Five Thoughts: Stoke City 1-0 Arsenal


Photo: BPI/Shutterstock


Believe it or not, this isn't halved to Five Thoughts for the usual twin reasons of petulance and laziness - instead, it seems to fit given that I missed the entire first half of this one thanks to the ongoing incompetence of New York's transit system. It's tempting to make the easy parallel between our third-rate, outdated metro and the performance on display today, but that isn't quite the case.

The thing is, there's always going to be a few of these ratty coin-flip games throughout the entirety of a season, and what should have been a 1-1 on the balance of play ended up 1-0 thanks in large part to one rotten bit of ball-watching from Nacho Monreal and a shocking offside decision from the lino...one Mr. Magoo, if I remember correctly. There's the usual Twitter harpy-screeching going on as if we were in 8th place with one match to go - even among the short-attention span crowd, this is really something. We're not some bottom-of-League-Two outfit because we lost one match at a ground we haven't had success at recently anyway. My god.


1. But yeah, after going uptown to go back downtown, and skipping a few stops to all of a sudden go mega-local for the entirety of the rest of the trip, I got to the Barleycorn with scant minutes to go in the first half. Fuck me, I could have flown to England and watched the second half in person with the amount of time it took to get from the north Bronx to southern Manhattan. It's funny, I mean, this is the only acceptable instance in the 21st century of travel that slow - fucking cruise ships go faster. If cars went that slow, it'd take you three months to get to Aunt Tilly's in Ohio. Unreal.

Back to the Arsenal, Shkrodan Mustafi passed fit so he was into the fray in place of Rob Holding. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was out on the right and Hector Bellerin the left, so once again we had a backline of largely mismatched parts, all out of position. It's bloody frustrating.

Speaking of, can we all stop with the bleating about Gabriel being sold? Fucking hell, you'd think the guy was Paolo Maldini in his pomp, rather than a half-crocked ricket-machine. He always did look the part - I do like my center-halves ugly as sin - but impersonating a cathedral gargoyle only goes so far at this level. Good luck to him in the land of sunshine and sangria, though. Not a bad gig when you think about it, especially given that half of La Liga are pub teams from cities with a lesser population than Sunnyside.

Near as I can tell from the various reports and blatherings, we should have had a penalty when Bellerin was felled in the area, the troglodytes in the stands who were let out on work release from Dr. Frankenstein's lab were booing Ramsey for having his leg bisected as usual (classy), and other than that we did our usual performance-art version of attacking without ever looking all that threatening. Hmm, not sure where I've seen that one before.


2. My god, can I just say for a second how much I hate Stoke? I've been on this kick lately of reading match reports from older seasons, you know, rambling down memory lane and all. You can say many things about the Premier League era, but in the early years especially the league efficiently and methodically weeded out the sides that had no business being there. All of those old Crystal Palace and Southampton sides that were little more than pumped-up Hackney Marshes ogres trying to get close enough to Dennis Bergkamp or Marc Overmars to go for their Mortal Kombat fatalities, and all of those horrible referees who let them get away with it (fucking Mike Riley and Graham Poll and that little ginger goblin Paul Durkin and Gerald Ashby...you kids think we have it bad with Mike Dean but seriously you have no earthly idea). All those hopeless triers like Barnsley and Swindon Town, who lucked their way to the top table like some kind of weird Beverley Hillbillies skit. One season, and out you go. Thanks for coming.

I've already touched on the Stoke lot booing Ramsey for being fouled, but then this same collection of failed lab experiments had the temerity to boo us twice for playing on while one of their store-brand cast-offs from actual football teams rolled around as they made a full-on seven-course banquet of a nothing challenge. Get to fuck, each and every one of you. I'd wish some kind of horrible plague on all of them, but look, they already have to live in Stoke-on-Trent. That may already be the nadir.

Stoke fans, you can find out what "nadir" means here.

I also loved it when they bleated for a penalty in the last few minutes of the game, when their guy only had that much time and space on the ball because their guy mauled AOC out on the flank with a variation of Hiroshi Tanahashi's Sling Blade, in full view of the ref, which of course went uncalled.


Other than that, they offered nothing. Less than nothing. They're largely not even the rugby team anymore and we still had over 70% of the ball in the first half. They made a few timid sorties into our half of the field, took advantage of the one time Arsenal went to screensaver mode, and that was it. Petr Cech made one good save in the second half, an other than that, he could have been reading a magazine.

Like I was saying, in the early days of the Premier League, this lot would have been trap-doored back into weekend trips to Bury and Port Vale eons ago. Now, though, there's this odd thing where there's a few fashion-forward accessories for the discerning oligarch to play with in between human rights violations at the top, and a teeming proletariat of interchangeable shit clubs like Stoke below them. Someone has to survive every season, and unluckily for the rest of the world, it's been the Potters. Fuck, if they're the Potters, it makes me think the Dursleys had a fucking point.

Maybe this is the season that we can finally expel them from the league like some kind of flotsam you have on the bottom of your shoe. Here's hoping.


3. Right, so as seems to be the usual these days, their goal came from a sub-professional lapse of concentration. I keep harping on the goals conceded at the beginning and end of halves, and this one was in the 46th minute I think. I guarantee you that Cech was picking the ball out of his nets while half the orcs in Stoke were still at the chamber pots or whatever they have in that crap ground of theirs.

It came out of nothing, too. Saido Berahino had the ball outside of the penalty area, with Mustafi in attendance. No worries so far. But, he played the ball into Jese Rodriguez (who, by the way, they just got on loan about four nanoseconds before the match started), and motored past Monreal like he wasn't there. What a defensive tactic that is, the bullfighting Veronica. Fantastic. Arsene's gotten away with playing position musical chairs more than most, but bloody hell if it doesn't cost us sometimes. I like Monreal, he's a good player, but there's only so many times you can ask a plumber to fix the electrical circuits before someone ends up like they're fighting Blanka in Street Fighter II.


4. Enough about the Neanderthals, what about the homo sapiens? Well, as mentioned, the defense were a bit makeshift, as is the new norm. Bellerin, playing on his off-wing, couldn't cross a street but I can't say I blame him. Oxlade-Chamberlain ran around a bit but looked every inch like he was mulling over west London real estate prices while the rest of them were doing footy. Mesut Ozil was spraying passes to his old Real Madrid teammates rather than the guys in the horrid raspberry cola shirts. Danny Welbeck did Danny Welbeck things, none of which were remotely likely to end with his mates celebrating. How he stayed on the pitch for 90 minutes should be the focus of the next season of Serial.

Olivier Giroud came on first in place of Sead Kolasinac. Later, Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi replaced Granit Xhaka and Alexandre Lacazette. Hand to heart, I had no idea Xhaka was playing until he trotted off. He'll come good for us this season - just you watch - but today he looked like he was taking a 75-minute union-mandated break period.

Lacazette hadn't done much either, other than...you know...score a good goal and all. Seriously, this is what the lino flagged as offside:



I mean, seriously? I have a lot of sympathy for match officials, and the offside rule in particular brings to mind that old saw about a camel being a horse designed by committee. But, mate, if you go to the speccies' office and you can't see the "E" on the eye chart, I reckon this isn't the profession for you.

Needless to say, that was our chance. The orcs - and this is the only nice thing I'll say about them - defended diligently and well. They closed down space and blocked off our passing lanes, and our mob didn't have an answer for it. That is, other than Lacazette scoring a perfectly good goal, that is.
 

5. It doesn't get any easier now, what with our upcoming visit to Uncle Roman's Dacha for Overpaid Mercenaries. Antonio Conte is the best manager in football right now for my money, and barring any kind of injury plague they'll be right up there at the top again this season. Stamford Bridge has never been a happy hunting ground for us, and unless we look into the radical notion of playing guys where they're used to playing, I have serious fears about getting anything out of that.

Man, if you think Twitter is losing its mind right now, just imagine if we're three matches into the season sitting on three points. It wouldn't be the end of the world in any kind of real sense, but the flying monkeys would be scrambled and in formation. Sad bunch of tossers, the lot of them. I get being passionate and all but there's a definite lack of perspective out there.

Meanwhile, take my advice and avoid any columns about Manchester United right now. Seriously, some of these journos out there are already handing them the title, as if the other half of that town didn't have a team that looked good for a bit last season before they Wile E. Coyote'd themselves off the proverbial cliff. Good lord, they've played two games...and sure, they battered the Dog & Duck and what looked like a Helen Keller School for the Blind XI, but can we at least wait until they play a few football teams before the fucking coronation?

This season's two weeks old and I'm already losing my patience. You kids and your hot-blooded imperious youth and all. Pipe down.


Man of the Match: That Jese guy looked all right.


Preview by Numbers: Stoke City v. Arsenal


Bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
Saturday, August 19
12:30 p.m. EDT, 17:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Andre Marriner
    • Assistants: Simon Beck and Scott Ledger
    • 4th Official: Robert Madley
  • This Match, Last Year: Stoke City 1 - 4 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 56 Arsenal wins, 25 Stoke wins, 24 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-W-W // W
  • Stoke City's League Form: L-D-D-L-W // L
We're still relatively early in the season and nothing profoundly weird has happened yet. As such, I'm not really sure what to say here to introduce this fixture. Stoke has not been a happy hunting ground for Arsenal in the past, but a 4-1 win there just three months ago should give the Gunners some confidence headed into this one. Picking up another win while Laurent Koscielny is still suspended would be quite nice as well. Making it six points from two games would be even better, especially with a trip to Anfield on the horizon.

