Ten Thoughts: Arsenal 2-1 Manchester City (AET)

Photo: Football 365

That was more like it, huh? That was as good of a team performance as I can remember from our boys in quite some time.

1. It's obviously going to take more time for the boys to get fully comfortable with the new formation - the number of occasions where City hit the woodwork alone is evidence of that - but there's something to this 3-4-3 thing if the boss decides to stick with it.

What strikes me more than anything else is how often we seem to have extra bodies defending in the penalty area when it's needed. I'll talk more about the City goal in a bit, of course, but over the last 210 minutes of play against them and Middlesbrough, there hasn't been the endless stream of quality chances against due to our backline getting pulled apart and overload situations being created.

It's amazing what can happen when everyone knows their job, and that seems to be more the case now than it had been previously. Gabriel and Rob Holding both looked great yesterday, and I think this is a big reason. Related, it's not like a World Cup winner such as Shkrodan Mustafi has all of a sudden forgotten how to defend. Structure matters, and it looks like we're starting to build it now.

2. Also, even though Pep Guardiola had an extra week to plan for it given that we tried it out first against Boro, the new formation and deeper-lying defensive line was always going to be a problem for him and his team. They're set up to take advantage of higher lines with their pace and their killer through-balls, and Arsenal didn't give them the space to do so.

Again, it wasn't a perfect performance by any means. The turn-and-shot from Yaya Toure in the 79th minute that almost won them the game was a function of poor spacing and marking from our back three. Nacho Monreal let in a few early crosses. They had a goal chalked off in the first half that I'm not sure should have been, once again down to some passive defensive play.

That said, you can't expect perfection ever, let alone the second game that you're playing a completely alien formation. All you can ask is that they restrict chances enough to give our offensive players a chance to win the game, and they emphatically did so.

3. Speaking of that chance in the 79th minute, Petr Cech did unbelievably well to get enough of a part of a fingertip onto that to push it onto the post and away to safety. There are many keepers out there that don't save that, and if that one goes in, we lose. Plain and simple.

I swear that there may not be a more underappreciated player in the league. Yes, he could have possibly done better on their goal, but in the end that's a 1-v-1 and it's hard to attribute too much blame to a keeper in a situation that isn't saved most of the time anyway.

4. Said 1-v-1 came from a quick break from City, but it shouldn't have gone down entirely like that. As I alluded to last week, a system and a formation is only as good as the discipline behind it. On this occasion, it was a free kick deep in the City end, which was cleared and then recycled back in through Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He played it in to Aaron Ramsey, who promptly lost the ball and sent City right onto the counter-attack.

Even here, we should still have been fine. Ramsey has been slated for losing the ball, but in all honesty it was just a timely press and a good win from the City defender. A lot of reaction to stuff like this is 20/20 hindsight of the worst order - losing the ball happens all the time, and it shouldn't have been dangerous from that area.

The problem is that, once again, Monreal was the only guy back to defend, *exactly* like last week. Sure, on an attacking set piece, you're always going to send men forward, including the central defenders. But, when you have three on the field, it is a ridiculous level of overkill to have all three up attacking on that play. One of them should have been left behind, most likely Holding as he's the paciest of the three. You also generally would want the other fullback further in reserve as well, though that's more difficult when it's a more attacking player like AOC.

Either way, a long ball from Toure sent Sergio Aguero away, Monreal left in the dust behind him. The Argentine took a heavy touch that would have let a quicker GK come out to smother, but Cech doesn't have that in his locker anymore. At that point, it was always going in. All you can do there is take away the more obvious far-post finish - if he has the skill to dink it over you going back against the grain like that, well, tip your hat and move on.

He also kept us in the game with that save in the 79th, so it's beyond debate that he was a net positive on the day.

5. Frankly, we were perhaps a bit lucky that David Silva went off injured as early as he did, in the 23rd minute. The Citizens did look the more dangerous team in the early exchanges, and it's not beyond the pale to assume that Silva's range of passing might have opened us up more than they were able to otherwise.

On a day where City, over the course of the 120 minutes, looked oddly lukewarm and subdued, Silva's loss was a huge one for them.

Still, while you never want to see anyone injured on either side, but I did notice that our boys seemed a lot more willing to get stuck in and put in the odd rough challenge here and there. Silva was an unfortunate bit of collateral damage there, but on the whole it was heartening to see our guys mix it up and put in a few tackles. As best as I could tell, that did as much to put off the City players as our formation and (relative) positional discipline did.

6. Our equalizer was as prominent an example as you'll see of how unfair life can be as a goalkeeper sometimes. Oddly enough, Claudio Bravo had a pretty good game. He dealt with every set piece and cross that he had a chance on, and got his team out of trouble with his footwork a few times.

But, the one time he shanks a clearance, we take it right up the other end and score. Who on earth would be a keeper?

The resultant throw-in came back to Gabriel, who shifted it out wide to AOC. The Ox turned on the jets, Gael Clichy furiously backpedaling all the while. I don't know how or why our man was allowed to take so much space and then cross in completely uncontested, but the Ox made sure to not squander the gift. He sent a peach of a curling cross into the back side of the six-yard box, and Monreal was left alone on the back stick to hammer a volley past Bravo and into the corner. What a goal.

By the way, for those of you slating our Welshman for losing the ball, Monreal had that time and space because Ramsey made a brilliant dummy run into the same area, creating an overload on their most inexperienced defender in Jesus Navas.

7. Even before it got to extra time, both sides had chances to win it before the end of the 90. There was the aforementioned wonder save by Cech in the 79th, countered almost immediately by Ozil squandering a potential breakaway by not just taking the shot when it was available. Minutes later, Fernandinho got the better of Laurent Koscielny on a corner to head against the bar, and then straight after the substitute Danny Welbeck should have won it when presented with an open shot in a good location.

It was all breathless stuff, and quite the contrast to the largely gray dirge that was the first half.

One other semi-related point there - we often (me included) lose our minds when Arsene doesn't make subs until late in a match, but on this specific occasion I thought it was a masterstroke. Despite losing the first goal, our guys didn't panic and they stuck to the plan. It was great to see, and I appreciated the fact that the boss recognized that and let them keep on keepin' on. Then, once the game switched gears and the pace ramped up, we were able to bring on someone like Welbeck to tweak our personnel to match the demands of the game. Credit where it's due, the manager got it all right on the day.

8. It was apparent that we were getting stronger and they were weakening as the match wore on, so it's not that surprising that we out-chanced them in the extra time session. Holding should have won it when presented with a free header on a corner, and later Welbeck should have extended our lead with yet another free header.

If it's sounding like City's defense were a bit Arsenalesque by then, the winning goal was truly the avatar of the art form. We played a free kick to the back post, which Koscielny won and sent back into the center. Welbeck couldn't control it, but it unsettled their defense enough for Alexis to steal in and fire home through Vincent Kompany's legs and past the helpless Bravo. We'd be furious if our guys conceded like that, and rightly so. But, all credit to Alexis' predator instincts and finishing ability, though.

9. I don't often incorporate post-match interview soundbites into these reports as I usually write them directly after the match. But, I had some degree of joy in reading about Guardiola's whining that they controlled the game but we "played long balls" against them.

I don't know what you're moaning about, mate. You're the one that picked Gael Clichy in a FA Cup Semifinal.

10. The sum total of all this is, if nothing else, we've given ourselves the opportunity to salvage our season with another FA Cup win. Of course, Chelsea is going to be an unbelievably tough ask. They're a lot more experienced with the 3-4-3 formation, and thus are probably more aware than anyone about where the weak points in it are. Eden Hazard is playing out of his mind. You won't see very many keepers better than Thibaut Courtois. Their wingbacks are dangerous. The defense is well-drilled. N'golo Kante is now the reigning Player of the Year.

But, the beauty of a one-off knockout game is that anything can happen. Hell, remember when Wigan bloody Athletic almost knocked us out of the competition at this very stage a few years back?

At the very least, I think this formation (with some tweaks and small improvements) gives us a puncher's chance - one we wouldn't have had in my view with the old headless chicken routine. We'll still need some moment of magic, be it from Ozil or Alexis or maybe a cameo from an otherwise bit-part player.

I don't assume that we'll win, but I do think it's possible. It's been a tough season, a tough year overall, but stopping Roman's Mercenaries from winning a Double would at least end it all on more pleasing note.  Bring it the fuck on.

