Five Thoughts: Arsenal 3-1 Everton


Thank you, random social media intern at UEFA! That's what we needed today, shade thrown at us from some kid making like 12 Euros an hour. Fantastic. Anyway, this is going to be short as there's not much point dissecting this in detail, and I have a weapons-grade hangover anyway.


1. Not that we should have ever needed to rely on them, but I'm going to say it anyway: Middlesbrough, you absolutely useless bastards. Good riddance.


2. Our capacity to make thoroughly average (or worse) goalkeepers continued today, as this oddly enough would have been a cricket score had Joel Robles not put up his best performance of the season. Of course he did, even if he is (in my professional opinion) the literal worst starting keeper in the entire Premier League. Some of it was down to our finishing too, but in fairness to the guy he had a good game.

The goals, though, were quite good. The first almost didn't happen, as Danny Welbeck whiffed in hilarious fashion when Mesut Ozil presented a chance on a plate for him. Miss of the season there, for me. Luckily, Hector Bellerin was on hand to sweep it home.

The second was the platonic ideal of the "always play to the whistle" cliche. A pass deflected off of Leighton Baines into the path of Welbeck, and literally everyone in a blue shirt (yellow, in Robles' case) stopped playing like someone had flicked the off switch. They stood stock still as Welbeck passed it to Alexis, who tapped it in. You won't see a more obvious end-of-season-and-we're-on-the-beach-already bit of defending than that.

The last one came in injury time, as Aaron Ramsey got the ball on the edge of the area and curled an unstoppable beauty around Robles and into the far corner. This season's been a bit shit, obviously, but that was a nice way to end it at least.


3. We are in a bit of a pickle for the cup final though, specifically in central defense. Laurent Koscielny got himself sent off in the 14th minute for a ridiculous, stupid, rash, reckless tackle on Enner Valencia that could well have caused him serious harm. Sorry, but that's a red card all damn day.

Later, Gabriel also flew in recklessly into a tackle, and he managed to seriously injure himself in the process. He was in tears as he was stretchered off, so one would assume he's probably out for the final as well. Either way, hope it's not serious and he's well again soon.

All of this meant that Per Mertesacker made his first appearance in ages, and he looked all right once he came on. Good thing, too, because at this point it looks like he's going to have to play next week.


4. While Koscielny's foul was a clear red, and while I generally think Michael Oliver is a good referee, he was utterly abysmal today. The second half was horrid in particular, as both Ashley Williams and Morgan Schneiderlin arguably should have seen second yellows for fouls that he had booked other players for during the match.

It's all kind of pointless given the fact that Liverpool won and all, but the standard of officiating in this league is becoming worrisome.


5. I'm going to do a longer-form autopsy of the season after the final, but Arsene is probably going to make a lot of hay around the fact that at 75 points, we had four more than last season AND it's the largest total for a 5th-place team in Premier League history.

On the other hand, we dropped five completely preventable points in the first two games of the season...you know, before he bothered to buy any players.


Go out and win that cup, boys. Nothing else matters.


Man of the Match: Mesut Ozil



Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Everton


Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, May 21
10:00 a.m. EDT, 15:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Simon Bennett and Adrian Holmes
    • 4th Official: Craig Pawson
  • Reverse Fixture: Everton 2 - 1 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 2 - 1 Everton
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 102 Arsenal wins, 60 Everton wnis, 45 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-L-W-W-W-W
  • Everton's League Form: W-W-D-L-L-W
So, this is it. The last "cup final" before the Cup Final.

Arsenal's odds of finishing in the top four are 18.7%. Arsenal are one point back of Liverpool for fourth and three points back of Manchester City for third. They are two goals behind Liverpool on goal difference and five back of City.

You know the permutations and the likely scenarios. The most likely situation that sees Arsenal in a Champions League place is if the Gunners win and Liverpool fails to win. If Manchester City lose, Arsenal could manage to find themselves in third with the right score lines (imagine!?)

Goals scored between the clubs are nearly identical: Arsenal have 74, the other two clubs have 75. That means there's an outside shot at a one-game playoff being necessary to decide a European place. They're highly unlikely, but would be bonkers:
  • If Arsenal get a score draw (1-1, 2-2, etc.) and Liverpool loses by two, they will need a play-off to decide fourth.
  • If Arsenal win by one and Manchester City loses by four, they will need a play-off, but that play-off could decide either third or fourth, depending on what Liverpool does.
When would that play-off even be? It'd be at a neutral ground, certainly, but with Arsenal in the FA Cup Final, I'm not sure when the fixture would be scheduled to be played. The Guardian piece on the possible match suggests Arsenal fans would want a meeting with Liverpool to be scheduled for May 26, the anniversary of Anfield '89, but I'm not sure it'd be best to play such an important match the day before the FA Cup Final.

