawing twice at home in consecutive home league games tends to indicate that the unbeaten streak is really just a statistical quirk. As such, as mentioned at the top of the preview, Arsenal are a point behind where they were after 11 league games last year, though by this point they were staring European elimination in the face and were already out of the League Cup, so there's been marked improvement on those fronts.

Manchester United, on the other hand, are in a distant sixth, six points behind Arsenal (who are tied with Manchester City for third) and eight points behind Liverpool at the top of the table. It's no surprise that the top two clubs in the table right now are not playing in Europe. In the David Moyes era of Manchester United, the club had 20 points through their opening 11 games, so they actually have two fewer this season at this juncture. That Moyes team also went unbeaten in their Champions League group (en route to a quarterfinal loss to Bayern Munich.) This team, under Mourinho, is currently third in their Europa League group, having already lost twice away from home.

But, in a fixture like Manchester United v. Arsenal at Old Trafford, form goes out the window, so feel free to ignore everything I just said.

Match Facts

Arsenal split their league meetings with Manchester United last season, with each side winning at home. Arsenal won the meeting at the Emirates last October by a comprehensive 3-0 scoreline. The Gunners began the match on the front foot and didn't let up until they had three within 20 minutes. Alexis Sánchez scored in the sixth minute, Mesut Özil 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 Čech made five saves to pick up the clean sheet.

Ah, but Arsenal's voodoo at Old Trafford did not mitigate when they met in Manchester last February, even though United were decimated by injuries at the time. Enter Marcus Rashford (oh, that's what you were thinking in the team news section...) who scored twice on his Premier League debut, as United beat Arsenal 3-2, which was the start of the ruin of Arsenal's title hopes last year. Arsenal did, of course, win that dramatic FA Cup tie at Old Trafford in March of 2015 as they were on their way to their second straight cup title.

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 14.

The Referee

The referee is West Midlands-based Andre Marriner. Of course, having Marriner for a big away match in the early Saturday time slot will ring alarm bells for Arsenal fans; Marriner, of course, sent off the wrong man as part of Arsenal's 6-0 loss at Chelsea in 2014. Many people forget that that red card was rescinded entirely; since the shot was going wide, it was not denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity.

Anyway, after that incident, Arsenal won five straight with Marriner in the middle before losing to Watford in last year's FA Cup sixth round. The five wins came against Southampton, Everton, Newcastle, Tottenham, and Manchester City. That win over Spurs came in last year's League Cup, when Mathieu Flamini scored twice. The win over Newcastle came at St. James' Park last August; the other three wins were at the Emirates.

Manchester United have seen Marriner once this season already, a match they won on opening day, 3-1 at Bournemouth. Last year, United split their two results with Marriner in the middle: they lost 2-1 to Sunderland at the Stadium of Light but beat Everton 1-0 at Old Trafford.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Manchester City; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Everton v. Swansea City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Liverpool; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Bournemouth; Bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Hull City; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: Watford v. Leicester City; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Saturday (late): Tottenham Hotspur v. West Ham United; White Hart Lane, London
  • Sunday (late): Middlesbrough v. Chelsea; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Monday (night): West Bromwich Albion v. Burnley; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and vaudeville comedian. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat  for bad jokes and neat animal tricks.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Tottenham Hotspur

Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, November 6
7:00 a.m. EST, 12:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mark Clattenburg
    • Assistants: Jake Collin and Simon Bennett
    • 4th Official: Andre Marriner
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 1 - 1 Tottenham
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 75 Arsenal wins, 55 Tottenham wins, 48 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-W-D-W
  • Tottenham's League Form: W-W-W-D-D-D
  • Weather: Clear, 44 °F / 7 °C
I appreciate how the goalkeeper still tried to save Özil's chip,
despite the fact that he was eight miles out of the box.
How about the cojones on this team, eh? Arsenal's Champions League jaunt to Bulgaria was always going to be tougher in reality than it was on paper and the rotation (Arsène Wenger made five changes from the side that beat Sunderland, plus some maneuvering of player positions) was always going to make things a little bumpy. But, 2-0 down on a quarter of an hour? Not ideal.

Personally, I was on a conference call at work during the start of the match, so when I got a text that read "for fuck's sake," I thought was 1-0 and not 2-0. However, my mind immediately went all the way back to 2009 and the 2-0 lead Arsenal spotted Standard Liège, only to storm back to win 3-2. Just like they drew it up.