PS: Hug your loved ones today. Just trust me on that one.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Manchester City, FA Cup Semi-Final

Wembley Stadium, London
Sunday, April 23
10:00 a.m. EDT, 15:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Craig Pawson
    • Assistants: Simon Bennett and Steve Child
    • 4th Official: Stuart Attwell
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 96 Arsenal wins, 50 Manchester City wins, 45 draws
  • All-Time in the FA Cup: 2 Arsenal wins, 1 Manchester City win
  • Arsenal's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Preston North End, 2-1
    • Fourth Round: Beat Southampton, 5-0
    • Fifth Round: Beat Sutton United, 2-0
    • Sixth Round: Beat Lincoln City, 5-0
  • Manchester City's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat West Ham United, 5-0
    • Fourth Round: Beat Crystal Palace, 3-0
    • Fifth Round: Beat Huddersfield Town, 5-1
    • Sixth Round: Beat Middlesbrough, 2-0
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-L-D-W-L-W
  • Manchester City's League Form: D-D-D-L-W-W
All of a sudden, everything's serious again. Just as we were coasting along with some absurd and sad results, leading to obscurely philosophical match preview from moi, Arsenal went ahead and won again. They're still seven points out of a Champions League spot, but they do have a game in hand, so there's that. And here we are now, getting ready for a cup semi-final.

In all of the nonsense and stupid losses and airplanes over the last month, here we are about to go to Wembley for an FA Cup tie with Manchester City, the very team Arsenal are chasing for fourth. The confidence boost of a win could have tremendous ramifications going forward as Arsenal try to salvage something out of the disaster that was this winter.

We'll know some 20 hours or so before kick-off whom Arsenal would face in the final, whether it's that lot from up the road or that other lot from down that other road. So, let the anxiety begin!

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Mustafi (thigh,) Pérez (thigh,) Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Welbeck (toe,) Ospina (back)

It was a bit surprising when Arsenal unveiled their XI with a back three on Monday night to find that Shkodran Mustafi was missing from the 18-man squad, on his birthday no less! It turns out the German international has a thigh injury, which will keep him out of this match as well.

Elsewhere, Lucas Pérez's thigh injury appears to be a long-term one; he has not featured since March 11 against Lincoln City. Santi Cazorla's season, as we already knew, is over. David Ospina remains a strong doubt, while Danny Welbeck has also become a doubt with a toe injury.

As for whether Arsenal play with three, four, or thirty-six at the back, well, we'll just have to wait and see. As such, I'm just going to throw in the same XI that started at Middlesbrough and see what happens...

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

Manchester City Squad News

Out: Gündoğan (knee)
Doubts: Jesus (match fitness,) Sagna (groin,) Stones (knock)

İlkay Gündoğan injured ligaments in his knee just days before Manchester City played Arsenal in the reverse fixture back in December, so this will be the third meeting between these clubs this season that the German will miss. Gabriel Jesus, das Wunderkind, has been out since February with a foot injury; he's back in training but lacking match fitness. I would not expect him to feature.

John Stones missed Manchester City's match last weekend at Southampton with "a small problem," but moves into the doubt column here; he's more likely than not to feature. Ex-Arsenal right back Bacary Sagna, who has been sans blond braids for far too long now, looks like a doubt as well, as he was back when the sides met at the Emirates earlier this month.

Predicted XI: Bravo, Navas, Stones, Kompany, Clichy, Fernandinho, de Bruyne, Sterling, Silva, Sané, Agüero.

Current Form

When Arsenal and Manchester City played to a 2-2 draw on April 2 at the Emirates, in marked three league games without a win for both clubs. For City, it was three draws and for Arsenal, it was two losses and one draw. Since then, both sides have won twice and lost once, though under very different circumstances.

Arsenal rebounded from the three match winless run by beating West Ham United at home 3-0. They lost all of that momentum quickly, however, by falling 3-0 to Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. A week later, they got back in the win column with a 2-1 win at relegation threatened Middlesbrough.

As for Manchester City, their three match winless run was extended to four with a 2-1 loss at Chelsea. They've recovered, however, with two wins: 3-1 over Hull City and 3-0 over Southampton. This has consolidated their position in fourth place with 64 points; they're four points clear of Manchester United and seven points clear of Arsenal, but both of those clubs have a game in hand.

Match Facts

Manchester City took four of a possible six points from Arsenal in their two league encounters this season. Manchester City won the meeting in Manchester 2-1 back in December. Theo Walcott opened the scoring in the fifth minute for Arsenal, who had lost at Everton earlier in the week. Things looked good for Arsenal for a while, though I will admit that I was on a bus back from Washington, DC from a wedding so I missed the game entirely. Manchester City equalized two minutes after halftime through Leroy Sané, though there were shades of offside; again, never submitted myself to watching the highlights, so I'm not sure how obvious those shades were. Raheem Sterling netted the winner 19 minutes from time.

At the Emirates earlier this month, Arsenal came from behind twice to draw 2-2. Sané opened the scoring in the fifth minute this time, while Arsenal remained a shambles at the back. The Gunners settled in eventually and had an equalizer through Theo Walcott on 40 minutes. They switched off again immediately, however, and City were back in front through Sergio Agüero two minutes later. Arsenal found another equalizer off the head of Shkodran Mustafi from a set piece on 53 minutes and the game ended drawn.

To date, these clubs have only met three times in the FA Cup, with Arsenal winning two of them. Manchester City's win came in 1904, by a 2-0 margin. Arsenal picked up a 1932 Semi-Final win against City, 1-0 at Villa Park, before they went on to lose to Newcastle in the final, as well as a 2-1 win in Manchester in 1971's fifth round, en route to the Double.

The Referee

The referee is South Yorkshire-based Craig Pawson. Arsenal are two-for-two in matches with Pawson in the middle this season, winning 1-0 at Burnley back in October (through a questionable late goal, to boot) and 5-1 at West Ham in December. Manchester City have only seen Pawson once, for a 1-0 loss at Anfield on New Year's Eve.

Back in December, just as Pawson was assigned that clash between City and Liverpool, former referee Howard Webb stated that Pawson should not have been allowed to work that game after a series of high profile errors earlier in the month, first for only showing yellow to Marcus Rojo after a two-footed lunge on Wilfried Zaha and second for showing red three days later to Jamie Vardy for lunging at Mame Diouf, despite being off-balance after a shove from Glen Johnson. Pawson, of course, then worked the Liverpool-City game without incident.

In eight previous matches with Pawson in the middle, Arsenal have a record of four wins, two losses, and two draws. For Manchester City, in six matches, they have two wins, one loss, and three draws.

Around England
  • Saturday: Bournemouth v. Middlesbrough; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Saturday: Hull City v. Watford; KCOM Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Stoke City; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Everton; Olympic Stadium, London
  • FA Cup Saturday (late): Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur; Wembley Stadium, London
  • Sunday: Burnley v. Manchester United; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Sunday: Liverpool v. Crystal Palace; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Out of Action: Leicester City, Southampton, Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a Canadian radio station broadcasting out of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for all the greatest hits from the '70, '80s, and '90s.

Ten Thoughts: Middlesbrough 1-2 Arsenal

Photo:  @hughwizzy

Nice one, Alexis. 

1. All right, hands up who saw that switch to 3-5-2 coming?

The thing is, as much attention as a lot of us pay to tactics and formations and such, a lot of a team's success will still come down to how well those systems are executed. It should be noted that for never having deployed this formation in a live match environment before, there were positives on display. Sure, there are also glaring issues that need to be addressed, but one step at a time.

If pressed to provide one example of each, I'd say the main negative is that we still don't look all that fluid going forward. That's not to take away from the fact that Middlesbrough are one of the more defensively-solid teams in the division, but there was still a lot of the same old sideways-passing dirge that has plagued our offensive game for years.

The positive though is that, at least as far as shape goes, we did at least come closer to impersonating a team that can defend. Middlesbrough had their chances for sure, but those tended to stem from individual errors more than gaping holes being left in our defensive formation. That is, fingers crossed, an easier thing to correct for than an endless array of unmarked tap-ins on the back post and whatever that was against West Brom.