So, uh, yeah, let's win.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Alexis (abdominal,) Gabriel (knee,) Wilshere (leg,) Cazorla (ankle)
Doubts: Mertesacker (head,) Mustafi (match fitness,) Coquelin (ankle)
Suspended: Koscielny (third of three, serious foul play)

Per Mertesacker, who received that nasty gash from Gary Cahill in the Community Shield, is expected to be available again for this match. Shkodran Mustafi (match fitness) and Francis Coquelin (ankle) are likely to be available as well.

However, there do not appear to be returns on the cards for any of the players who were listed as "out" last week, including Alexis Sánchez's abdominal problem, Gabriel's knee injury, and the long-term injuries to Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla. Additionally, Gabriel might play for Valencia by the time you read this.

Laurent Koscielny will serve the final match of his three-match ban stemming from his red card on the final day of the league season last year; he'll be available again for the trip to Liverpool next weekend.

Without a return for Alexis, I would imagine the forward trio will start the same as it was against Leicester. Aaron Ramsey may come in for Mohamed Elneny, while the returning center backs could earn a rest for Rob Holding, who has been a little shaky thus far, pushing Sead Kolašinac to his more natural left wingback position.

Predicted XI: Čech, Mustafi, Mertesacker, Monreal, Bellerín, Kolašinac, Xhaka, Ramsey, Özil, Welbeck, Lacazette.

Stoke City Squad News

Out: Afellay (knee,) Ireland (broken leg)

Arsenal last visited Stoke three months ago, so the Potters' long-term absentee list is exactly the same now as it was back then. Stephen Ireland has been out for 16 months now after a double leg break. He's back in training now, so his return is now a matter of weeks and not months. Prior to that match in May, Ibrahim Afellay had recently undergone knee surgery, so he remains out as well.

Three at the back is en vogue in Stoke, too; Mark Hughes brought in Kurt Zouma on loan from Chelsea to that end and he'll likely start alongside Ryan Shawcross and Geoff Cameron. Hughes has also brought in Jesé on loan from Paris Saint-Germain to start up top along with new signing Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting from Schalke.

Predicted XI: Butland, Zouma, Shawcross, Cameron, Johnson, Pieters, Allen, Fletcher, Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting, Jesé.

Current Form

Arsenal opened their 2017/18 campaign with a bonkers 4-3 win over Leicester City, while Stoke opened their campaign with a significantly less bonkers 1-0 loss to Everton.

If you somehow don't know what happened last week, here's a recap: Alexandre Lacazette opened his Arsenal account on two minutes (which was half the time it took for Samir Nasri back in 2009, so that's nice.) Leicester were level two minutes later and led through Jamie Vardy before Danny Welbeck pulled Arsenal level just before halftime. Jamie Vardy put Leicester ahead again, but Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud struck two minutes apart to seal a 4-3 win. Each of Arsenal's last three home wins against Leicester City have come by a goal in the dying minutes; Giroud's 85th minute winner was the earliest of the three.

Stoke, on the other hand, managed only one shot on target in their opening day trip to Goodison Park and it was Wayne Rooney, on his homecoming, who provided the difference with a header in first half injury time.

Match Facts

I've told the story of Arsenal's struggles at Stoke many times before, so here's the condensed version I told in May: In November of 2008, Robin van Persie was goaded into a red card, as Stoke won 2-1 (Gaël Clichy added a meaningless goal at the death.) In January of 2010, in the FA Cup, Arsène Wenger started a heavily rotated side, but brought in his super subs at 1-1 in the 67th minute, then lost 3-1 anyway. In February of 2010, Aaron Ramsey broke his leg and Arsenal scored twice in injury time against Stoke's ten men to win 3-1; until May, it was their only win at Stoke. In May of 2011, Arsenal lost 3-1 there again. In April of 2012, then in August of 2012, Arsenal came out of Stoke with a single point on each occasion, drawing 0-0 and 1-1, respectively.

Three years ago, Arsenal lost 1-0 at Stoke on a controversial penalty. Two years ago, Arsenal spotted Stoke a three-goal lead, nearly stormed back, but saw Calum Chambers sent off by Anthony Taylor as they lost 3-2. Last year, Arsenal and Stoke played to a 0-0 draw.

But in May, Arsenal finally got a big win under their belt at the Potteries, even if Peter Crouch was allowed to score with his hands. Olivier Giroud scored twice while Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez added the others to give the Gunners their most comprehensive win ever at the Britannia/Bet365 Stadium, 4-1.

At the Emirates in December of last year, Arsenal came from 1-0 down after Stoke took the lead from a penalty conceded by Granit Xhaka, to win 3-1, with goals from Theo Walcott, Özil, and Alex Iwobi.

The Referee

The referee is West Midlands-based Andre Marriner. You will, of course, remember Marriner from what I now only refer to as "that thing that time." Arsenal have only lost twice with Marriner since that thing that time over 11 matches; oddly enough, both have been home games against Watford, including last year's 2-1 defeat on January 31. Since then, Marriner was in the middle for Arsenal's 2-2 home draw against Manchester City and their 2-0 home win against Manchester United. Earlier in the year, he had worked Arsenal's come from behind 1-1 draw at Old Trafford and a 2-0 win on New Year's Day against Crystal Palace, complete with an Olivier Giroud scorpion kick.

Last year, Stoke City only saw Marriner once, for a 1-1 draw at West Ham on November 5.

Back in 2014, before that thing that time, Stoke City made an official complaint about Marriner's officiating (it was their third official complaint of the year!) Ryan Shawcross was sent off, while Emmanuel Adebayor escaped sanction for elbowing Shawcross earlier. Wow, a whole bunch of people who have a history with Arsenal in that sentence, eh?

Around the League

  • Saturday (early): Swansea City v. Manchester United; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday: Bournemouth v. Watford; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Saturday: Burnley v. West Bromwich Albion; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. Brighton & Hove Albion; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday: Liverpool v. Crystal Palace; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Southampton v. West Ham United; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Sunday (early): Huddersfield Town v. Newcastle United; John Smith's Stadium, Huddersfield
  • Sunday (late): Tottenham Hotspur v. Chelsea; Wembley Stadium, London
  • Monday (night): Manchester City v. Everton; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
--
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a hydraulic engine. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for vroom vroom vroom vroom.

Ten Thoughts: Arsenal 4-3 Leicester City


Photo: Getty Images


We - maybe - just about deserved to win that match based on possession, shot totals, that sort of thing...not to mention two excellent substitutions from Arsene Wenger. An alternative view is that we were unbelievably, astonishingly lucky to get anything from that one, let alone all three points. As ever, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.


1. Despite the preposterous Friday kickoff for this one, both the Blind Pig and O'Hanlon's were full to capacity, and there are reports of a good crowd at Barleycorn as well. Well done all you NYC-based Gooners for showing the love on a day where, let's face it, we all should have been at work!


2. That said, I spent most of this one trying to peer in between or around the shoulders of giants (i.e. everyone taller than me, i.e. pretty much bloody everyone). Thus, I can't say I can dissect this one at the same tactical level as I normally can. Oh, and also if the air con was on at O's, it clearly wasn't equipped to take on the body heat of enough people to invade some small foreign countries.

Given all that, I couldn't work out who was playing where. Best I could figure, Sead Kolasinac was in central defense alongside Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal, Hector Bellerin was out of position at left wing-back while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got a run-out on the right. My apologies if that was incorrect, but I had a nice 1970's terraces view of the proceedings.

What I can say is that I got into the pub just after kickoff, and the boys were nice enough to wait until I was settled before Kasper Schmeichel was picking the ball out of his net. Alex Lacazette apparently isn't one to opt for the fashionably-late entrance, waiting roughly 90 seconds to open his Arsenal account.

It was a peach, too. The Foxes' defense let Mohamed Elneny have too much time and space, though in fairness the Egyptian is not typically one for defense-raking passes. It turns out he has those in his locker occasionally after all, and our shiny new French striker was left alone to head it back across the keeper. Huh.

Like an absolute pillock, I thought we were in for an easy day.


3. Two minutes. Two bloody minutes. That's how long it took the visitors - and our shambles of a defense - to disavow me of that notion. Our entire XI went into screensaver mode (kids, ask your parents) as soon as our goal went in, and the next few minutes saw Leicester attack in furious waves. They won a corner, where we allowed a completely uncontested cross to the back post. Petr Cech came over to cover, but the back-post header was lost. It came back into the center, and Holding got beat to it by Shinji Okazaki. Unreal.

There are two kinds of goals that are absolute killers - ones you concede right after you score, and ones you concede right at the end or beginning of a half. We should have been well on top, and we let them right back in it. I understand that it would be charitable to call our defense "makeshift", but that was inexcusable.


4.  So, of course, we went from a blitzkreig-style lead inside of 90 seconds to stumbling around like a drunk relative who's been overserved at a wedding's open bar. We weren't completely useless around this stretch - Danny Welbeck might have scored if he didn't dally with the ball in the area, and Schmeichel again was uncomfortably reminiscent of his hell-spawned father. It was all somewhat vaguely threatening, so naturally we allowed Leicester to Leicester us on the counter, and man this shit isn't remotely cute or funny anymore.