So, here we go. Arsenal take a 15-match unbeaten into a critical string of fixtures: North London derby, international break, Manchester United at Old Trafford, and PSG at the Emirates for all the Group A marbles.


Arsenal Squad News

Out: Pérez (ankle,) Cazorla (Achilles,) Mertesacker (knee,) Welbeck (knee)
Doubts: Gibbs (shoulder,) Walcott (hamstring,) Monreal (muscle tightness)

Here's to hoping Bellerín has recovered from the "incident."
Hector Bellerín was left off the plane to Bulgaria after "a little incident" at the end of training on Monday, but his absence was purely a precaution. Wenger mentioned yesterday that the Spaniard "could have played" if he needed to, so I'd expect him to slot straight back in at right back.

At left back, however, Nacho Monreal has now missed three matches in a row with muscle tightness and now Kieran Gibbs is a doubt after injuring his shoulder in Bulgaria, so we'll have to see how their fitness tests go.

Theo Walcott could be back from a small hamstring problem after missing three straight himself; Wenger mentioned yesterday that he is the closest to returning. Elsewhere in the squad, Granit Xhaka is available after serving his three-match domestic ban, but Santi Cazorla is likely not yet ready for a return from his Achilles injury.

Predicted XI: Čech, Bellerín, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Xhaka, Coquelin, Iwobi, Ramsey, Özil, Alexis.

Tottenham Squad News

Out: None
Doubts: Lamela (hip,) Kane (ankle,) Alderweireld (knee,) Dembélé (ankle)
Suspended: Sissoko (third of three, violent conduct)

"Comedy gold."
Childhood Arsenal fan Moussa Sissoko, who moved to Spurs from Newcastle at the transfer deadline, spared himself from playing the derby on the wrong side (or something like that) when he retroactively received a three-match ban for elbowing Bournemouth's Harry Arter. I'm not sure if that's good news or bad for Arsenal here, as his performance against Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday night was described by at least one source as "comedy gold," though, to be fair, I got that from a Newcastle blog.

While no Tottenham player has been outright ruled out through injury, Mauricio Pochettino will be sweating over the fitness of four of his first team players, including Harry Kane, who has not played since damaging ankle ligaments against Sunderland on September 18. Reports are that he'll be back for the derby, but that's also exactly the kind of thing Spurs would say in advance of the derby. I suspect he'll make the bench if he passes fit.

Érik Lamela did not play against Leicester at the weekend and did not play against Leverkusen on Wednesday, having picked up a hip injury in training last week; I believe he's 50/50, but I've predicted him to start. Toby Alderweireld has been out since picking up a knee injury against West Brom on October 15, so Eric Dier will likely continue to start along with Jan Vertonghen in the center of defense.

Mousa Dembélé was removed on half an hour at Wembley on Wednesday night with an ankle injury and is a doubt as well.

Predicted XI: Lloris, Walker, Dier, Vertonghen, Rose, Wanyama, Dele Alli, Eriksen, Son, Lamela, Janssen.

Current Form

It's so nice to see that the media takes pictures like this of
other teams, too.
Arsenal's unbeaten run now stands at 15 across all competitions, since losing to Liverpool on opening day. As mentioned midweek, it's still Arsenal's longest unbeaten run since a 21-match run to start the 2007/08 season (and again, they won nothing that year, so tread carefully with your excitement...) Arsenal have won 10 of their last 11 and 12 of their last 14. Not too shabby, but again, it's only November.

On the other side of the coin, Tottenham are struggling for consistency. Sure, they're the only unbeaten team remaining in the league, but their 10 league fixtures have been five wins and five draws, including three straight without a win. They've been bounced out of the League Cup by Liverpool and their European prospects are looking dire after a 1-0 loss to Bayer Levekusen at Wembley on Wednesday night. Spurs are two points out of second place and travel to Monaco on matchday five before hosting CSKA Moscow on matchday six. They've lost twice at Wembley in the group stage and have scored just two goals in four matches, as Bernd Leno and Levekusen kept them out twice.