2. I hate to harp on negatives after a win, even one like this that was a total slog at times. So, let's talk about some of the things that I liked, besides the obvious bit about the two goals we scored and the football match we won.

Rob Holding had a fantastic game on the left-hand side of the central defensive three. His contribution was vital, not least because that's the side of the field that contains our biggest gaping chest wound defensively, aka Nacho Monreal. The beauty of the system is that on several occasions, it was Holding rather than Monreal who was required to intervene at the end of a passage of play. Whatever else, that may have been the difference between victory and the unthinkable today.

3. Also, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was a revelation at right wing-back. Many of our best attacks came down that side, often because AOC seemed to be the only one willing to take on a man at times. The television commentators were mentioning that Hector Bellerin has been playing hurt since the game against the nearest and dearest, and that would frankly answer a lot of questions. If we're staying with this formation, and I see no reason why we shouldn't, perhaps it's best if Hector sat out for a while and recovered his health.

That said, the one blot on AOC's copybook is that he had two glorious chances to cap off impressive forays past the Boro defense right at the end of the match, and both were squandered. The first was smothered by the excellent Brad Guzan (yes, really) when others were better-placed, the second was fired into the side netting.

If our dude can find his shooting boots, we may have an intriguing weapon to bring with us to the FA Cup semifinal.

4. Now, here I present Twitter, summed up in one exchange.

Step 1: Ridiculous statement
Step 2: Ridiculous statement refuted with actual fact

The only thing that could make this even more the distilled essence of the platform is if the person had blocked me. Hell, there's still time.

5. I mean, I shouldn't even get involved in shit like that, but, you know:

It's all the more annoying to see on a day where, frankly, Petr Cech got us out of jail. The best save came off of a diving header from Daniel Ayala, which was the third in a series of: Middlesbrough goal - almost a second a little bit later - this chance. All of that was in the span of a harrowing few minutes, a sequence that truly should never have happened against a "can't score in a brothel" club like Boro. 

Stewart Downing - yes, he's still in the league somehow - was a thorn in our side all damn day, in this case sending a peach of a free kick into our penalty area. It somehow eluded everyone until a Boro man on the back post recycled the ball back into the center, where Ayala was waiting. Cech's positioning and rebound control were perfect, and we were able to clear. 

There was another instance that I noted on Twitter where the stupidity came from the commentating team. It was a corner kick, and a good one. Cech comes for it, clambers over and through a forest of bodies to punch it away enough to get it out of the penalty area, and Color Commentator Dipshit Man goes "Well, that wasn't very convincing".

I should learn to let a lot of the rampant ignorance about goalkeeping go, but I don't think I'll ever be able to...at least until I hang up my gloves myself, I guess.

6. The goal was super annoying, of course. And, as I noted in the Tweet exchange above, was not Cech's fault. I swear, one day I'm going to commemorate Monreal's time at the club by writing and publishing a coffee table book. At present, the working title is "The Best 500 Goals Conceded By Arsenal Because Nacho Fucking Monreal Can't Close Down Opposing Wingers". 

7. Anyway, low-key one of the real moments of relief today came at the final whistle, besides the obvious reasons. On a day where Grant Leadbitter had to play through a hamstring injury, Fabio Da Silva limped off after 16 minutes and guys were falling over every few minutes, we seem to have gotten through this one injury-free. 

I mean, did they just harvest the crops from this field minutes before the opening whistle?

8. Mesut Ozil led all Arsenal players with 4 tackles won today. But, you know, nicking a living, is a lazy git, etc and so on. 

Speaking of, how have I gotten this deep into the report without talking about the Arsenal goals? Alexis' free kick was a gorgeous bit of skill, absolutely unsaveable by god or man. You could maybe quibble about Guzan's placement behind the wall, but that shot was up over the wall and back down so fast, he was never keeping it out anyway. The Chilean was a bit quiet otherwise and did give the ball away too much for my liking, but he's here for moments of magic like that. 

The second goal was the end result of a trifecta of skillful plays. Alexis' chipped ball over the Boro back line was sumptuous, Aaron Ramsey's chest-down into the path of Ozil was brilliant, and the German's finish into the near corner was authoritative. What a stellar team goal that was.

9. Before we get to the last bit, I'd like to take this time to inform referee Anthony Taylor that his parents are of questionable lineage and he is hereby cordially invited to copulate with the farm animal of his choosing. Given the state of the pitch at the Riverside Stadium, I assume they're in ready supply.

Taylor was a questionable assignment for our match in the first place, given how relatively little time has passed since the pushing incident with Arsene Wenger. The bastard didn't even try to hide that it was still on his mind, too. Whether it was booking AOC in the 3rd minute for a foul that he wouldn't even whistle on a Boro player, or Ayala's best WWE bearhug on Olivier Giroud in the penalty area early on, or the various other incidents where they'd scythe down one of our guys only to be met with that derisory and condescending "get up" hand motion, our guy here didn't miss a trick. 

10. Still, shit referee or not, we got the three points and that was the most important thing. Now, consistency is badly required as we head into some of the biggest matches of the season. The FA Cup has to be the highest priority for obvious reasons, but second should be the upcoming North London Derby. At this stage, it's especially unlikely that we're going to get our St. Totteringham's Day this season, but at least driving a stake into their title hopes would go some way towards making up for the nine-alarm dumpster fire that has been this season.

To my eyes, the most vital question as to whether that will be possible is if we keep this new formation, and if so, if we can get more comfortable with it in the short amount of time we have left. I almost always keep notes of some fashion as I'm watching the match, and the one that stuck out to me as I started to write this was one moment late in the second half, when we were up 2-1. A passage of play ended with Monreal having a shot blocked, and the ball cannoned a fair distance out the other way. A Boro player took it and all of a sudden was somehow completely alone with just Monreal back covering. Eventually AOC turned on the afterburners and came back to tackle it away, but my question is how in the unearthly hell do we have that situation when there are three (3) center-halves on the pitch? Where were they? Why are they that far forward when the game situation way doesn't apply to that kind of recklessness?

It's things like that which belie formations to a large extent. I still believe it's the manager who is ultimately responsible for that void of leadership and discipline, and why frankly I'm still not all that hopeful that we'll come good when it matters. I mean, someone said on a forum I post at, right at the final whistle, "All right, we're slightly better than Middlesbrough!". It was snark, of course, but on the other hand it has that grain of truth, doesn't it? We went life and death with a relegation certainty, which in one case is understandable because they're fighting for their lives, but then again they're one of the most inept clubs offensively in the Premier League era. 

All I'm saying is let's maybe keep the advice of one Winston Wolf in mind, eh?

Man of the Match: Finally, an Arsenal player for once. Step up, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Preview by Numbers: Middlesbrough v. Arsenal

Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
Monday, April 17
3:00 p.m. EDT, 20:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Anthony Taylor
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and Adam Nunn
    • 4th Official: Kevin Friend
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 0 - 0 Middlesbrough
  • This Match, Last Time: Middlesbrough 1 - 1 Arsenal (December 13, 2008)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 64 Arsenal wins, 33 Middlesbrough wins, 34 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-L-L-D-W-L
  • Middlesbrough's League Form: L-L-L-D-L-D
Before moving on with this preview, I wanted to start with the opportunity to talk a bit about the horror that took place in Dortmund on Tuesday. Sports are meant to be a diversion in our lives, so to have such an unconscionable act occur before such a momentous occasion is truly tough to swallow. To force that team to then play the match anyway some 22 hours later is insane and for Borussia Dortmund to somehow still be in this tie despite trailing 2-0 at halftime is a testament to a level of mental strength I couldn't even fathom having myself.

The stories of all the Dortmund supporters who used social media to help find places for the traveling Monaco supporters to spend the night were heartwarming and a reminder that when there is so much struggle and negativity and hatred in the world, football binds us together irrevocably.

Echte Liebe.


According to this diagram, the Europa League exists inside
of a swirling vortex.
Given the current situation around Arsenal, I haven't the slightest idea where to even begin with this aside from the only bit of good news I have on hand: Arsenal mathematically cannot be relegated.

Other than that, let me take this opportunity to explain to you how the Europa League works. England is awarded three slots for the Europa League: the fifth place finisher in the table and the FA Cup winner qualify for the group stage; the League Cup winner qualifies for the Europa League's third qualifying round. However, those cup slots will go to the next lower spot on the table should the winner qualify for a better round of European competition. This is especially relevant because all of the FA Cup Semi-finalists are in the top seven in the table, as is the League Cup winner, Manchester United.