A bad giveaway from Granit Xhaka began the move, and Marc Albrighton had the run of our right flank. I have no idea where AOC was, but it sure wasn't stopping the man from firing in a hell of a cross if we're being fair. Jamie Vardy, rat face and all, timed his run onto the end of it perfectly to fire home past Cech. I didn't catch who was slack on the back post there, but it's safe to say that none of our defenders covered themselves in glory.


5. At that point, I'll level with you, I thought we were done. I figured we'd throw a million men forward, get hit on the counter once or twice more, and then score a meaningless goal late to add some undeserved gloss to the scoreline. Well, this is why I'm a dolt who is safely not patrolling our technical area. It should be mentioned that they had a few more half-chances though, seemingly all from crosses coming in acres from our right flank. I said in our season preview here that with AOC you are sacrificing having a natural defender there, and it almost cost us today.

I'm going to do a sort of thought #5.5 here to mention that, despite our fears, Mike Dean had a pretty good game overall (full disclosure - I've used my summer break to become a referee, and I'm hoping to be fully USSF-certified by the end of the month). He does a little too much "hey look at me" showmanship for my liking, but he got most of the big stuff right.

That brings me back to the end of this thought, that being I think we should have had a penalty in the 42nd minute for intentional handling on Wilfred Ndidi. There are arguments for and against it, but I do think I'd have given it (said the complete neophyte to the long-term professional). There are three criteria for these decisions - the placement of the hand/arm, intent, and the distance between the ball and the hand/arm. That last one is probably what did for us here, as there was only a few feet in between. But, given the extremely unnatural hand placement, and the advantage he gained from it, I think you have to give it.


6. It didn't matter, as a little bit of karma came around to get us level a few seconds before halftime. Mesut Ozil didn't affect the game much today, but he did start this move with a direct pass into the center of the penalty area. I think it was Kolasinac who touched it on, breaking the offside trap. The Leicester players all stood around like slack-jawed statues (think the Easter Island Moai with some kind of motor-neuron disease), the dictionary definition of "play to the whistle". Sure enough, it was tapped out to Welbeck, who easily slid it into the net. Fantastic. I enjoyed that one more than some screamers into the top corner.


7. By the way, I've talked about most of Leicester's big names, but did you note which one I haven't? Oh, right, Riyad Mahrez, so recently linked with us. I want this guy in my club like I want a particularly horrid strain of swine flu (is that still a thing?).

All I'll say about him is that the nanosecond their season got a little tough last year, my dude disappeared without a trace. In fact, here is a previously-unseen photo from Claudio Ranieri's office upon discovering that he had gone:



8. Well, OK, he did win the corner that Vardy got his second goal from, though it was on a tame shot that Cech easily tipped over the bar. He did also take the corner too, I suppose, but the goal was more Monreal badly losing Vardy than anything else (our Spaniard then barking at everyone around him like some kind of rabid forest animal was a nice touch, but I'm on to you, my man).

Everyone in the world is freaking out about our defense - never mind that whole getting the three points thing - but my god so much of this nonsense misses the point. Like, how many minutes did our first choice XI (or at least the first choice XI minus Alexis) play together during the preseason? How are we supposed to legislate for Per Mertrsacker, Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny all being out at the same time? And, don't give me this "Duuuurrrr, just buy 28 more guys" routine. Look closely at the squad lists for anyone in even the top-six, and they aren't three-or-four-deep anywhere. My god. Behave, you lot.


9. Schmeichel, to give the devil his due, did his best to keep them in it. He made a string of top-class saves, and as the minutes went by it was looking less and less likely that we'd find a way past him for a third time.

We threw the dice with the subs, first withdrawing Elneny and Holding for Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud. Later, Theo Walcott came on for Welbeck. We kept knocking on the door, but until the last 5-6 minutes, I didn't think we had a chance at so much as a point.

The funny thing is, by the 75th minute or so, I usually have a rough outline (or at least a general group of thoughts) that I'm going to use for these things. Every so often, I have to take a tactical nuke to it thanks to the events of the last few minutes of the match...I'll tell you, that's a much better prospect on a day like today than when the shoe's on the other foot.


10. Said tactical nuke came in the form of two goals in about three minutes, an odd sort of bookend to the rocket-fueled start to the match. First, a corner was cleared only as far as Xhaka on the edge of the penalty area. Our Swiss dynamo didn't seem to have a good game overall as far as I could tell, but his clipped diagonal ball to the onrushing Ramsey was sumptuous. The Welshman made no mistake, smashing in with such authority that Schmeichel never moved. Glorious.

Lacazette could have won it when given a presentable chance in the penalty area, but Schmeichel's save only delayed the inevitable. Direct from that that corner, Giroud fought off three blue-shirted statues to guide a brilliant header past the keeper and in. O'Hanlon's went beserk. You don't normally expect the beer-shower treatment for a season opener, but ours have been so rotten the last few years that it seems oddly appropriate today.

Sidebar: Don't listen to the nonsense about Ozil handling in the run-up to the third goal. His arm was stock-still against his body, and I'm not certain he was even looking in that direction when the ball hit him. It thus fails the intent AND the unnatural position criteria.

Anyway, we almost had a bit of history repeat when, for some reason, their keeper came all the way out of his goal to clear a long ball. We took the throw-in quickly, but couldn't find the unguarded net. Shame. At least the kid got off easier than his old man did, during our Double-winning year of 1997/98 no less. Again, I'll let the late lamented Red Geezer illuminate us via the Internet Wayback Machine:


Thanks to that, Raimond van der Gouw, a keeper who played so seldom even Stuart Taylor felt sorry for him, had to man the nets for them during their run-in. We all know how that ended up. Ahhh, memories.


Right, so in the same manner that I was going to say not to read too much into this loss when I thought that's how this was going to go, I'd say not to read too much into this win, either. We're not always going to hammer four past an in-form keeper, and our defense is not always going to be this shoddy. Again, a makeshift partnership, guys out of position, etc. I don't think we're going to infind ourselves in this kind of position too often this season.

At the end of the day, we gutted out three points in less than ideal conditions. Let's take a deep breath and see where we are after Stoke and Chavs away. We come away from that with 7 or so, and I'll be one happy bunny.


Man of the Match: By all rights it probably should be Vardy, but screw it, we'll give it to the new man, Alexandre Lacazette. 

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Leicester City


Emirates Stadium, London
Friday, August 11
2:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Dean
    • Assistants: Simon Long and Darren Cann
    • 4th Official: Lee Mason
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 1 - 0 Leicester City
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 64 Arsenal wins, 28 Leicester wins, 45 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-W-W-W-W-W
  • Leicester City's League Form: L-W-W-L-L-D
Here we go. Season opener on a Friday, just like back in the good old days! I mean, no, wait a minute... Well, here we go anyway. Another year of this.

I'm not really going to wax poetic about fresh starts or any of that nonsense. These fixtures count the same as the ones in February and March. To that end, Arsenal have won just one of their last seven season opening fixtures and they needed an 89th minute red card to Jason Puncheon to steal that one. They've lost two straight opening day games since that win, both of which were at home. Starting on the right foot has not been Arsenal's forte.

You could point to Arsenal's opening day loss to Liverpool last year as a direct cause of their fifth place finish because, hey, if they get a 4-4 draw there, they end up in fourth. I'd argue that the 37 games to follow would have played out differently if you come into them with different points totals, but the fact of the matter is, Arsenal consistently don't do enough business in the summer to get them ready for the campaign and it has hurt.

But, here we are with two new players and nobody of consequence out (yet.) Maybe the tables have finally turned? While I think it'd be a major stretch to call Arsenal title contenders, maybe we'll at least have something new to cheer about this year. It's just been so stagnant lately.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Alexis (abdominal,) Gabriel (knee,) Wilshere (leg,) Cazorla (ankle)
Doubts: Mertesacker (head,) Özil (ankle,) Ramsey (calf,) Coquelin (ankle)
Suspended: Koscielny (second of three, serious foul play)

In the opening match of the 2011/12 season, Arsenal traveled to Newcastle and drew 0-0 (you may remember Joey Barton got two Arsenal players suspended that day.) The reason I bring that day up is because it was the start of the season while transfer speculation swirled around the future of Cesc Fàbregas. I went back to my match preview and found it was suspiciously silent on both he and Samir Nasri. Neither of them played that day; Cesc was sold two days later and Nasri fucked off to City 11 days later.

So you can see why there's some suspicion over Alexis Sánchez's abdominal injury. Once bitten, twice shy and all that. However, David Ornstein of the BBC, whose word is as close to God's among journalists who cover the club, has gone on BBC 5 to insist that Alexis's injury is genuine. So, that's the state of things.

Alexis will miss this match and next week's trip to Stoke, as will Laurent Koscielny, who will serve the rest of his suspension for the red card he received against Everton at the end of last season. Gabriel, who injured his knee that day, remains out, as do Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla.

There are a lot of doubts in the Arsenal squad, but Per Mertesacker (head gashy thing,) Mesut Özil (fluid in his ankle,) Aaron Ramsey (calf,) and Francis Coquelin (ankle) were all in full training on Thursday. Coquelin is not expected to be available, but the BFG's availability means the club won't have to rush medium-sized German Shkodran Mustafi back into the fold.

Predicted XI: Čech, Holding, Mertesacker, Monreal, Bellerín, Kolašinac, Xhaka, Ramsey, Özil, Welbeck, Lacazette.