Match Facts

Francis Coquelin was sent off in the last North London derby.
At White Hart Lane on March 16, 2014, Tomáš Rosický slammed in a goal after 72 seconds and Arsenal hung on for dear life for the remaining 88 minutes as the Gunners escaped the North London derby with a 1-0 win, their third win in three matches of Spurs that season. Since that match, Arsenal have failed to beat Tottenham in the league, winning only in last year's third round League Cup tie 2-1, as Mathieu Flamini, of all people, scored twice.

Last year, both league encounters ended drawn, with Arsenal coming from behind in both fixtures. At the Emirates in November (the very same weekend last year, actually,) Arsenal's squad was threadbare through injuries, basically being held together with duct tape and poor quality glue. I mean, Mathieu Debuchy started, while Flamini came on for an injured Santi Cazorla at halftime, with Arsenal down 1-0 from a 32nd minute Harry Kane goal. On 74 minutes, Kieran Gibbs came on to play the wing and three minutes later, the makeshift forward scored Arsenal's equalizer, and the match ended 1-1.

At the Lane in March, Arsenal led 1-0 through Aaron Ramsey at halftime, but Francis Coquelin was sent off for a clumsy second yellow on 55 minutes. Tottenham made the Gunners pay for their red card, as Toby Alderweireld scored on the hour mark and Harry Kane gave Spurs the lead two minutes later. Arsenal, however, were level on 76 minutes through Alexis Sánchez and looked the more likely to find a winner, even with ten men, but had to settle for a 2-2 draw that damaged both sides' title hopes.

While Arsenal's record at White Hart Lane has been poor over the last 10 years, they have a much better record at home. At Highbury/the Emirates in the Premier League era, Arsenal have a record of 13 wins, two losses, and nine draws against Tottenham, the most recent loss coming in November of 2010, when Spurs came from 2-0 down at halftime to win 3-2.

The Referee

Prior to being sent off by Mark Clattenburg last weekend, José
Mourinho is shown here telling the fourth official that he is
the fourth official.
The referee is County Durham-based Mark Clattenburg, who you may remember from every major final at the end of last season, as well as Arsenal's 0-0 draw with Leicester City in August that started this whole unbeaten run. Critically, Clattenburg denied Leicester a borderline penalty in injury time of that one to keep Arsenal level; we could have been looking at zero points from six possible to start the season had that foul been called.

Tottenham have not seen Clattenburg since their battle at Stamford Bridge last May, in which Spurs managed to blow a 2-0 lead and their last title hopes and also all of their dignity as well. Spurs were shown a total of nine yellow cards that night, as Chelsea came back for a 2-2 draw, clinching the title for Leicester City. Spurs won their two other matches with Clattenburg last season, both over Manchester City.

Clattenburg was in the news a little bit last weekend as he worked Manchester United's scoreless draw at Old Trafford against Burnley; he sent off Ander Herrera in the 68th minute and denied United a penalty as well for a Jon Flanagan challenge on Matteo Darmian in the box. He sent José Mourinho to the stands at halftime as well, so, you know, great match all around from Clatts. Former referee Graham Poll has criticized Clattenburg for giving nothing to teams once their fan bases turn on him.

Midweek, Clattenburg (like Arsenal and Tottenham) worked in the Champions League; he was in Istanbul, for Beşiktaş's 1-1 draw with Napoli.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Bournemouth v. Sunderland; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Saturday: Burnley v. Crystal Palace; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Manchester City v. Middlesbrough; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Stoke City; Olympic Stadium, London
  • Saturday (late): Chelsea v. Everton; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Sunday: Hull City v. Southampton; KCOM Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Sunday: Liverpool v. Watford; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Sunday: Swansea City v. Manchester United; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Sunday (late): Leicester City v. West Bromwich Albion; King Power Stadium, Leicester
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and looked as foolish as those Ludogorets defenders against Mesut Özil every time he played the sport in high school. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat  for zero other anecdotes about his non-existent playing career.