This means that if Arsenal are out of the top four but finish fifth, sixth, or win the FA Cup, they will go into the Europa League group stage. If they finish seventh and fail to win the FA Cup, they will go into the qualifying rounds. The only way they make the Champions League is by finishing fourth or above, but you knew that already.

So yeah, from there, there are 48 teams in the group stage, divided into 12 groups of four. The top two teams in each group advance to the knockouts, where they are joined by eight third-place group finishers from the Champions League. That leaves 32 teams in the knockout phase.

If you're curious what kinds of teams Arsenal could draw in the Europa League, let's look around the rest of the European league tables right now. You've got Villarreal from Spain, Hertha Berlin from Germany, and Lazio and Atalanta from Italy. Many of the other predictions are harder to make because domestic cup winners and earlier play-off rounds will decide the rest.

So great, now we're prepared for Thursdays! Fun!

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Ospina (knock,) Koscielny (Achilles,) Čech (calf,) Pérez (thigh)

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that "man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does." For some people who shall remain nameless, that includes losing 3-0 at Crystal Palace.

Who will start in goal for Arsenal? Allow me to illustrate through the story of Sisyphus, who was punished by the gods for his deceitfulness by forcing him to roll a boulder up a hill for all eternity, only for the boulder to roll back down to the bottom upon his completion. What I'm saying is every time Petr Čech rolls a boulder up a hill, David Ospina allows it to roll back down and maybe Emiliano Martínez is there too.

Laurent Koscielny's Achilles injury is not as serious as first feared, and I will wrap him up in bubble wrap and throw him out there myself if I have to, God damn it.

Predicted XI: Čech, Bellerín, Mustafi, Koscielny held together with duct tape and bubble wrap if we have to, Monreal, Ramsey, Xhaka, Alexis, Walcott, Özil, Giroud.

Middlesbrough Squad News

Out: Chambers (loan terms,) Friend (calf)
Doubts: Fabio (concussion,) Ramírez (ankle)

Is it like that episode of Star Trek where Riker's beard caused
him to multiply? No, that wasn't it?
Calum Chambers is ineligible to play against his parent club as part of the terms of his loan deal. This reminds me, you know how in FIFA you can play as Arsenal against Arsenal if you set up a single match that way? Let's ponder the ramifications that would have on the spacetime continuum.

First of all, the sheer amount of energy that would be required to duplicate every single player and coach in a given squad has gotta be equivalent to the energy produced by a star three times the size of our own meager Sun. And, think about it, who is going to fill out the visiting fan section? I mean, people in the away ticket scheme will also have season tickets at the Emirates, meaning they will also be duplicated. The price of prawn sandwiches would at least be double due to an increase in demand. Granit Xhaka would be sent off for a stupid lunge on Granit Xhaka in midfield (by the way, the ref would be Jonathan Moss, clearly.) Petr Čech would probably fail to stop a penalty at some point, maybe both of them would. And a largely symmetrical match would end drawn. Really, we wouldn't learn anything from this and the cost to produce that amount of energy would bankrupt the planet ten times over.

George Friend is out with a calf problem, Fabio, not the model, remains a doubt as he recovers from a concussion, and Gastón Ramírez, the villain from Beauty and the Beast, is a doubt with an ankle injury. The first time I typed this, I typed that as Beauty and the Beat, which would imply that he was actually the villain from that Go-Go's album.

Predicted XI: Valdés, Ayala, Bernardo, Gibson, Downing, Barragán, Clayton, Forshaw, Leadbitter, Stuani, Negredo.

Current Form

Which manager is this? Oh, sorry, it's Satan.
Through me you go to the grief wracked city; Through me you go to everlasting pain; Through me you go a pass among lost souls. Justice inspired my exalted Creator: I am a creature of the Holiest Power, of Wisdom in the Highest and of Primal Love. Nothing till I was made was made, only eternal beings. And I endure eternally. Abandon all hope — Ye Who Enter Here...

If you remove FA Cup victories against lower level competition, these two clubs have combined for... ... wait, a minute, this can't be right. They've combined for eight wins against top flight competition since December 10. That's four months! And seven of those wins belong to Arsenal! Indeed, Middlesbrough have not won a league game since December 17 against Swansea. One might say they're due.

As to which exact circle of Hell we are currently occupying according to Inferno, uhhh... maybe fraud? That's the eighth one, yikes, that's pretty deep...

Match Facts

That about sums it up.
These sides played a scoreless draw at the Emirates in October on Arsène Wenger's birthday. Arsenal had three-quarters of the possession, yet took one fewer shot attempt than Boro on the day, highlighting the exercise in futility of the match. To put the final icing on the cake, Arsenal had a 93rd minute winner from Mesut Özil correctly ruled offside.

The last time Arsenal played at Riverside Stadium was in December of 2008, a damaging 1-1 draw where ex-Arsenal striker Jérémie Aliadière canceled out Emmanuel Adebayor's opener. At the time, the draw left Arsenal eight points adrift of the top spot in the league and while it would prove to be the third match in an 21-match unbeaten run in the league, Arsenal drew nine of those 21 and never climbed higher than fourth in the table.

Five of the last seven league meetings between these two clubs have ended drawn, with both clubs winning one of the remaining two. Arsenal have not won at the Riverside in its last three tries, dating back to a 1-0 win in 2005.

The Referee

The referee is Cheshire-based Anthony Taylor, who might be dishonest to his federation. For someone whose profession entails making decisions and meting out punishments in as unbiased a way as possible, dishonesty would be cause for dismissal. Honesty is a central tenet of being a match official. Directly questioning an official's impartiality, however, is common when a decision has just gone against you. Of course, then Arsène Wenger shoved him, so a four-match touchline ban was about right.

Taylor was the fourth official in that match, meaning he didn't even make the decision that led to the accusation. Taylor had not served as referee for any Arsenal match this season before that point, but later took charge of the 5-0 win over Lincoln City.

Whether or not Boro think Taylor is dishonest to his federation I don't know, but he has taken charge of their 0-0 draw at West Brom in August and their 1-0 FA Cup win over powerhouse Accrington Stanley in January.

Around the League

I believe this is a handball.
It is a fallacy to believe that football matches are anything more than independent events in time, but any information regarding results in other matches will psychologically affect players who become aware of said results; for example, Tottenham players believed it was actually 1-1 at Newcastle. Kicking a ball in Liverpool only affects a match in Sunderland through quantum entanglement.

That said, Arsenal play last this weekend, meaning they will have full knowledge of the events of the other matches of the weekend. Tottenham play first as they host Bournemouth in Saturday's early game, while Manchester City's trip to Southampton is the late game. On Sunday, West Brom hosts Liverpool in the early game while Chelsea's trip to Old Trafford is the weekend's centerpiece fixture.

Some other games will happen on Saturday, matches which will be meaningless in the grand scheme of life, presumably, such as Crystal Palace v. Leicester, Everton v. Burnley, Stoke v. Hull, Sunderland v. West Ham, and Watford v. Swansea. During those hours, you are advised to spend time with loved ones, enjoy the outdoors, and reflect on the joys you have experienced up to this point in your life.

John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and took one philosophy class in college. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for fewer musings than this.

Five More Thoughts: Crystal Palace 3-0 Arsenal

In my rush to get Ten Thoughts out before my own match last night (10-2 win, thank you very much), it turns out that there were a few other things on my mind about this unbelievably appalling result/season/decade.

1. Starting with a lighter note, I had forgotten that Palace put on Mathieu Flamini as their third substitution. I have no love for Sam Allardyce, but credit where it's due, that is top-class banter.

2. When you get a chance, head over to Arseblog News and have a look at the video that Blogs put up from Jamie Carragher's post-match punditry. I defy you to find anything inaccurate in anything he said. We're a laughingstock.

3. Submitted without further comment:

4. These are words spoken by Arsene in the post-match presser:

"Look, I face questions about my future all the time but tonight I’m not in the mood to speak about it. Honestly I’m disappointed tonight so much. To see us lose the game in the way we did … that’s very disappointing. It would be ‘inconvenient’ for me to speak about my own future tonight."

Oh, I'm sorry. It's inconvenient? You're not in the mood?