Leicester City Squad News

Out: Huth (ankle,) Iborra (ankle)
Doubts: Drinkwater (thigh,) Iheanacho (foot,) Slimani (match fitness)

Center back Robert Huth, who scored the only goal for either club in the two meetings between them last season (into his own net,) is out after ankle surgery; he is back in full training and is expected to appear for the Under-23s on Monday. Harry Maguire, signed this summer from Hull City, is expected to deputize. Midfielder and summer signing Vicente Iborra picked up an ankle injury in training and is expected to miss out, too.

There are doubts over Danny Drinkwater, who missed Leicester's final preseason fixture against Borussia Mönchengladbach with a thigh problem, as well as the recently signed Kelechi Iheanacho, who picked up a foot injury in that match himself. Islam Slimani is short of match fitness.

Riyad Mahrez and Damarai Gray have both been connected to transfers out of the club, but they're both still with the squad for now.

Predicted XI: Schmeichel, Simpson, Maguire, Morgan, Fuchs, Mahrez, Gray, Ndidi, Amartey, Okazaki, Vardy.

Last Season in Review

Arsenal's run of 20 seasons qualifying for the Champions League came to a halt last season as the club finished 5th in the Premier League, this in spite of the fact that the club finished with more points last season than in 10 of the 20 years they did qualify. It was a lot of same old, same old with Arsenal's season. They lost in the fifth round of the League Cup. They won their Champions League group, drew Bayern Munich anyway, and shipped 10 goals in the Round of 16. They won the FA Cup. They finished with 75 points in the league. Aside from the fact that they finished 5th, you could pretty much describe any number of the past seasons in similar terms. It's just so predictable, maybe the writers' room of this god-forsaken sitcom should be replaced with fresher blood. Perhaps that fresher blood will come in the form of the Europa League.

Leicester City, of course, came into last season as the reigning champions, and while they had a bit of fun in Europe en route to the Champions League quarterfinals, their domestic campaign saw them finish 12th. The Foxes won just five of their first 25 league matches before Claudio Ranieri was sacked, then won five on the bounce to climb out of relegation danger. And while they only won two of the remaining eight that followed that streak, the club were safe by 10 points.

Match Facts

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

Arsenal took four of a possible six points against the defending champions last season. In the first meeting at the King Power Stadium, played in the second week of the season, the clubs played a 0-0 draw. Mark Clattenburg denied Leicester two possible penalties, including one in second half injury time. This corresponding fixture last season also looked like it was going to be a 0-0 draw, but an 86th minute Robert Huth own goal saw Arsenal come out 1-0 winners in an incredibly sloppy game.

Leicester City have not won at Arsenal since a 2-0 win on September 8, 1973.

The Referee

The referee is Wirral-based Mike Dean, unfortunately. Arsenal have seen Dean four times since his adventures with Diego Costa at Stamford Bridge on September 19, 2015. The first three of those matches were scoreless draws: 0-0 against Hull in the FA Cup, 0-0 at Sunderland, and 0-0 at home to Middlesbrough last year. The hex was finally broken with a trip to Stoke last year and a 4-1 victory on May 13.

I want that to sink in a little bit: Arsenal went to Stoke and won by three clear goals with Mike Dean. Like, I kind of don't believe that happened. I'm pretty sure Peter Crouch scored with his hand, though.

Leicester City saw Dean five times last year, lost the first three (2-1 to Hull, 4-1 to Manchester United, and 1-0 to Burnley,) then beat Hull 1-0 at the King Power and drew Crystal Palace 2-2 at Selhurst Park (which is better than, let's say, Arsenal's result there, which had been a week earlier.)

Around the League

  • Saturday (early): Watford v. Liverpool; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. Burnley; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Huddersfield Town; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Everton v. Stoke City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Swansea City; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Bournemouth; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday (late): Brighton & Hove Albion v. Manchester City; American Express Community Stadium, Falmer
  • Sunday (early): Newcastle United v. Tottenham Hotspur; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Sunday (late): Manchester United v. West Ham United; Old Trafford, Manchester
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John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and your favorite fictional character. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for a stirring narrative arc.

2017-18 Arsenal Season Preview

image: www.themirror.co.uk

Wait, didn’t last season just end?

This off-season has passed in such an eye-blink, I didn’t even remember to write this before the first Preview by Numbers of the new season. The break has been an odd one so far – there’s been more upheaval than there has been in previous seasons, but on the whole there’s been less change than you’d think there has. Many folks who we thought would have been moved on by now are still hanging around (there is still time, of course), while only two have walked in through the Inbound door.

That’s the thing with these season previews, though. Because the window doesn’t close until a month after the season starts, there’s always that bit of uncertainty as to what the side is going to look like come the beginning of September. All we can do is assess the team as it is. The big news, of course, is that Arsene Wenger has signed for two more years. Most of us knew it was coming, and I think most of us can agree that at least the uncertainty is over – no matter your side of the fence. There is some evidence that he can change a few of his spots even at this late stage, though.

No, he’s not ever going to spend 100M on a player, even in this TV deal-and-oligarch-inflated market. It does look like we’re going to stick with the 3-4-3 that belatedly turned our season around back in the spring, though. Jens Lehmann has come in as a first-team coach, and no one can accuse him of being a shrinking violet. We’ll know quick-smart whether Wenger restricts his influence or not – if he leaves suddenly, that’ll be the tell. There’s been further additions to the fitness and scouting teams, though it is still worrying that we’ve not replaced Andries Jonker as the head of youth development.

All of that is ancillary to what will be the bigger picture out on the pitch, however. The formation change seems permanent, which is a good first step. A major worry though is how the club will respond to both a punishing pre-season touring schedule (as pointed out by the always-excellent Amy Lawrence in her season preview at the Guardian), and the now-wearying summer drama of “will he or won’t he go”, this time featuring Alexis Sanchez. Man, that shit was old back when it was Patrick Vieira, let alone now (then again, I’m old enough to remember when it was Nicolas Anelka, who we ended up flogging off to Real Madrid for roughly a trillion times more than we paid for him - ahhhh, good times).

We don’t have a horrifying early fixture list like debutants Huddersfield Town do or anything, but Leicester (H), Stoke (A), Liverpool (A) is no walk in the park either. Last season’s early stumbles are still fresh in our minds, and we can ill-afford to have a repeat of that when it seems like all of the other big clubs have reloaded in a big way (except Spurs, but then again I did quantify that by saying “big clubs”).

With all of that said, our customary look at the side by position:

GOALKEEPERS:

Long-time readers know that I am, and remain, a big fan of Petr Cech. I insist that despite his advancing years, he still has much to offer us between the sticks – and you can safely write off the opinion of those who thought he was poor last season. But, I’m gobsmacked at how we could let Wojciech Szczesny go to Juventus for like a third of what Manchester City paid Benfica for Ederson (massive potential, but one year in any first team, let alone in the Premier League). The Pole is coming off a highly impressive season for AS Roma, and keep in mind that this transfer is basically Juventus hand-picking a successor to the greatest goalkeeper that ever drew breath in Gigi Buffon. If he’s good enough for that, how on Earth was that not good enough for us?

That is high-key the one personnel decision that damn near made me burst a blood vessel or six in my brain. This was almost coming to you in a black border with a tearful note from my family – “He loved the Arsenal but he was always cursing at the TV. In lieu of flowers…”

Also, somehow, David Ospina is still here. You could have gotten a decent price on that from the bookies two months ago, that’s for sure. So, instead of wandering the Grand Bazaar and probably (frankly) backing up Carlos Kameni at Fenerbache, he’s back on our bench instead. Football, bloody hell. Anyway, my opinion on him is well-known. You’re not going to see many No. 2s better than him, and if he is content enough to play in the cups and that’s it, I’m content enough to have him there.

The Colombian’s continued presence here means that Emi Martinez’s loan to Getafe is not as questionable as it sounded at first blush. There were many who thought that he might step into Ospina’s shoes once Szczesny was sold (must…not…Hulk…rage…). Since he wasn’t, the Spanish club is the perfect fit for him – he’ll play every match for a side that should just about avoid a relegation battle, and he’ll get to play against quality opposition in a non-physical league. It’ll be a good learning experience for him, and an opportunity for us to see how he does in a long audition on a higher stage. Win-win.

I just hope we don’t have to see Matt Macey at any point this season, though. Hell, for his sake as well as ours.

DEFENSE:

The big news here, of course, is that human refrigerator Sead Kolasinac has joined us on a free from Schalke ’04. What a prototypical Wenger signing that is, eh? Who else gets the reigning Bundesliga defender of the year on a free? While it looks like he will typically man the left wing-back role, he’s also played some center-half in the preseason. It’s much the same versatility that Nacho Monreal gives us, and the Spaniard’s late-season form means he should play often as well. The portents are therefore not good for long-serving soldier Kieran Gibbs, but for the moment he’s still here.  If he’s not sold or loaned, he’s sadly looking at U-23 duty, I think.

On the other wing, Hector Bellerin thankfully returned to form after a prolonged downswing in the middle of last term. I do think he’ll generally play the bigger games, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain showed enough in the role last season to at least give him something to think about. Still, I don’t think you can play AOC there against the biggest clubs and/or the tough away fixtures – he’s not a natural defender and he got taken apart a few times last season. As for Calum Chambers, who knows? He did well on loan at Middlesbrough last season, and his ability to play center-half may get him some games if he stays, but I think he may get loaned out again. Carl Jenkinson, on the other hand, surely has to be sold? Fourth in the queue for essentially two positions is awful math from his perspective.