Preview by Numbers: Ludogorets Razgrad v. Arsenal, Champions League Group Matchday 4

Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia
Tuesday, November 1
3:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 GMT

  • Match Officials from the Netherlands
    • Referee: Bas Nijhuis
    • Assistants: Rob van de Ven and Charles Schaap
    • 4th Official: Patrick Langkamp
    • Additional Assistants: Serdar Gözübüyük and Peter Janssen
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 6 - 0 Ludogorets
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 1 Arsenal win
  • Arsenal's European Form: W-L-L // D-W-W
  • Ludogorets's European Form: W-W-D-D-L-L
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 41 °F / 5 °C
Arsenal responded well to adversity on Saturday on Wearside; as has been mentioned in plenty of places, the Gunners went on to win 4-1 in a match in which they easily would have capitulated in previous seasons. In doing so, Arsenal have extended their unbeaten run to 14 across all competitions and remain in second place in the Premier League table, behind Manchester City only on goal difference.

As the calendar changes to the traditionally difficult month of November, Arsenal would do well not to look past each individual fixture on the list. They've got Tottenham at home at the weekend, then an international break, then Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Big fixtures for sure, but they've got business to take care of in Europe first, and a tricky trip to Bulgaria. Ludogorets do not play their home games in Europe at their own stadium, due to its small size (the stadium in Razgrad seats only 8800,) but Bulgaria's national stadium will still prove to be a difficult place to play. Throw in the 2,400 kilometers (that's 1,500 miles) of travel and it's clear this won't be a walk in the park.

What Can Arsenal Clinch Tonight?

If one of Arsenal or Paris Saint-Germain win tonight and the other avoids defeat, then both clubs will be through to the knockout phase. It cannot be one or the other, however; either both or neither will qualify tonight. 

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Bellerín ("a little incident,") Walcott (hamstring,) Monreal (muscle tightness,) Pérez (ankle,) Cazorla (Achilles,) Mertesacker (knee,) Welbeck (knee)

Lucas Pérez is now firmly in the "long-term injury" position now, having completed one week of his six to eight week absence. I'm going to slot him in for a cameo appearance off the bench in Arsenal's third round FA Cup tie at the start of January for his return and anything earlier than that would be delightful. He joins Per Mertesacker and Danny Welbeck as Arsenal's long-term absentees. If he and Danny Welbeck come back around the same time, which looks possible, Arsenal will have an interesting selection headache up top.

One of the things I like most about away days in Europe is that we're 100% certain about who is actually on the plane before I have to publish this preview, which means I have more information available to write this section than I usually do. To that end, Theo Walcott (hamstring) and Nacho Monreal (muscle fatigue,) who both missed the trip to Sunderland after sitting out the cup tie against Reading, will miss this match as well.

The bigger surprise among those not on the plane is Hector Bellerín, who took part in training on Monday morning, but is being left behind after what Arsène Wenger called "a little incident," which is really too cryptic for my liking.

Santi Cazorla remains out with an Achilles injury picked up in the reverse fixture. Granit Xhaka is available for a return to the side and we'll see how many minutes the likes of Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey might get.

Predicted XI: Ospina, Jenkinson, Mustafi, Koscielny, Gibbs, Coquelin, Xhaka, Iwobi, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Özil, Alexis.

Ludogorets Squad News

Out: None

Once again, it would appear that Ludogorets have no injured players in their squad, which I guess leaves me free to talk about the Bulgarian language some more. While most Slavic languages have an extensive system of grammatical cases, noun declension has almost entirely disappeared in modern Bulgarian; only three cases remain and even these are only declined in pronouns. While Bulgarian has lost its declension, the case system still remains in a few situations; for example, the genitive is preserved only for masculine singular nouns.

Anyway, Ludogorets have started the same XI in the previous three group stage matches and, with no injuries, would not be expected to make any changes now. Natanael, however, remains one booking away from an accumulation ban.

Predicted XI: Stoyanov, Minev, Moţi, Palomino, Natanael, Dyakov, Anicet Abel, Wanderson, Misidjan, Marcelinho, Cafú.

Current Form

As I mentioned in Friday's preview, Arsenal carried a 13-match unbeaten run into the Stadium of Light back in 2009 and lost 1-0. This time around, they did not suffer the same fate, and extended that unbeaten run to 14 matches across all competitions. The last time Arsenal had a streak of this length, it was the start of the 2007/08 season, when Arsenal began the year unbeaten in 21 before losing at Sevilla in the Champions League on matchday five.

And perhaps that's a really important statistic to throw out here; you'll recall what happened in 2008, as Arsenal crumbled in the winter and finished third. It confirms what I've been harping on throughout this streak: titles aren't won in the fall.