Well, you know what I'm not in the mood for? Watching the same goddamn shit that we have for years now. The same problems, the same leadership void, the same lack of fight, the same taking world-class players and bringing them down to our level, which gets lower by the day. That's not what I'm in the bloody mood for.

5. That leads me to the main point that I didn't have time for before. I swear, I'm going to burst a blood vessel in my brain the next time I read some article or quote from a former player or whatever whose thesis is "be careful what you wish for, you don't know what the next man would be like."

The stupidity of that take knows no bounds. As we speak, it is rocketing out past the outer reaches of known space into whatever lies beyond, where even there I can't see there being a sporting squadron as infuriating as this one. My god.

Change is inevitable. Everything in football is *always* changing - tactics, formations, managers, the first-team squad of any club in any league in any country year over year, etc. You will never find a club, not at any level, with the same 23 that they had the year before. The wheel always turns, and when a club brings in a new central midfielder or striker or goalkeeper, they don't know for sure that they are going to be any better than the guy they replaced, either. Nothing in life, let alone sport, is ever certain. Ever.

But, most sentient beings with functioning central nervous systems recognize the truth behind the old axiom that if you stay still, you fall behind.

We last won the Premier League in 2003-04. The constant refrain of "he deserves a chance to put this right" gives me gallows-style laughing fits because he's had thirteen bloody years to do so. Say whatever you want about our so-called austerity era (personally I've always believed it to be a bunch of malarkey meant to cover up for his insistence on that whole Project Youth thing), but even that only really turns thirteen into a slightly lesser number. Try as I might, I cannot conceive of any other walk of life where "I succeeded 15 years ago" gives you an eternal carte-blanche to fail and fail and fail and fail again.

He had his time to put it right. Not only has he not done so, but we're plummeting in the other direction at faster-than-light speed.

I keep coming back to that phrase of "diminishing returns". For me, there is no more apt way to describe what's going on with us. It's almost like half-lives in nuclear physics - the longer we do nothing, the more we deteriorate and decay, and the harder it's going to be for the next man when we do finally change. Even this board will change one day - Arsene's getting up there in age and it's not like we're going to trot him out when he's 90, not unless there's some dark necromantic rituals going on in a cellar in Ashburton Grove somewhere. One glorious day, we will have a new manager.

So, let's come back to that whole "be careful what you wish for" bit. Knowing that Arsene will leave one day, how is it any more or less harmful to make the change now than it would be two years from now, or five, or ten? Yes, of *course* it's possible that the men in charge of this club will make the wrong decision and bring in someone wholly unsuited for the Premier League (sadly that's too abstract a concept to take to Ladbrokes or Paddy Power because man oh man I'd be putting absolute bank on that).

But, what is worse? Continuing to play the same bad-and-getting-worse hand every time out, slowly bleeding what chips we have left away, or folding it knowing that the next deal just as well could be a much better hand as it could be a worse one? Besides, how can anyone seriously still be pulling this concern-trolling nonsense when we're losing to teams we never lose to, in streaks we've never hit before in the Wenger Era, with goals flying into our net at rates that they never have before?

To reiterate: What is the positives, the value-add, in keeping Arsene at this point? What is the argument for it? Any one I can think of gets a million holes Tommy-gunned into them with every passing week where we have to watch this uninterested team pass the ball sideways and get picked apart by the same tactics that were tripping us up in 2006.

Let's be clear - we certainly do not have the divine right to win trophies, or even to be an above-average side. But, what we do have the right to is a club that does everything in its power to meet those objectives, and frankly, even more ambitious one than those. We deserve and are entitled to the club's best fist of it. Sometimes we may succeed and sometimes we may fail, and that's fine. It is beyond question though that we have quite a few institutional advantages - wealth, location in one of the biggest capitals on the continent, a previous history of winning, some pretty damn good players in the squad when properly motivated - that should make success a lot more likely than failure.

This state of affairs is, emphatically and without question, deficient to those requirements. The facts, plain as day, are that Arsene Wenger is no longer a top-class manager, and he no longer is capable of succeeding at Arsenal Football Club. Last season's 2nd-place finish was an obvious mirage in what was a down year for all of the other major players.

I saw something once on a whiteboard at my old company, which at the time I wrote off as corporate-babble nonsense but seems unbelievably apropos now. It simply said "Hope is not a strategy." Hoping Arsene can, in the face of all available evidence, turn this around is not a strategy, and it's not good enough coming from a club of our size and resources.

It's time. It was time 5 years ago or more, but it's REALLY time now.


Ten Thoughts: Crystal Palace 3-0 Arsenal

Welp. When the Blogfather is right, he's right.

1. Pound for pound, this may be the worst result of the season. That might be the case not only in terms of effort level in conjunction to how fast a top-four spot is slipping away, but in terms of chances created, determination and fight, etc. As a whole, it was a performance more impotent than the Before half of a Viagra ad. Wayne Hennessey made one top-class diving save in the first half, and was never troubled again.

I mean, it's been a while since we were well and truly Allardyce'd, which I guess has some kind of poetic symmetry since we just got Pulis'd again a few weeks back. It's like a Late Stage Wenger Greatest Hits album. Those two, Bayern Munich, the inability to beat the worst Manchester United team in living memory, etc etc etc. It's astonishing.

This board is going to give him another contract, too. More on that in Thought 10.

2. I'm told that the last two Arsenal losses to Crystal Palace in the league were in 1994 and 1979. Let that sink in for a second.

3. The first half was as incompetent a 45 minutes as I've seen from Arsenal in the last 20 years. This has all of the hallmarks of a group of players that have comprehensively given up the ghost. I mean, Arsene should have binned that "a team of leaders" nonsense ages ago, especially because it assumes facts not in evidence. There was literally no one on the pitch or in the dugout who had it in them to motivate their peers to reverse course and start fighting. Talent matters but it's not the only ingredient of a winning team.

As I said in the pub (I did go today!), Steve Bould would have never let this happen before he got assimilated by the Borg.

4. Related to that, assigning most of the blame to the players badly misses the point.

Matter of fact, I'll do it for you. This is the Chelsea team that won away to Bournemouth this week...may I remind you, the rampant champions-elect version of their lot:

Courtois - Azpilicueta, Cahill, Luiz, Alonso, Moses, Matic, Kante, Pedro, Costa, Hazard.  Subs: Begovic, Fabregas, Willian, Zouma, Batshuyai, Terry, Chalobah

And, this is the Chelsea team - the abject 10th place version - that drew miserably 0-0 away to Watford:

Courtois - Ivanovic, Terry, Zouma, Azpilicueta, Mikel, Matic, Willian, Fabregas, Oscar, Costa.  Subs: Begovic, Baba, Hazard, Traore, Kenedy, Cahill, Loftus-Cheek.

Really bloody similar, isn't it? That's my point. If I were arsed/didn't have a match of my own to play in a little over an hour, I could find one even more similar, I'm sure. The players deserve some share of the blame to be sure, but leadership counts in this sport and it's telling how almost the same personnel (with some minor tweaks and a few good buys) can go from 10th to champions basically overnight, albeit with a new manager.

(Insert "thinking guy" emoji here).

5. Another thing to keep in mind - if Christian Benteke were any good at this game, this'd have been 6-0 instead of 3-0.

6. I've already seen the backlash on Emi Martinez for giving away the penalty today, and honestly, we Arsenal supporters are just the fucking worst. It took one week to go from "He's better than Cech and Ospina combined, play him every game!" to "He's no different than  Almunia, RABBLE RABBLE RABBLE". Y'all are wailing to bring back Wojciech Szczesny, and y'all were the same damn ones who ran him out of town on a rail to begin with.

I watch Roma matches, guys, he's the same damn guy he was when he left. Million-dollar talent, ten-cent head. He just plays for a better manager with better tactics and much more solid defending in front of him. He also gets to play teams like Crotone, Sassuolo and Empoli - you know, places with about the population of Bushwick or Woodside. Calm down.

I'm going to say this nice and slow for you: Goalkeeping. Has. Been. The. Least. Of. Our. Problems. This. Season. For. Fuck's. Fucking. Sake. You. Muppets.

7. Sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, give the ball away.

Repeat ad infinitum.

8. I mean, we were getting ole'd, away to Crystal Palace, who are a Sam Allardyce team. We really are bravely going from nadir to nadir this season.