Anyway, better take care of business at the Emirates and hope for the best...

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Cazorla (Achilles,) Pérez (fictional)
Doubts: Ramsey (thigh,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring,) Koscielny (Achilles)

There's currently a lot out there on Laurent Koscielny, after he gave an interview to the Evening Standard stating that he is receiving daily treatment on his Achilles, something that will be required for the remainder of his playing career. Koscielny was diagnosed with chronic tendinitis in 2014, but is still averaging over 40 matches a season over his Arsenal career.

Elsewhere, there remain doubts over Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, as he tries to recover from a hamstring problem to make the FA Cup Final, and Aaron Ramsey, who was removed on 69 minutes Tuesday with a thigh problem. That was also part of a double substitution designed to change the momentum of the game, which it did, as Arsenal finally scored three minutes later.

Meanwhile, I am reasonably certain that Lucas Pérez is not a real person and that we've all collectively imagined him as some part of Mandela Effect thing.

With Champions League football still theoretically on the table and a positive momentum swing to maintain, I would expect Arsène Wenger to name his strongest possible XI here. You've got to roll the dice.

Predicted XI: Čech, Mustafi, Koscielny, Holding, Bellerín, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Özil, Alexis, Giroud.

Everton Squad News

Out: Bolasie (knee,) Coleman (leg,) Funes Mori (knee,) Lennon (personal)
Doubts: Stekelenburg (groin,) McCarthy (hamstring)

Aaron Lennon is likely still out after he was hospitalized on May 2 under the Mental Health Act. It was encouraging for me to hear that the number of players who have sought support from the Professional Football Association's help service has increased continually since the service was introduced in 2012. It can often be hard for fans to remember that, exorbitant wages and all, footballers are still human beings.

Everton have three long-term injuries, as Seamus Coleman is out with the double leg break he suffered on international duty, Yannick Bolasie could miss the rest of the calendar year with a knee injury, and Ramiro Funes Mori is out until next pre-season with a knee injury as well.

Maarten Stekelenburg is a strong doubt with a groin problem, which could see Joel Robles start in goal; Robles played in Everton's 1-0 win over Watford last Friday. James McCarthy has not played since March 5 with a hamstring injury.

Predicted XI: Robles, Holgate, Jagielka, Williams, Baines, Schneiderlein, Davies, Gueye, Barkley, Mirallas, Lukaku.

Current Form

Arsenal have won four straight in the league since their 2-0 loss against Tottenham in mid-April. It's their first four match winning streak in the league since October. In those four matches, Arsenal have outscored their opponents 10-1, with the one coming via Peter Crouch's hand. This, I suppose, was as good a time as any to get back on track.

Everton are locked into seventh place and the third qualifying round Europa League matches that will go along with it at the end of July. Everton had a four match winning streak in the league back in August and September, part of a five-match winning streak across all competitions. Since then, the Toffees have not won more than two in a row across all fixtures. They crashed out of the League Cup at the second hurdle, to lower division Norwich, and out of the FA Cup at the first, to Leicester. That means this will be Everton's 41st and final game of the season. For Arsenal, it will be their 54th.

Match Facts

Everton had won just one of their last 10 back when these sides met at Goodison Park in December. Arsenal, on the other hand, had a league unbeaten streak of 14. That night was, of course, the start of Arsenal's derailment. Alexis Sánchez put Arsenal ahead 1-0 from a free kick on 20 minutes, but Seamus Coleman equalized just before halftime to bring things back level. Everton dominated the proceedings in the second half, with Ashley Williams eventually bundling in a winner in the 86th minute after Arsenal failed to clear a set piece. The Gunners nearly frantically found an equalizer in injury time, but an Alex Iwobi shot was saved off the line and an Alexis penalty shout was denied by Mark Clattenburg.

Arsenal won both fixtures against Everton last season, winning 2-1 at the Emirates in the fall and 2-0 at Goodison Park in the spring. In London, Arsenal took a 2-0 lead against the Toffees in quick succession, as Olivier Giroud scored in the 36th minute and Laurent Koscielny scored in the 38th. It wasn't comfortable, though, as Ross Barkley pulled a goal back in the 44th minute and Arsenal's legs got a bit heavy in the second half, as they had played in Europe midweek.