The middle is the same cast of characters that it was last season, for better or worse (definitely worse, in my view). Laurent Koscielny is still one of the best in the division on his day, but he’s 31 and a bit prone to both injury and red cards. Shkodran Mustafi had his ups and downs last season, but for me I think this’ll be the year that he takes a massive step forward. He was the target of our more hysterical supporters last season, but the guy has won everything with Germany and you don’t get there on accident. He’s had some time to acclimate, and now is when I think we can expect bigger things from him.

Another in that boat is Rob Holding, who recovered from being farcically thrown into the deep end against Liverpool to looking like a commanding presence at the back by the conclusion of the season. I don’t see him as an every-game player yet, but he looks like he belongs now and I expect him to get the majority of the Europa League games. As for Gabriel, he’s still out with his injury but in a sane world he’s, at best, fourth on the totem pole here.

Hell, he could be fifth. The FA Cup Final showed that Per Mertesacker still has something to offer. Yes, he’s up there in age and he's never going to beat Usain Bolt in a foot race. But, defending is far more about guile, experience and technique than pace and raw energy. The BFG knows what he’s doing back there. As long as we’re not depending on him game in and game out, he could play in some of the less vital fixtures to give the rest a breather. Works for me.

Photo: www.thefa.com

If it were up to me though, I’d have gotten another center-half and sold Gabriel. Oh well.

Oh, right! Mathieu Debuchy! I literally had to go back and add this in…I completely forgot he existed. What a genuinely sad tale his is…hopefully we can move him on to somewhere where he can play. Speaking of, fuck your entire familial lineage, Marko Arnautovic.

MIDFIELD:

It’s all “as you were” in this area, too…well, other than the whole Jack Wilshere situation. A promising loan to Bournemouth ended up a low-key disaster for him. He barely played, and made no impact when he did. To me, he’s a guy that’s screaming out for a fresh start somewhere else, but Arsene does have an oddly sentimental streak at times for players like him…especially the home-grown ones. I wish him the best regardless, but I don’t see how he positively impacts us this season. Would love to be wrong here.

Otherwise, our defensive midfielders are still Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny, either of whom are going to be partnered by Granit Xhaka or Aaron Ramsey. I suspect that Coquelin will be the same occasionally-infuriating player he’s always been, and that Ramsey will continue to blow hot and cold with dazzling unpredictability. Elneny will probably only play in the cups, but Xhaka? He’s the one that like Mustafi, I predict will have a drastic improvement in his second season. The guy has all the tools and an excellent pedigree. As I’ve said often in this space, some guys just acclimate to this league faster (or slower) than others. I’d love to see a good 6-7 goals and 8-10 assists from him this season.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Jeff Reine-Adelaide are now officially in the first-team squad, though I don’t know how or when they’ll play, or in what position. They’ve both kind of bounced around as specific needs came up, so perhaps they’ll continue in those utility roles this season. Hyphens for all!

Also, I won’t believe that Santi Cazorla is still alive until I see him motoring around the pitch again. It would be a true crime against football if he ends up in the same glue factory that Tommy Rosicky did.

FORWARDS:

I don’t know if we’ve ever had as much of a traffic jam for three positions on the field than we’ve had here. I don’t mean a normal “you get home 20 minutes late” traffic jam, I mean one of those proper ones in China that last for six days.


The headlines, of course, revolve around the arrival of Alexandre Lacazette. I’ll be the first to admit that when he was linked to us previously, I wanted nothing to do with him. I thought he was a bit of a paper tiger, with a goal-scoring rate slightly less than Olivier Giroud’s (in all competitions), and in a lesser league to boot. Some of that is alleviated by how strong Paris St-Germain and Monaco were last season, but most importantly he picked it up on the continent as well. 7-in-12 is a much improved strike rate at that level (he never had more than 2 previously).

Also, it’s nice to have a new face around, something to freshen up the ranks a bit. It does give us options, too. It still remains to be seen how he’ll work with Giroud, or Alexis Sanchez, or Mesut Ozil. But, I’m damn excited to see how it plays out.

Speaking of the Chilean, it looks like we’re going to force him to see out his contract here, and that is absolutely brilliant. It’s nice to see us not get bullied in these situations for once, and it’s good to see that we as a club understand the new economics of the game. With the TV deal and everything else, 50M doesn’t mean what it used to. Having Alexis stick around and get us back to the Champions League and to (hopefully) fight for the title is a far better prospect – I mean, 50M would be about half the cost of his replacement these days.

Of course, that assumes that Alexis’ head is on straight and he plays up to potential…but the hope is that once it dawns on him that he’s stuck here, he’ll use this season as an audition for his Bosman move next summer.

Ozil, on the other hand, isn’t going anywhere as far as I can tell. None of the bigger clubs seem to want him, and that’s fine with me. He may be the least understood and least appreciated player pound-for-pound on the planet. Now, for me, is where he needs to show the world what he can really do. Scoring party trick goals against Ludogorets is one thing, now I want to see him make it rain with assists this time out. He has three top-class strikers to work with (yes, I’m including Giroud), so it’s put up or shut up time now.

Some combination of those four will play the most, but we still have Theo Walcott, Alex Iwobi, Danny Welbeck, Lucas Perez, Chuba Akpom and even Joel Campbell still kicking around. Even with the Europa and the cup games, there just isn’t enough minutes to go around. You have to think Campbell will be sold/given away/left on the side of the road somewhere, and sooner or later Perez will end up back in Spain. Even still, that leaves four guys for at best two back-up roles.

My guess? Akpom goes out on loan for sure, and perhaps Iwobi does as well. Akpom is a good player but realistically not Arsenal standard (folks, we’re a top-six club in the biggest-money league in the world), and Iwobi is at a stage in his development where he needs many more games than I think we can give him. We’ll see.

THE VERDICT:

Well, the good news is that the knob-ends at the Guardian (not Amy, she’s awesome) picked us to finish in sixth place, so we’ll definitely be in the top four.


While they’re busy making heart-eye emojis at Manchester United, let’s be realistic about this here. Do I think we’ll win the title? I don’t – I don’t think we have the defensive depth to do it and the Europa is going to be a giant pain in the ass.

I do think, however, we’re going to comfortably finish ahead of the nearest and dearest. They’ve done nothing in the transfer market, but more importantly this stadium thing is going to kill them. It’s amazing how people ignore history, even when it’s as recent as West Ham last season. They stumbled badly out of the gates and barely recovered in time to not get sucked into the relegation battle. Our neighbors have too much talent for that, but I can see them down in the 7th-8th area for sure. Those of us of a certain age remember when we played our Champions League games at Wembley because Highbury was deemed too small, and of course everything turned out great there and it wasn’t a disaster at all. What? Oh.
Photo: The late, lamented www.red-geezer.co.uk, retrieved via the Internet Wayback Machine


Everton have spent a ton of money, but it strikes me as little more than keeping up with the Joneses. Liverpool have brought in a few faces but nothing on the defensive side of the ball, so I feel like they’ll have many of the same inconsistency issues.

As for the object of the Guardian’s affection, Romelu Lukaku is probably a like-for-like replacement for Zlatan Ibrahimovic in terms of production. That means Victor Lindelof, fresh off of one year at Benfica, would have to improve their defense enough to make major moves. I’m…skeptical. That leaves us, Chelsea and City.

Frankly, I can’t see us catching Chelsea primarily down to how goddamn great Antonio Conte is. The guy won everything every season at Juventus and worked miracles for Italy in what was supposed to be a down cycle for them. Antonio Rudiger was a sharp pick-up, never mind Alvaro Morata and Tiemoue Bakayoko. They are probably the safest pick for the title.

Manchester City are, as ever, a glass cannon. They will either romp to the title or be a massive disappointment, and it all will depend on their new signings. They’ve bought half the fullbacks in Europe, and they’ve got themselves a new keeper. Can the defense gel in time? Will Ederson – a prodigiously talented kid who I think has a higher upside than the Jordan Pickfords of the world – be able to hack it in the Premier League? I’m betting they can and they will, and that’ll be enough to pip the Chavs to the title.

As for us, third seems about right.

1. Manchester City
2. Chelsea
3. Arsenal
4. Manchester United
5. Liverpool
6. Everton
7. The Nearest and Dearest
8. Southampton
9. Leicester City
10. West Ham
11. Stoke City
12. AFC Bournemouth
13. Newcastle United
14. Crystal Palace
15. West Bromwich Albion
16. Burnley
17. Swansea City
18. Brighton & Hove Albion
19. Watford
20. Huddersfield Town

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Chelsea, FA Community Shield


Wembley Stadium, London
Sunday, August 6
9:00 a.m. EDT, 14:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Robert Madley
    • Assistants: Simon Bennett and Constantine Hatzidakis
    • 4th Official: Graham Scott
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 74 Arsenal wins, 62 Chelsea wins, 54 draws
  • All-Time in the Community Shield: 1 Arsenal win, 1 Chelsea win
  • Arsenal in the Community Shield: 14 wins (1 shared,) 7 losses
  • Chelsea in the Community Shield: 4 wins, 7 losses
  • Arsenal's Preseason Form: W-W-W*-L-W-L
  • Chelsea's Preseason Form: W-L-L
Oh. Hello. Welcome back. We're doing this again. Get excited.

We're almost certainly in for a weird season here in Arsenal Land. We'll have the Europa League to occupy our Thursdays, with many more Sunday league matches thrown in because of that. The drawing for the group stage is August 25, where we'll find out if we have to travel to the likes of Zorya Luhansk or Sūduva Marijampolė or Gànipten Fanúpt. Okay, I made up that last one.