9. I have to say, though, Yohan Cabaye's goal was a beauty. He hit the shit out of that, clean into the upper 90. Let me repeat: The beautiful football today was provided by a Sam Allardyce team.

10. Look, here's the crux of the whole thing - Arsene has to go. In a sane world, with a sane club, he'd have been gone eons ago. On one hand, there's something nice to see about this much loyalty in a world where chairmen have gone insane, and the top two levels of the English game have turned into Serie A on amphetamines when it comes to managerial sackings. However, loyalty can be misplaced, and it can be folly when reality is staring you in the face and you refuse to admit what is happening.

We've been mediocre for years. That's the truth. Much like Sunderland have survived the last few seasons mainly on the strength of other teams somehow pratfalling worse than they did, we've maintained our top-four status more often due to the failings of other clubs than anything positive that we've contributed to our own efforts. That's just facts.

That's also what the outside world - pundits, other supporters, etc don't seem to get about this situation. Yes, we could be Millwall or Leeds. Yes, other clubs like West Brom exist to make up the numbers in a skull-crushingly tedious march to 40 points every season. Yes, Arsene's teams did good things 15 years ago.

All of that - ALL of that - misses the point though. What you have to consider is the delta between potential and output...season after season for a decade or more now, we have been significantly less than the sum of our parts. I have been sports-obsessed for 30 years, and I can't think of any decent analog in any sport, in any year. There have been teams who have underachieved, but not at this level, and not for this long.

You have to consider the manner in which it's happening, as well. We are poor at set piece defending, and we have been for years. We allow crosses to come in too easily with fullbacks too far inside, all the time, and we have done for years. There is always at least one gaping hole in the squad, sometimes in more than one position, and there has been for years. Especially if one or two key men are out, there is headless-chicken defending in our own penalty area, like Palace's first goal today, and there has been for years. There is no leadership in this team, and there hasn't been since Gilberto Silva left.

I could go on for days, but the point is that Arsene has consistently shown an inability to get anything close to the best out of his players, and he hasn't done since the Invincibles were broken up. Every season is another round of diminishing returns, inexorably heading towards where we are now - very much the 6th-best team in England, despite having players good enough to win the league.

And, we DO have those players. I keep saying it every week, and it hasn't stopped being true. These are some of the best players in the world. Some of them - Alexis, Ozil, Koscielny - literally world-class. Giroud has one of the best scoring rates on the continent. Cech and Ospina are no worse than what some other top, top clubs have (Cheatalona won everything with Victor Valdes and Claudio Bravo). Mustafi, the same guy who was a million miles off of Cabaye when he scored the second, is a World Cup winner. Many of the pieces are already here, though of course we can upgrade on the decent options we have now at LB, GK and CM. Oh and probably another striker too if we're feeling cheeky.

But, you could have Puskas up top, with Zidane in the midfield, Baresi in the back and Yashin in goal. If you put them in a situation with a black hole void of leadership, even they will fail - you only have to look at the various Real Madrid "galacticos" teams for a recent real-life example. Literally everything that is befalling this club begins and ends with the man in the dugout. ALL. OF. IT.

That said, be prepared for none of this to change. Whether it's incompetence, stubbornness, spinelesness, lack of football nous, paralysis or a combination of all of it, the men running our club have got it in their heads that Arsene Wenger is the only man who can manage this team. Despite the overwhelming evidence that that is no longer the case, I'm telling you now that they will be unmoved by it all. The gates from the highest ticket prices in the world will keep rolling in. The TV money from the deals all around the world is going nowhere. Sure, Mesut and Alexis will go, because honestly, why would they stay? Hector is probably off to Cheatalona, and man THAT one is gonna hurt. We'll probably keep most of the second-tier guys around because the pay is a lot better than they'd get somewhere like Dortmund or Atletico Madrid. It's also quite the comfortable situation when you can turn up every week, half-ass around, derp your way to enough wins to eke out 6th or 7th place and maybe, if the draw is kind, a deep run in the Europa League. And, despite the anger and rage and all the rest of it, people are still going to pay their money and come to the Emirates to watch.

Lessons could be learned, if anyone around the club was smart enough to heed them, of Liverpool's last decade and change in the wilderness. It's literally the same thing. The club of the 70s, who flipped heads on the coin and kept doing so for all of those years, started flipping tails and then kept doing so. Robbie Fowler wasn't quite Ian Rush. They stuck by David James in goal for years. All of a sudden, that one step down the ladder turned into a slide, and they couldn't climb back up. That's going to be us, mark my words. We better start getting used to it now. We are not, and have not been, an elite club for some time now, and the emperor's clothes have finally fallen away to show that there was never anything there, and hasn't been for the last decade.

Still, I suppose we'll see who the real supporters are now.

Man of the Match: Yohan Cabaye

Preview by Numbers: Crystal Palace v. Arsenal

Selhurst Park, London
Monday, April 10
3:00 p.m. EDT, 20:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistant: Gary Beswick and Jake Collin
    • 4th Official: Neil Swarbrick
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 2 - 0 Crystal Palace
  • This Match, Last Year: Crystal Palace 1 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 26 Arsenal wins, 3 Crystal Palace wins, 11 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-W-L-L-D-W
  • Crystal Palace's League Form: L-W-W-W-W-L
Hey, winning. That's nice. I forgot what this was like. Let's bask in this a little bit.

Of course, there's no rest for the weary; with a number of matches needing to be rescheduled, Arsenal will have to deal with fixture congestion pretty soon. For now, we have the bizarre circumstances of two consecutive Monday night games before an FA Cup Semi-Final, then a Wednesday night game.

You can only play games one at a time, of course, so that means we should only be focused on Palace at Selhurst Park on Monday rather than what might be looming over the horizon. Palace have been doing well lately and had won four straight before Wednesday's loss to Southampton. They're still fighting relegation, so this fixture is easier said than done.

Three points in South London, though, will go a long way towards getting that swagger back.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Ospina (knock,) Koscielny (Achilles,) Čech (calf,) Pérez (thigh)

Well, Monday night game after a Wednesday night game means Friday isn't exactly the best time to speculate about injury status. Though, Santi Cazorla will miss out, I can tell you that for sure.

Will Emiliano Martínez remain in goal? Is David Ospina still out? Will Petr Čech be back soon? Matt Macey was recalled from his loan at Luton Town after Ryan Huddart was on the bench Wednesday.

Elsewhere, how is Laurent Koscielny's Achilles doing? How much longer is Hector Bellerín going to have to run on an ankle that clearly requires surgery? Are there other questions I can ask? How cold is it going to be? Will it be foggy?

So... I'm going to guess no changes from the XI that beat West Ham on Wednesday, unless one of the 'keepers returns.

Predicted XI: Martínez, Bellerín, Mustafi, Gabriel, Monreal, Elneny, Xhaka, Alexis, Walcott, Özil, Welbeck.

Crystal Palace Squad News

Out: J. Benteke (knee,) Wickham (knee,) Mandanda (knee,) Tomkins (calf,) Dann (knee,) Cabaye (calf,) Souaré (match fitness)
Doubts: van Aanholt (ankle,) McArthur (back,) Campbell (hamstring,) Rémy (match fitness)

Well, the injuries are really starting to build in Palace's squad, which could be a death knell for them in a battle against relegation. There are at least seven players who have been ruled out for Monday, with at least four others looking doubtful.

Let's see... Connor Wickham's season is over with an ACL tear. Scott Dann is out until the beginning of next month, at least, with a knee injury. Yohan Cabaye is expected to miss this one with a calf injury. Steve Mandanda is on a long road back from a knee injury. James Tomkins, out with a calf problem, could be available next weekend. Pape Souaré, on the way back from a thigh problem, is lacking match fitness. Same goes for Loïc Rémy as he comes back from a calf problem. Jonathan Benteke has a meniscus injury; they said four months in late September, so I'm not really sure there, sounds like Arsenal's kind of injury timeline.

James McArthur, who has back spasms, is probably most likely from the list to feature. Both Patrick van Aanholt and Frazier Campbell are close to returns from ankle and hamstring injuries, respectively.

Predicted XI: Hennessey, Ward, Kelly, Sakho, Schlupp, Flamini, Milivojević, Puncheon, Townsend, Zaha, C. Benteke.