Ludogorets have won three straight since their six goal loss in London; they beat Montana (not the state) 4-0 in a cup tie, as well as league wins over Lokomotiv Gorna Oryahovitsa (4-0) and Dunav Ruse (5-3). Like Arsenal, Ludogorets are in second place domestically on goal difference; the side from Razgrad are in second behind Levski Sofia. You might notice that this match is being played in Levski Stadium in Sofia, but this is the national stadium (the Wembley of Bulgaria, I guess,) not Levski Sofia's home stadium (it was prior to 1950, however.) But, I digress...

Match Facts

Arsenal's only match ever against a Bulgarian side was their 6-0 win over Ludogorets in the reverse fixture two weeks ago. The scoreline was a bit flattering in comparison to the performance; the Bulgarians had 57% of the possession but generated only two shots on target to Arsenal's 12. Still, David Ospina kept Arsenal in the match during a dodgy first half, but goals from Alexis Sánchez and Theo Walcott put the Gunners up 2-0 at halftime. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain added the third just after halftime to put the match away, then Mesut Özil scored three for his first career hat trick.

Arsenal's record on the road in Europe has left much to be desired in recent years. The Gunners have lost three of their last five away from home in Europe, winning only at Olympiacos on matchday six last year. Before that, Arsenal had only lost twice in 11 away from home (at Dortmund in 2014 and Napoli in 2013.) As mentioned in the intro, if Arsenal want to win Group A, they're going to need to keep matching PSG's results: the French side already won in Bulgaria on matchday two and place in Basel tonight.

Ludogorets's matchday two loss to PSG was their first home loss of this European campaign; they previously had qualifying round wins over Mladost Podgorica and Viktoria Plzeň, as well as a draw with Red Star Belgrade. Back in the 2014 group stage, the last time the Bulgarians reached this stage of the competition, only Real Madrid won in Sofia; Basel lost and Liverpool drew.

The Referee

The match officials are from the Netherlands; the referee is Bas Nijhuis. Arsenal have seen Nijhuis once, for their matchday two implosion against Olympiacos at the Emirates last season. To be fair, Nijhuis didn't drop the ball into his own net like David Ospina did. Nijhuis has not worked a Ludogorets match before and the only match he's even worked involving a Bulgarian side was a Euro qualifier in 2015, which Bulgaria lost to Norway 1-0 in Sofia.

Nijhuis's most controversial moment came in December of 2011 in a Netherlands cup tie between AZ Alkmaar and Ajax. When an Ajax fan invaded the pitch and attacked AZ goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado, Nijhuis sent off the goalkeeper for kicking the fan in self-defense. AZ's manager responded by pulling his team off the pitch and the match was abandoned.

Nijhuis has been a referee since the age of 15 and is also a full-time baker.

Around Europe
  • Tuesday: Beşiktaş v. Napoli; Vodafone Arena, Istanbul
  • Tuesday: Basel v. Paris Saint-Germain; St. Jakob-Park, Basel
  • Tuesday: Benfica v. Dynamo Kyiv; Estádio da Luz, Lisbon
  • Tuesday: Borussia Mönchengladbach v. Celtic; Borussia-Park, Mönchengladbach
  • Tuesday: Manchester City v. Barcelona; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Tuesday: Atlético Madrid v. Rostov; Vicente Calderón Stadium, Madrid
  • Tuesday: PSV Eindhoven v. Bayern Munich; Philips Stadion, Eindhoven
  • Wednesday: Monaco v. CSKA Moscow; Stade Louis II, Monaco
  • Wednesday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Bayer Leverkusen; Wembley Stadium, London
  • Wednesday: Borussia Dortmund v. Sporting Club de Portugal; Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund
  • Wednesday: Legia Warsaw v. Real Madrid; Polish Army Stadium, Warsaw
  • Wednesday: Copenhagen v. Leicester City; Parken Stadium, Copenhagen
  • Wednesday: Porto v. Club Brugge; Estádio do Dragão, Porto
  • Wednesday: Juventus v. Lyon; Juventus Stadium, Turin
  • Wednesday: Sevilla v. Dinamo Zagreb; Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium, Seville
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is declined only in the accusative case. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to remind him that grammar jokes aren't actually funny.