But we start with the FA Community Giant Serving Platter against our old friends from West London. The Blues reloaded this summer, like they always do, spending a combined GDP of Liechtenstein on new players to replace a handful of departures. Also, John Terry's at Aston Villa now.

It might be a glorified friendly, but beating the Blues in this match two years ago was a nice confidence builder going into a season-opener where Arsenal lost 2-0 at home to West Ham. Okay, so maybe you can't draw too many conclusions from it...

Still, football's back! Let's do this!

About the Community Shield

The FA Community Shield (formerly the Charity Shield) has been played since 1908. It was called the Charity Shield until 2002 when the Charity Commission declared that it could no longer be legally called that, after the FA failed to specify what money from ticket sales went to charity. Whoops.

The match is, of course, 90 minutes, but if it is drawn, it will go straight to a penalty shootout without extra time. Clubs are allowed to make up to six substitutions instead of three. Yellow cards picked up will not accumulate towards a player's total for the season, but a red card will incur the appropriate one- or three-match ban.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Alexis (match fitness,) Mustafi (match fitness,) Coquelin (ankle,) Wilshere (leg,) Gabriel (knee,) Cazorla (Achilles)

Laurent Koscielny is still in the midst of serving a three-match ban for a sending off from the final league game of last season, though the suspension does not affect this match. He missed the FA Cup Final last year and will miss the first two league games of this season, but he is available on Sunday.

That's good, because Shkodran Mustafi, who won the Confederations Cup with Germany last month, is likely not back to match fitness yet. The same goes for Alexis Sánchez, who lost that final to Germany, and returned later to first team training after coming down with an "illness." Rob Holding and Calum Chambers also came back late from their holidays as both were off with the England Under-21s (who also lost to Germany...)

Gabriel is slowly returning to training after he injured knee ligaments in last year's Premier League finale; he's likely still three weeks or so away from a return. Jack Wilshere, who broke his leg while on loan with Bournemouth last season, has not yet returned to full training. Ditto Santi Cazorla, who has been out since the fall with a variety of problems.

Francis Coquelin injured his ankle in the Emirates Cup against Benfica last weekend; he's unavailable here. There are doubts over Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil, who both missed an open training session with knocks, but both should be available for selection.

Predicted XI: Čech, Monreal, Koscielny, Holding, Kolašinac, Bellerín, Xhaka, Ramsey, Özil, Walcott, Lacazette.

Chelsea Squad News

Out: Bakayoko (knee,) Hazard (ankle,) Pedro (concussion)
Doubts: Morata (match fitness,) Rüdiger (match fitness)

I feel like whenever Arsenal plays Chelsea, the Blues have zero injuries and all I'm left to talk about in this section is how insane that is. However, Chelsea are expected to be without Eden Hazard, Pedro, and new signing Tiemoué Bakayoko for this one. Pedro is back in training with a large face mask, so it might turn out that he's available anyway.

Other new signing Álvaro Morata might be lacking match fitness as well and could be a doubt, though with Chelsea's other injuries up front, he might have to come into the XI. The same doubt status goes for Antonio Rüdiger who, like Mustafi, won the Confederations Cup with Germany.

Bakayoko, a defensive midfielder purchased from Monaco because European clubs always sell their players to other clubs before Arsenal are able to get the player they want from them, is expected to replace Nemanja Matić, who completed his move to Manchester United on Monday. Morata will replace Diego Costa, who has supposedly turned in a formal transfer request.

Predicted XI: Courtois, Cahill, Luiz, Azpilicueta, Fàbregas, Kanté, Alonso, Moses, Willian, Morata, Batshuayi.

Preseason Recap

Arsenal's preseason to date has included four wins and two losses. The club started their preseason tour in Sydney, Australia, where they defeated Sydney FC 2-0 and Western Sydney Wanderers 3-1. No word on any matches against Northeastern Sydney Albion or Real South Central Sydney.

From there, Arsenal traveled to China to take part in the International Champions Cup Annual Money Grab Extravaganza, in which they came from behind to defeat Bayern Munich on penalties, but then lost 3-0 to Chelsea.

Then, it was back to London for the Emirates Cup, where they had a swashbuckling win over Benfica followed by a whatever-the-opposite-of-swashbuckling-is loss to Sevilla. Arsenal still won the Emirates Cup anyway, because goals scored count as points for some reason.

Chelsea's official preseason schedule included only three matches, starting with their aforementioned win over Arsenal. They followed that, however, with losses to Bayern Munich and Inter Milan.

Match Facts

Arsenal are in this match thanks to their FA Cup win over Chelsea to end last season. Alexis Sánchez opened the scoring early with a controversial goal in the fourth minute. Chelsea were reduced to 10-men on 68 minutes when a Victor Moses dive in the box was rewarded with a second yellow card. Even shorthanded, Chelsea had an equalizer through Diego Costa on 76 minutes, but Aaron Ramsey gave Arsenal his second FA Cup winning goal in four years just three minutes later.

Both sides split their league meetings last season. Arsenal ran riot over Chelsea at the Emirates last September, jumping out to a huge lead, with Alexis Sánchez pouncing on a Gary Cahill error in the 11th minute before Theo Walcott doubled the lead three minutes later. Mesut Özil added a third before halftime and Arsenal coasted to a 3-0 win.

At Stamford Bridge in February, Chelsea bludgeoned their way to an early lead, quite literally, as Marcos Alonso used his elbow to beat Hector Bellerín to a header on 13 minutes, forcing the Arsenal right back out of the game with a concussion to boot. Arsenal did well to keep the match close, but Francis Coquelin did not do well to keep Eden Hazard close on 53 minutes and the Belgian scored a wonderful individual goal to double the lead. Cesc Fàbregas made it three from a Petr Čech error on 85 minutes and Olivier Giroud scored a consolation goal in injury time.

This will be Arsenal's 22nd Charity/Community Shield match; the Gunners have won the glorified friendly on 14 previous occasions, though that number includes one year, 1991, in which they shared the trophy with Tottenham Hotspur. Ewww. That was the last occasion of a shared title; penalty shootouts were introduced in 1993. Arsenal's other wins in the competition came in 1930, 1931, 1933, 1934, 1938, 1948, 1953, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2014, and 2015. Arsenal lost the match in 1935, 1936, 1979, 1989, 1993, 2003, and 2005.

Chelsea are making their 12th appearance in the FA's curtain-raising event. The Blues won the Shield in 1955, 2000, 2005, and 2009. Their losses came in 1970, 1997, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2012, and 2015.

The sides have met in this curtain-raising match on two previous occasions, with both sides winning once. The 2005 meeting between these two sides ended 2-1 to the Blues, with Didier Drogba scoring twice at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Current Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fàbregas had Arsenal's consolation goal, while current Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Čech made six saves in the win. In 2015, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's thunderbolt was the only goal in a 1-0 Arsenal win.

The Referee

The referee is West Yorkshire-based Robert Madley. Madley took charge of three Arsenal matches last season: the 2-1 win over Southampton (aided by a late Arsenal penalty,) the 2-1 FA Cup win over Preston North End (aided by another late Arsenal goal, though not a penalty,) and the 3-1 loss at Anfield (aided by nothing.)

For Chelsea, Madley took charge of three wins and a loss last season. The wins came over Leicester City, Everton, and Stoke City by a combined scoreline of 13-4. The loss came 2-0 at Old Trafford in mid-April.

Madley, who will be 32 in October, has been refereeing at the top level since 2013 and was promoted to the FIFA list in January of 2016. Madley has the distinction of showing three red cards in his first ever Premier League match, which is pretty ballsy; all three were widely deemed to have been correct.

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John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a crap polyglot. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat muy bien, gracias.

Ten Thoughts: FA Cup Final - Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea


Photo: The Guardian

Now that there's a moment to reflect after vocal chords have been bruised, jumpy screamy celebrations have been done, champagne has been drunk, friends and strangers have been hugged and that warm, relaxed afterglow feeling that former Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton would call "the cool of the evening" has settled in, I can only now begin to process in my mind that our Arsenal battered the ever-loving shit out of this season's rampant and deserved Premier League champions in today's FA Cup Final.

Honestly? The Chavs can bitch about that handball/offside goal all they like, but they're lucky we didn't run out of there 6-1 winners. Also, they can go get fucked. Start with Diego Costa, please.

And that, right there, is the beauty of this competition and why I love it so damn much. Over the entirety of a 38-match season, you get found out if there is any drop in the required levels. But, in a one-off knockout scenario, it turns out that you CAN fight City Hall. That's the secret. That's where the magic lives.

So, the inevitable hot takes you'll see about how this trophy is diminished or whatever-the-fuck about next season's Champions League, it all misses the point. This has not been a wonderful season for a multitude of reasons, but joy doesn't come in jumbo servings anyway. Football exists for moments like today - yellow ribbons worn as samurai headbands or corsages, smiles of childish glee, cares of the world forgotten for little fleeting moments, beer showers, and a 13th FA Cup trophy in the cabinet.

Absolute goddamn bliss.


1. I'll admit it - I was not optimistic before a ball was kicked this afternoon. I had said on the Facebook machine that I hoped that our boys fought hard and didn't embarrass us. While I will never say that you can't understand the game if you've never played it, the one thing that is hard to translate minus that direct experience is how much of the sport is played in the fields between the players' ears. Confidence is fleeting and unpredictable, so imagine the boost it must have been to be up 1-0 before the match was five minutes old.