Current Form

Arsenal's current form reads: one win. Great, everything is fixed! ((dusts off hands vigorously))

All jokes aside, most of the results from this midweek round of fixtures helped Arsenal in the top four race, some welcome good news for a change. Liverpool drew, Manchester United drew, Manchester City lost. Arsenal still have at least one game in hand on all of the teams around them (and two on Liverpool.) They've pipped United for fifth, for now. They're four points back of City for fourth and six points back of Liverpool for third. Again, with two games in hand on the Reds and only two goals behind the Merseyside squad on goal difference, the gap there is attainable. Arsenal also have a better goal difference than both Manchester squads at the moment. Put a few wins together and things aren't so bleak anymore, eh?

Crystal Palace had won four straight, but found themselves on the wrong end of a 3-1 scoreline at St. Mary's on Wednesday night; Southampton scored twice late to take all three points after the Eagles had scored first. Palace also have a game in hand on most of the clubs around them, but their 31 points leave them precariously in 16th place. They're only three points clear of relegation, however, with eight games in play.

Match Facts

The Gunners won the reverse fixture on New Year's Day by a 2-0 scoreline, though you're really only likely to remember one moment from the match, Olivier Giroud's opening goal. Giroud's scorpion kick gave Arsenal a 1-0 lead on 17 minutes. Alex Iwobi sealed the victory on 56 minutes.

Arsenal won at Selhurst Park last year, 2-1 in what had been the second match of the season. After the Gunners lost 2-0 on opening day to West Ham, Olivier Giroud notched Arsenal's first goal of the season on 16 minutes. Arsenal's lead lasted only a dozen minutes as Joel Ward scored from long distance to equalize for Palace. Arsenal took the lead on 55 minutes when an Alexis header was turned into the net by Damien Delaney. Their 1-1 draw at the Emirates later in the season was Arsenal's first non-win against Palace since the Eagles' 2013 promotion.

Crystal Palace have beaten Arsenal only three times in 38 all-time meetings; two of their three wins came at Highbury, one in 1970 in the League Cup and the other in 1994. Overall, Arsenal are unbeaten in 15 against the Eagles, winning 10 of them.

The Referee

The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. Arsenal have seen Oliver four times already this season, with widely varying results. First, he took charge of Arsenal's season opening 4-3 loss to Liverpool, but then was in the middle of the 3-0 win over Chelsea. In January, Oliver was the referee when Arsenal spotted Bournemouth a 3-0 lead at the Vitality before storming back to take a 3-3 draw. Then, in February, Oliver was in the middle of Arsenal's FA Cup trip to Sutton United, which the Gunners won 2-0 over their non-league opponent. In total, a fully surreal two wins, one loss, and one draw.

Crystal Palace have had Oliver twice so far this season, both road losses for the Eagles. The first was 1-0 at White Hart Lane back in August, in the second week of the season. The other was at Leicester City, 3-1, in October.

You wouldn't know it from all the memorable wins he has worked, but Arsenal have a terrible record overall with Oliver. In 23 matches all-time with Michael Oliver as the referee, Arsenal have a record of nine wins, eight draws, and six losses. They have just three wins from 16 league games. But, perhaps most critically for this match, Arsenal have never won a road game in the Premier League with Oliver as the referee, in seven tries. Palace's all-time record in the league with Oliver isn't much better overall: three wins, a draw, and eight losses.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Tottenham Hotspur v. Watford; White Hart Lane, London
  • Saturday: Manchester City v. Hull City; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Middlesbrough v. Burnley; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Liverpool; Bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Southampton; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Swansea City; Olympic Stadium, London
  • Saturday (late): Bournemouth v. Chelsea; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Sunday (early): Sunderland v. Manchester United; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Sunday (late): Everton v. Leicester City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a tornado. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for wind. Much wind.

Ten Thoughts: Arsenal 3-0 West Ham United

Photo: Reuters

Fair warning - this is going to be a bit shorter than usual. I nodded off a bit in the first half (thanks, insomnia!), and even when awake I was not watching with the usual level of detail that I try to put into this. At any rate, it was nice to see us thoroughly dismantle a club that's an even bigger dumpster fire than we've been lately.

1. Speaking of, I have no idea how much longer Slaven Bilic is going to stay in that job, but I reckon it's not going to be super long at this rate. I couldn't quite work out what formation West Ham were playing in, but the end result was that Andy Carroll was often out wide - you know, where he could do the least possible damage to us. It didn't help their cause that the few set pieces they had were met with atrocious deliveries, but all in all they kept their best weapon effectively holstered for the whole time he was on. Also, as quiet as he was, I don't understand subbing him off. Weird decision-making all around.

2. However, it should be said that Shkrodan Mustafi and Gabriel both had excellent games. They weren't needed often, but they were on point when they were. Even though much of this game was an extended attack-vs-defense training exercise, neither one recklessly rushed forward to join in the attack at bad moments, and both had several excellent interceptions and tackles.

3. In that vein, the whole team was much better in terms of their spacing and positional play this time around. My theory is that replacing Francis Coquelin with Mohamed Elneny made us far more balanced in all areas of the pitch. Elneny was proficient in both halves of the field, and he seemed to have a knack for always being in the right place. I continue to insist that there's a good player in Le Coq somewhere, but until someone can harness his talents into the right areas of the pitch, Elneny looks like he might be the better option.

4. Mesut Ozil today: Fire on the pitch, pure shade on Twitter.

5. The German and Alexis Sanchez looked back to their best in the second half, or at least close to it. I hate to pile on the guy, but I think part of it is down to the fact that they got to play in front of a more settled and competent midfield behind them. Some people don't get that football is a team game to the extent that one cog in the wheel misfiring can affect most or all of the other ones directly because of it. Anyway, these two drove us forward today, and the Hammers - who had defended so well in the first half - had no answer for it.

The first goal was a long cross/shot from Ozil that eluded everyone and snuck inside Darren Randolph's far post. The Irish keeper's going to get slated for it by the usual suspects who know nothing about keeping, but watch a replay and check out some excellent dark arts from Alexis. At precisely the right moment, the Chilean snuck just enough in front of Randolph's sight line to put him off. There are few things you hate more as a keeper, because there's so littler you can do about it.

6. The second goal, on the other hand, was pure breathtaking majesty.

(Quick sidebar: I don't watch a lot of La Liga for many reasons, not least of which is my visceral loathing for the top two teams. But, right behind it on the list is the insufferable Ray Hudson going into inauthentic histrionics every time Cheatalona scores a tap-in against a team from some coastal town of 6,000 people. I get it, it's your gimmick...I can relate as a pro wrestling fan. But, goals like our second actually *deserve* that treatment, so it makes the 6-0 goal against a part-time team of tapas bar waiters ring a little hollow, you know?)

The backheel from Alexis into the run of Ozil was crazy, and then Ozil's return left the Hammers backline for dead. All of it was done at pace, too. That, my friends, is what more of our attacks need to look like. Speed kills.

7. Admittedly, I had expressed my worries on Twitter before the match about how Emiliano Martinez would fare in between the sticks today. The ongoing travails of Joel Robles at Everton shows how bad most clubs have it when their No. 2 custodian has to play, let alone the No. 3. It also makes the complaints about David Ospina look even more brain-dead than they are, but I digress.

Anyway, the Argentine did a lot to dispel the memories in my mind of the 7-5 League Cup game against Reading a few years back, where he did his best impersonation of a newborn foal. He didn't have a lot to do, but that is a point in his favor. It can be difficult for even the top goalkeepers to maintain their focus when the ball hasn't made it into your half in ages. But, he made one save late on that was a hundred times harder than it looked, with the ball swerving wickedly at almost the last second. He got two strong hands to it with proper rebound control, and the danger passed.

Well done, my son. But, and I'm already seeing this nonsense on Twitter, let's not get ahead of ourselves. I'm not buying that he is better than either of our other two more experienced keepers, at least not yet. If the other two remain injured, Emi gets a run in the team and he keeps playing like this? I'll go in with an open mind. Stop acting like he's Lev Yashin after one game, though. It's not a good look.

8. Right around the time where our *third* stonewall penalty of the match was not given by Martin Atkinson, I kind of got a little heated.

No, I'm not sure how someone can be both motherless and fatherless...what can I say, I was a little upset.