Everton are winless in their last 22 trips to the Emirates/Highbury, dating back to January 20, 1996. Arsenal also have more wins in league play (93) against Everton than any other club.

The Referee

The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. Arsenal's record with Oliver, overall, is quite poor. In fact, he's been in the middle for many of Arsenal's damaging road results in the 2017 calendar year: 3-3 at Bournemouth, 0-3 at Crystal Palace, 0-2 at Tottenham. In the league, all-time, Arsenal have a record of three wins, seven draws, and eight losses with Oliver in the middle. That's almost Mike Dean-level bad.

But this match is at the Emirates, where Oliver also presided over Arsenal's 3-0 win over Chelsea back in September. All three of Arsenal's league wins with Oliver have come at home, though they've also lost three and drawn three.

Everton have eight league wins all-time with Oliver, so a bunch better record than Arsenal. This year, they have seen Oliver four times, winning one (1-0 over Stoke,) losing one (3-2 to Spurs,) and drawing two (1-1 against both Manchester clubs, at the Etihad against City and at Goodison against United.)

Around the League

All matches kickoff simultaneously on Sunday:
  • Burnley v. West Ham United; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Chelsea v. Sunderland; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Hull City v. Tottenham Hotspur; KCOM Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Leicester City v. Bournemouth; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Liverpool v. Middlesbrough; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Manchester United v. Crystal Palace; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Southampton v. Stoke City; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Swansea City v. West Bromwich Albion; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Watford v. Manchester City; Vicarage Road, Watford
--
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and an NBC-affiliated television network in the Quad Cities. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for programming notes.

Five Thoughts: Arsenal 2-0 Sunderland



1. Man, as soon as Man City went up 2-0, this became the most utterly pointless match in the history of association football, huh? Just punching the time clock, folks.

The truth is, most of this was an absolutely unwatchable dirge, even though if you go back and look at it, both sides had more chances than the memory would typically recall. Were there more on the line, we may have looked back on this as a somewhat decent match of association football. As it is, you're a liar if you say you'll remember this tomorrow...or even now, as you read this.

It almost makes you wish that there were some method to just declare on your regular season, much like you can do in your innings in cricket.


2. The story of the match is unquestionably another valiant-in-defeat performance by the young Sunderland keeper, Jordan Pickford. Were it not for him, this surely would have been done and dusted well before we managed to do so. It's not up for debate that he is an interesting talent, and it's probably more likely than not that he will do well in the next stage of his progression (cough cough Everton cough cough).

What you're going to see, on Twitter and elsewhere, is everyone in the world clamoring to sign him. Me? I'm...not so sure. The other old farts reading this will know this name immediately, but by way of an explanation let me introduce you to one Richard Wright.




Given that one of the first photos I saw on GIS is him in goal for a 4-2 loss to Charlton bloody Athletic, I think you can see where this is going.

Wright was one of the gaffer's more head-scratching buys in retrospect, but at the time it seemed to make a lot of sense. David Seaman was reaching the end of the road, and we needed a top keeper to replace him. We didn't have silly money to throw around, and I think the idea of an English player in the position was intriguing to Arsene, both for Champions League registration reasons as well as potentially being more comfortable with the crosses and physicality of the Premier League.

At the time, Ipswich Town had a cup of coffee in the Premier League, and Wright had a fantastic season for them as a 24-year old, In fact, Ipswich managed a heady 5th-place finish that season, absolutely unheard of for a club of their size, even back then. So, we bought him for the then-decent fee of 2M and handed him a 5-year contract.

As it turned out, he made 12 league appearances for us in one season, and he was promptly flogged off to Everton. A cautionary tale, this. Whenever he played, he looked like someone had yanked him off the street and threw a pair of gloves at him. He was lost, he was a poor shot-stopper and most of all he was emphatically not good enough for a club of our stature.

Here's the thing. Goalkeeping performance is not agnostic to outside factors. Right now, Pickford is in a relatively low-pressure scenario where few expected Sunderland to stay up, he only had to beat the bang-average Vito Mannone to win his place, and they give up so many unpreventable goals due to their defending anyway that the odd mistake gets comprehensively lost in the shuffle. To say that wouldn't be the case at Arsenal is an understatement.