Second admission - the goal shouldn't have counted. Not only did Alexis Sanchez handle the ball in the build-up, but Aaron Ramsey was indeed offside as far as the letter of the law goes. I've been studying to become a registered referee for those that don't know, and the key here is that while he didn't touch the ball and was not involved in Alexis' shot rifling past Thibaut Courtois' flailing leg, his presence alone is what made him offside. His proximity to the keeper meant that Courtois had to visually account for his presence, and again, as written in the laws, visual interference is still interference.

However, and this is a massive bloody however, I couldn't give half a shit. We have been victimized by preposterous refereeing decisions so much over the years, I can't bring myself to say anything other than "swings and roundabouts". It's about damn time we got the rub of the green for once.

Also: Play to the whistle, nimrods.


2. According to Wikipedia, the Colossus of Rhodes was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, built on the Greek island of Rhodes in 280 BC to celebrate victory in a war against Cyprus.

According to your intrepid reporter, the Colossus of Wembley is an Arsenal defender of German extraction, born in the town of Hannover in 1984 AD and celebrated victory in a football match against odious barbarians from west London.

Our entire defense played like titans today, but Per Mertesacker stood tallest of them all. It defies belief when you consider the scope: Our best center-half suspended for a rash tackle in a meaningless game. Another injured of his own doing in another reckless challenge in the same match. A natural left back performing with aplomb in the center. A kid we bought for like a million pounds playing like a top-class seasoned veteran. A central midfielder with a few games at right wing-back somehow doing a job at left wing-back. The more natural right wing-back recovering from a season-long malaise precisely when his best was needed. The much-maligned cup keeper taking over for the in-form starter and somehow pulling off a worldie save right at the end.

While Chelsea were not at their fluent best, this was still a side that boasted Eden Hazard, Pedro, Diego Costa and (later) Cesc Fabregas. They have made fools out of better defenses - on paper - then ours, but our lads had them in their pocket all day. Timely blocks, key interceptions, perfectly-executed sliding challenges, they provided exactly what was needed time and again to keep the blue hordes at bay.

In the fullness of time, I'll likely forget both of our goals. I'll definitely forget theirs. But, that defensive performance will be etched into my memory for as long as I live. Immense. Massive. Other related synonyms.


3. I find it necessary to spare a few words for David Ospina. Like many, I was apoplectic when news came out that he was taking the gloves from Petr Cech in this, our most important match of the season. Cech has been in stellar form over the last month, and I believe that sentimentality has no place when a trophy is on the line.

No one is saying that Ospina is the man for us over that 38-match slog of a league season. I'd go so far as to say that like Lukasz Fabianski before him, this should be thank you and farewell. I'd go even further to say that he was horrendous on Chelsea's goal, deflection or not, as that was a serious case of papier-mache wrist.

The final reckoning showed far more tick marks in the credit side of the ledger, though. He got down low brilliantly to save Victor Moses' low drive early in the second half. He gave up his body under severe risk of injury to keep out Costa in the first half. Countless times, especially in the last 10-15 minutes when a desperate Chelsea threw everything at us in one last furious outburst, the Colombian stopper was there to claim a cross and settle down the nerves.

Then, of course, there was THAT save. Up 2-1 at the death, nerves fraying, Mertesacker easily brushed aside in front of him, Ospina got down incredibly fast to somehow repel Costa's low rasper. That shot, that open, from that location is a goal damn near every time. Ospina stole that one, and it won us the game.


4. Another point to consider is as well as we played, as wonderful as that effort was, this result also comes down to Chelsea forgetting what got them here. It looked to me like Antonio Conte's version of the team was already sunning themselves in Ibiza or Marbella, and Jose Mourinho's vintage were the ones on the hallowed Wembley pitch. Cynical, divey, plodding, overly-defensive...all the hallmarks were there. Costa managed to con Anthony Taylor a few times, and we got some mystifying yellow cards, but their cynicism ultimately proved to be their undoing.

What Moses was thinking with that clownish dive in our penalty area when he was already on a booking, I'll never know. Sure, most referees wouldn't have the minerals to show the second yellow there, but why take that chance in his shoes?

I don't know if we would have held in those last madcap minutes or not if Chelsea had had their full complement of players, but I do know that Moses' idiocy made our job much easier. Cheers, bud.


5. Halftime fun: I want to be this man when I grow up.


What. A. Legend.


6. Remember when I was talking about the mental battle often proving vital in this game? Chelsea's goal came in the 76th minute. Our winner came in the 79th. That's character. That's not letting your head drop, that's saying "OK, we'll go get that back", and then actually doing it.

It would have been so easy for the guys to fall to pieces, too. I certainly feared the worst, especially because goalkeeping mistakes are often killers to a team's mental well-being. But, one substitution later, Courtois was picking the ball out of his net again. As it turned out, it was a headed goal involving Ramsey and Olivier Giroud, but the mad thing was that it was Ramsey nodding in from the big man's cross. Giroud's first touch was his foray down the right, and I'd pay good money to know whether Conte was more enraged at how Giroud was so open to cross it in, or Ramsey was so open to drill his header home.

That's for all of you who said that Ollie wasn't good enough, by the by.


7. Speaking of Ramsey, he and Granit Xhaka were fantastic in the center of the park (of course, I was screaming in the pub for A-A-Ron to be subbed off nanoseconds before he scored the winner, proving as always that I'm a complete dolt and should not be trusted). There were plenty of redemption stories to be found in red and white today, but both of those lads are right there at the top.

The Welshman has not had an outstanding season by his previous standards, and I suspect he'd be the first to admit that. He does have a knack for scoring goals in FA Cup Finals though, eh? That's the thing with him - he never stops running, never stops fighting, never gives up. It's bloody admirable.

As for Xhaka, I don't know if I've ever seen so many premature "waste of money" hot takes from people who should know better. I've said it before, and I'll say it a million more times - how quickly (or not) a player adjusts to the Premier League differs from player to player, and sometimes it's not until the second season that a guy's true value shines through. This guy can run, pass, tackle, shoot...he can do it all. He's a complete midfielder and you mark my goddamn words, he's going to boss this division next season.


8. Speaking of bossing, this should have been a lot more comfortable, shouldn't it? How many were cleared off the line? How many hit the woodwork? How many did the excellent Courtois keep out? How many fizzed just the wrong side of the post? History is going to show that we scraped this 2-1, and it will show that Mesut Ozil didn't trouble the scoresheet. However, in an alternative timeline, Ozil has a goal and two assists in a 6-1 tonking and a few more zeroes get added to his next contract.

The people who know will tell you. Mesut was brilliant today.


9. Something that wasn't brilliant - four bloody goddamn minutes of injury time at the end. Man, that was torture. It felt like weeks passed in between each second of added time, a wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey phenomenon made worse by the fact that it felt like someone was massaging my nerve endings with extra-strength Brillo pads. Fuck me, that took five years off my life.

It also didn't help that Taylor added 30 seconds on beyond that for our time-wasting substitution, which on one hand is fair play but on the other something that you rarely see happen. Naturally, I'm aware that the number of minutes indicated is the minimum to be added on, but by that point I was a broken man, pleading with whatever deity was chancing to listen for Taylor to blow his whistle and end our suffering.

Then, he did. And with that, dear Chelsea, you can shove your fucking double up your arse.

(Also, shit club no history, etc and so on.)


10. OK, we have to end it by talking about this man:



Look at how happy he is! Isn't it a joy?

Today, I'm not talking about the future that is still to come. I will not talk, any more than necessary, about the recent past that we now cannot change. There's plenty of time for the first, and I'm sick to my damn back teeth of the second.

Today, I'm talking about 7 FA Cups, which is more than most clubs have earned in a century-plus of history. That includes Liverpool AND the nearest and dearest, by the way.

Today, I'm talking about a guy that has taken unbelievable, sickening abuse for the apparently heinous crime of having a bit of an underwhelming season of association football.

Today, I'm talking about a guy who has taken that abuse on the chin, with pride and grace, when realistically a lot of it should have been directed at the absentee landlord that owns this club.

Today, I'm talking about a guy who finished above Jose Mourinho's lot, when by the way they spent the GDP of a small continent to still end up behind us.

Today, I'm talking about the guy that took us out of the dark ages and made us one of the biggest clubs in world football.

Today, I'm talking about the guy that has delivered 3 FA Cups in the last 4 seasons. The nearest and dearest's best season since 1961 yielded one less trophy than our worst one in ages did.

We can talk about all the rest of it on some other day. I'm glad he got to enjoy this. I'm glad he got to smile today.

Thank you, Arsene.
Thank you, David.
Thank you, Nacho.
Thank you, Per.
Thank you, Rob.
Thank you, Alex.
Thank you, Hector.
Thank you, Granit.
Thank you, Aaron.
Thank you, Alexis.
Thank you, Mesut.
Thank you, Danny.
Thank you, Olivier.
Thank you, Francis.
Thank you, Mohamed.


Thank you, Arsenal.



Man of the Match: All of them, duh.  OK, OK, if you have to pick one then it's clearly Per Mertesacker. An absolute career-defining performance, in only his second appearance of the year. Welcome to the Arsenal pantheon, BFG.


Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Chelsea, FA Cup Final


Wembley Stadium, London
Saturday, May 27
12:30 p.m. EDT, 17:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Anthony Taylor
    • Assistants: Gary Beswick and Marc Perry
    • 4th Official: Robert Madley
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 73 Arsenal wins, 62 Chelsea wins, 54 draws
  • All-Time in the FA Cup: 8 Arsenal wins, 5 Chelsea wins, 6 draws
  • 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
    • Semi-Final: Beat Manchester City, 2-1 after extra time
  • Chelsea's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Peterborough United, 4-1
    • Fourth Round: Beat Brentford, 4-0
    • Fifth Round: Beat Wolverhampton Wanderers, 2-0
    • Sixth Round: Beat Manchester United, 1-0
    • Semi-Final: Beat Tottenham Hotspur, 4-2
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-W-W-W-W-W
  • Chelsea's League Form: L-W-W-W-W-W
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more...

The league season is over now and for the first time in over 20 years, Arsenal have finished outside of the top four. Astonishingly, they finished with more points this year (75) than they had in 10 of the 20 consecutive seasons where they qualified for Champions League football, so figure that one out. Just one of the many weird existential questions we'll have to ask ourselves in this season's postmortem: what the hell actually went wrong here?

There are many who won't give Arsenal a snowball's chance in hell for this game and it's quite easy to see why; it was hard to give Arsenal much of a chance even before all of their defenders got hurt and suspended at the same time.

That being said, anything can happen in a single 90-minute match of football. That's why they don't play matches on paper; they play them inside of television screens on 14th Street.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Gabriel (knee,) Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Mustafi (concussion,) Gibbs (thigh,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring,) Pérez (fictional)
Suspended: Koscielny (first of three, serious foul play)

Hey, have you ever played the position of central defender? If so, I know a London-based club that could probably use your services!

Arsenal's season started to swing back in the right direction once they started playing three center backs in April, but now, it might be a stretch to even name three available center backs that could start tomorrow. So, let's figure this out.

Here's a list of Arsenal's first team defenders, listed by squad number, listing their level of availability:

Mathieu Debuchy (probably available, but far from ideal)
Kieran Gibbs (doubtful)
Per Mertesacker (available, but not quite ideal)
Gabriel (out)
Laurent Koscielny (out)
Rob Holding (available)
Nacho Monreal (available)
Shkodran Mustafi (doubtful)
Héctor Bellerín (available)
Carl Jenkinson (see Debuchy)

Thank God there are four names available, though you could argue that Mertesacker is not ideal for a match of this magnitude, given how little he has played this season. Like, do we even still have Mathieu Debuchy? There were photographs of him at an end of season event looking glum (or, as they say in France, le gluuuumme), so he does exist. I haven't been bothered to check if Lucas Pérez is in any of those pictures because I'm going to maintain that he's fictional.

My guess is that Mertesacker will anchor a back three including Rob Holding and Héctor Bellerín, Nacho Monreal will start on the left and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, back in full training from his injury suffered at Southampton, will start on the right.

From there, the selection seems easy to me, aside from center forward. Danny Welbeck was a bit wasteful against Everton last weekend but strikes me as a better option than Olivier Giroud at the moment.

Predicted XI: Čech, Bellerín, Mertesacker, Holding, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Özil, Alexis, Welbeck.

Chelsea Squad News

Out: Loftus-Cheek (back)

Thanks to Chelsea's deal with Satan, which was re-upped for another five years last summer, the Blues have no major injury concerns entering the final. Ruben Loftus-Cheek has been out with a nagging back problem; he made only six appearances in the league this season, none of them starts, which has led to swirling transfer speculation around the 21-year-old midfielder.

Chelsea play a 3-4-3 formation, something they switched to after losing to Arsenal in September (covered below), with a back three composed of David Luiz, Gary Cahill, and César Azpilicueta. The midfield four are usually Victor Moses, Marcos Alonso, Nemanja Matić, and either Cesc Fàbregas or N'Golo Kanté.

The attacking trio feels a bit like Murderers' Row, with Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, and Pedro all capable of doing quite a bit of damage against an Arsenal back three-or-four-or-five that is being held together with duct tape and Per Mertesacker's long reach.

Predicted XI: Courtois, Cahill, Luiz, Azpilicueta, Moses, Alonso, Matić, Fàbregas, Hazard, Pedro, Costa.

Season in Review

Both of these sides switched to a back-three this season following a 3-0 road loss within London. For one, it made them runaway title winners. For the other, it came far too late.

When Arsenal beat Chelsea 3-0 at the Emirates in September (covered in more detail below,) they were in the middle of what would go on to be a 19-match unbeaten run across all competitions. The loss, Chelsea's second in a row at that point, dropped the Blues to eighth in the table after six games. A week later, at Hull, they struggled to a 2-0 win. From the BBC recap of that match:
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte promised "a solution" after his side went down with a whimper against Arsenal last weekend and he found his answer in a strategy he used at former club Juventus. The Italian opted for a three-man defence during much of this trophy-filled time in Turin and deployed Gary Cahill, David Luiz and César Azpilicueta at the back as he organised his Chelsea rearguard to match.
The win at Hull was the first of 13 consecutive league wins for the Blues as they catapulted their way to the top of the table. Even after Spurs snapped the winning streak on January 4, Chelsea still went on to win 14 of their final 18 league games, as they won the league by seven points.

Arsenal, of course, stumbled throughout the winter and spring. Two losses in mid-December left Arsenal nine points out of first on Christmas. By the end of the season, that gap doubled.

The warning signs were there in January, when the Gunners spotted Bournemouth a 3-0 lead before having to storm back to draw 3-3. But, they responded by winning their next four across all competitions. The season truly fell apart in the last week of January and first week of February, when Arsenal were blitzed out of the gate at home by Watford, lost 2-1, then lost at Stamford Bridge four days later. Starting with the Watford match, Arsenal lost eight times in a 16-game span across all competitions.

After losing to Tottenham on April 30, Arsenal finished the season by winning five straight, but it was too-little, too-late.

Match Facts

Arsenal and Chelsea split their league meetings this season, with both sides winning at home under very different circumstances.

It feels so long ago that Arsenal ran riot over the Blues at the Emirates (it was September 24, so, eight months ago, I suppose that is a long time...) Arsenal jumped out to a huge lead, with Alexis Sánchez pouncing on a Gary Cahill error in the 11th minute before Theo Walcott doubled the lead three minutes later. Mesut Özil added a third before halftime and Arsenal coasted to a 3-0 win.

At Stamford Bridge in February, Chelsea bludgeoned their way to an early lead, quite literally, as Marcos Alonso used his elbow to beat Hector Bellerín to a header on 13 minutes, forcing the Arsenal right back out of the game with a concussion to boot. Arsenal did well to keep the match close, but Francis Coquelin did not do well to keep Eden Hazard close on 53 minutes and the Belgian scored a wonderful individual goal to double the lead. Cesc Fàbregas made it three from a Petr Čech error on 85 minutes and Olivier Giroud scored a consolation goal in injury time.

Historically speaking, there was a watershed in the course of this rivalry, though it was not a league game or an FA Cup tie, but a Champions League tie in 2004. To remind you that the watershed came during the Invincibles season borders on blasphemy. It was, of course, Wayne Bridge's 87th minute goal at Highbury that saw Chelsea through to the semi-finals 3-2 on aggregate. Since that match, Chelsea and Arsenal have played 31 times across all competitions. Chelsea have won 18 them. Seven have ended drawn. That leaves just six Arsenal wins in 13 years.

Chelsea and Arsenal have met in 13 previous FA Cup ties; Arsenal have won eight and Chelsea have won five. After splitting the first two, with Chelsea winning in 1915 and Arsenal winning in 1930, the Blues won three straight meetings in '31, '39, and '47. Arsenal then won seven consecutive ties between the clubs, in 1950, 1952, 1973, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004. That 2004 win and the two league encounters that season (both Arsenal wins) came before that fateful Champions League tie, of course. The sides last met in 2009, with Chelsea winning 2-1 in the semifinal.

The Referee

The referee is Cheshire-based Anthony Taylor. Taylor has had a colorful history when it comes to Arsenal, including that season-opening loss to Aston Villa almost four years ago as well as Arsène Wenger calling him "dishonest to his federation" when he was the fourth official against Burnley during the winter. Colorful history aside, Arsenal all-time have a record of 12 wins, five draws, and two losses with Taylor in the middle, across all competitions.

Arsenal only had Taylor as a referee twice this season and both instances came after the whole "dishonest to your federation" thing. The first was the FA Cup sixth round tie against Lincoln City, which Arsenal won 5-0. The other was the first match of Arsenal's back-three experiment, the 2-1 win at Middlesbrough on April 17.

All-time, Chelsea have a record of 11 wins, four draws, and four losses with Taylor in the middle. Only one of those losses was a league fixture (1-0 at Stoke in 2015.) Two of the three losses were League Cup losses: 2-0 to Swansea in the first leg of the 2012/13 semifinal (it was the second leg when Eden Hazard kicked a ballboy and was sent off by Chris Foy) and 2-1 after extra time to Sunderland the following season.

Taylor has worked a match between these two clubs at Wembley before; he was in charge of Arsenal's 1-0 win in the 2016 Community Shield, which was Chelsea's fourth loss from the list.

This year, Chelsea won all four games in which they had Taylor as the referee (though, to be fair, they did win 79% of their games this year in total): 2-1 over West Ham in August, 2-0 at Hull in October, 3-1 at Manchester City in December, and 2-1 at Stoke in March.

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John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and an intensive pronoun. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat yourself.