Regardless, Atkinson was unbelievably awful. Completely sub-professional. The only thing I could gather is that he went in with the idea in mind that we're a bunch of diving southern softies, and hence almost anything is embellishment on our part as opposed to agricultural hacking in the penalty area. Poor old Nacho Monreal was eviscerated twice, with no joy either time. I don't remember the specifics of the third but it was just as bad.

The reason I lean towards "incompetent" as opposed to "corrupt" is that he got a few things wrong for our benefit, too. There was the aforementioned sly interference from Alexis on our first goal, and Mustafi was indescribably lucky to not get a card for a wild two-footed lunge in the second half. He sort of got the ball but any referee will tell you that intent matters too.

I was saying to a friend that perhaps the English game would be able to attract and retain better refereeing talent if there were rugby-style rules against dissent and abuse. One to ponder, that.

9. Ollie Giroud came on as a sub, and a few nanoseconds later Randolph was picking the ball out of his net after a fantastic curling strike from the Frenchman. Someone remind me why he's not playing, like, way more often?

10. There were other good signs from our subs, as well. It was good to see Aaron Ramsey back on the pitch after a long injury layoff, and Giroud's goal was created by a barnstorming run from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Having more options can never hurt, especially if it makes it more likely that Coquelin finds himself on the bench for a while.

Palace and Middlesbrough are next. SIX POINTS, PLEASE.

Man of the Match: Alexis Sanchez

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. West Ham United

Emirates Stadium, London
Wednesday, April 5
2:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Martin Atkinson
    • Assistants: Steve Child and Adam Nunn
    • 4th Official: Stuart Attwell
  • Reverse Fixture: West Ham 1 - 5 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 0 - 2 West Ham
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 61 Arsenal wins, 34 West Ham wins, 39 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-L-W-L-L-D
  • West Ham's League Form: D-D-L-L-L-L
Well, Arsenal didn't lose on Sunday, but they do still have only one win from their last six in the league, so extrapolating that over their remaining 10 fixtures, they're going to finish... ummmm... carry the one... divide by pi... 53rd?

There are only three clubs in the Premier League with fewer than Arsenal's one win in their last five fixtures. Two of them are in 19th and 20th place, Middlesbrough and Sunderland, respectively. The other is West Ham, Arsenal's opponent tonight at the Emirates.

Arsenal badly need a win. But you knew that already. There's nothing more to say than that.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Ospina (knock,) Koscielny (Achilles,) Čech (calf,) Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Ramsey (calf,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring,) Pérez (thigh)

So, now we're running out of players again. On top of Petr Čech's ongoing calf problem, word came out yesterday that David Ospina has been ruled out with a knock of his own. That means Damián Emiliano "Emi" "The Argentine Assassin" Martínez will be called into action and a hastily constructed brick wall will serve as his back-up.

The news on Laurent Koscielny sounds pretty bleak, too, which is far from ideal given Arsenal's current table-related circumstances. It's an Achilles problem, the severity of which depends on whether it's inflammation or a rupture. If it's the former, he could be back for Crystal Palace on Monday. If it's the latter, it'll be several weeks.

There are still doubts over the midfielders who missed out on Sunday, as Aaron Ramsey has a calf problem and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has a hamstring problem. But what else is new? As such, aside from Ospina and Koscielny coming out, I wouldn't expect any changes to the XI.

Predicted XI: Martínez, Bellerín, Mustafi, Gabriel, Monreal, Xhaka, Coquelin, Walcott, Alexis, Özil, Welbeck.

West Ham Squad News

Out: Ogbonna (knee,) Obiang (ankle,) Reid (groin)
Doubts: Sakho (back,) Antonio (hamstring,) Cresswell (knock)

West Ham are without Pedro Obiang for the rest of the season after ankle surgery and will be without Angelo Ogbonna for at least three more weeks as well with a knee injury. Winston Reid is out until the end of the month with a groin injury.

Diafra Sakho is 50/50 for this one with a back injury, while Michail Antonio could be available as he returns from a hamstring injury; Antonio has not played since March 18 against Leicester and had to pull out of the England squad during the last international break. I've seen Aaron Cresswell listed as both "out" and "doubtful" with a knock, so I'll keep him in the doubt column here.

Predicted XI: Randolph, Byram, Collins, Fonte, Masuaku, Noble, Kouyaté, Antonio, Snodgrass, Lanzini, Carroll.

Current Form

It's now one win from six for Arsenal in the Premier League, now that a five match unbeaten run from December 26 through January 22 has completely fallen out of the form chart. On the other hand, it's now zero wins from six for West Ham, who have not won since February 4 at Southampton. So, let's examine both sides' current precariousness, shall we?

Arsenal are in sixth, but have a game in hand on many of the clubs around them (and two on Liverpool.) They are 18 points out of first, 11 points beyond Tottenham for second, eight back of Liverpool for third, seven points back of Manchester City for fourth, and three points back of Manchester United for fifth. Again, with at least one game in hand on all of the teams they are chasing, finishing in the top four is not impossible. Catching Spurs, however, would require... well, Spurs would have to do what they did last year again.

West Ham are in 15th, with 33 points. They are six points clear of Hull City for relegation, but the Hammers are definitely trending in the wrong direction (a bit like us!) Last weekend, they blew a 1-0 lead and lost to Hull 2-1 on Humberside. While it seems close to certain that Middlesbrough and Sunderland will go down this year, West Ham are falling in to the conversation along with the likes of Swansea and Hull to join them in the Championship; Crystal Palace are down there as well, but have won four straight. Still, if West Ham win this game by four, they can climb to 10th, so who knows?

Match Facts

Back in December, Arsenal made their first trip to the Olympic Stadium and defeated West Ham by a 5-1 scoreline. Mesut Özil gave Arsenal a 1-0 lead on 24 minutes. Alexis Sánchez doubled the lead on 72 minutes, then picked up a brace on 80. Andy Carroll pulled a goal back three minutes later, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made it 4-1 in reply immediately and Alexis netted his hat trick two minutes after that to complete the scoring. At the time, the win brought Arsenal into second place, three points back of Chelsea. Halcyon days, indeed.

Arsenal took only one of a possible six points from West Ham last season. On the opening day of the season, West Ham flew out of the gates with an emphatic 2-0 win at the Emirates. Cheikhou Kouyaté scored from a set piece just before halftime, which had been misjudged by Petr Čech, to give the Hammers the lead and Mauro Zárate, now at Watford, added a second from a defensive error on 57 minutes. Arsenal had 62% of the possession and took 22 shots, but failed to hit the net. Later in the year, Arsenal blew a 2-0 lead, then had to come from behind to draw 3-3.

Prior to last year, Arsenal had had a 10-match winning streak against West Ham, dating back to a 2-2 draw in October of 2009, and had been unbeaten in 15, dating back to 2007.

The Referee

The referee is West Yorkshire-based Martin Atkinson. This does not exactly bode well for Arsenal; Atkinson took charge of West Ham's win at the Emirates last season. Since then, Arsenal haven't had a great record with Atkinson either. They've won twice: 2-1 over Leicester last season, in which a soft red card made up for a bad penalty earlier, and 4-1 over Sunderland earlier this year, in which Arsenal stormed back after a penalty made it 1-1. Earlier this season, Arsenal also lost 2-1 to Manchester City and 3-1 to Chelsea with Atkinson in the middle, so you'll recall he was the one who allowed to Chelsea to score by elbowing Hector Bellerín in the head.

For West Ham this season, Atkinson has taken charge of a 4-2 loss to Watford, a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace, and a 3-1 win over Middlesbrough.

Around the League
  • Tuesday: Burnley 1 - 0 Stoke City
  • Tuesday: Leicester City 2 - 0 Sunderland
  • Tuesday: Manchester United 1 - 1 Everton
  • Tuesday: Watford 2 - 0 West Bromwich Albion
  • Wednesday: Chelsea v. Manchester City; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Wednesday: Hull City v. Middlesbrough; KCOM Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Wednesday: Liverpool v. Bournemouth; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Wednesday: Southampton v. Crystal Palace; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Wednesday: Swansea City v. Tottenham Hotspur; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and not at all a robot seeking to destroy humanity. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for 11011011, I mean jokes, funny jokes, hahaha110101ha.