Besides that, Roma have been clear at this point that they don't intend to make a play for Wojceich Szczesny on a permanent basis, even though he's been one of the best goalkeepers in Serie A this season. So, we have Petr Cech, who has reminded the haters and dipshits in recent weeks of how valuable he remains. We have Szczesny back on the last year of his contract. We have David Ospina, who presumably will want to find a new club where he can get the first-team football that he arguably deserves (albeit at a lower level). We have Emi Martinez, who is getting beyond the age of "hot prospect" and is hurtling towards the age of "shit or get off the pot".

So, now, your big idea is to bring in this 23-year old kid (almost the same age as Wright!), who has played well enough to start somewhere (and don't think his agent doesn't know this), while we have all of the rest of that shit to figure out in our goalkeeping department? Not to mention, bringing him in from the relatively obscure and safe space of a bad team even by Sunderland standards to the bloody CHAMPIONS LEAGUE, and the ongoing psychodrama that is Arsenal Football Club?

Honestly, do me a favor.

To give you a point of comparison, when Manchester City bought Joe Hart, he was 19 years old and was allowed to go on loan three separate times to develop away from the spotlight.

So, thanks but no thanks...9 saves on 11 shots on target in one meaningless end-of-season match or not.


3. Well, that was more words about one kid barely old enough to drink than I was originally intending to write about the whole sodding match. Funny how that works.

Anyway, the goals when they (finally) came were actually quite good. The first came from a lovely ball over the top by Granit Xhaka, who is now beginning to make serious fools of his critics. Mesut Ozil controlled it well, and sent it over to the back post for Alexis to smash in uncontested. The second was again scored unmarked on the back post, this time after Pickford had clawed away Olivier Giroud's excellent volley.

There were a million other chances besides, but nothing else managed to beat Pickford, or the woodwork.


4. Speaking of fine goalkeeping, how about that Petr Cech, huh? Our criminally-unloved stopper made a few excellent saves himself, doubly so because most came when it was still 0-0. Imagine if we had gone down 1-0 to this lot, huh? There might have been riots among the 14 or so people who bothered to turn up to the Emirates today.


5. I have to say, I don't recommend setting your heart too much on Middlesbrough or Watford doing us any favors. The harsh truth is that, over the entirety of 38 matches, we're just about the fifth-best team in the Premier League this season. We can talk about Arsene's ridiculous dereliction of duty in the transfer market in the season's first few weeks (I will always insist that it is criminal that it took as long as it did to get Shkrodan Mustafi in), and we can speculate on what might have been different if we changed formations earlier.

Neither of those things can be changed now though, and the fact is that the clubs currently in the top four have been simply better than us this season. It sucks and it hurts and it was so FUCKING preventable, but we are where we are.

Now, let's see what this club does about it.

In the meantime though, we have one match of any importance left in this season, and I want to see fight and I want to see a performance. Nothing else is acceptable.


Man of the Match:  Jordan Pickford

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Sunderland


Emirates Stadium, London
Tuesday, May 16
2:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Roger East
    • Assistants: Peter Kirkup and Matthew Wilkes
    • 4th Official: Lee Probert
  • Reverse Fixture: Sunderland 1 - 4 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 3 - 0 Sunderland
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 61 Arsenal wins, 50 Sunderland wins, 41 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-L-W-W-W
  • Sunderland's League Form: L-D-L-L-W-L
Let's take a moment to bask in what Arsenal accomplished on Saturday, winning comfortably at Stoke for the first time basically ever (their only other win at the Britannia since Stoke's 2008 promotion was the Aaron Ramsey game, in which Arsenal scored twice in injury time to win it 3-1.) They overcame Mike Dean and that time Peter Crouch essentially threw the ball into the net, to boot! I exaggerate, of course, but you get the point.

It's important to remember the positives at this stage because West Ham did Arsenal no favors on Sunday. Arsenal need two wins from two and a result for relegated Middlesbrough at Anfield next weekend to pip Liverpool for fourth. It's not out of the question that Boro could get a 0-0 draw; their defense is not the reason the club are going back down and they got that result at the Emirates in the fall. However, they have shipped seven goals in their last three games.

Just remember, the last time Arsenal needed a result from an already relegated North East club in order to achieve their desired position in the table, Newcastle beat Spurs 5-1.

Of course, that's all moot if another already relegated North East club come out of London with a point tonight, so let's take care of first things first.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring,) Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Alexis (thigh,) Koscielny (calf)

One of the more enjoyable parts of Arsenal's win on Saturday was that a clearly knocked Alexis Sánchez was able to score Arsenal's third goal of the day. Of course, that does not come without consequences; since he did pick up a slight thigh problem, I wouldn't think he'd be risked in this one.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who injured his hamstring against Southampton last midweek, was not risked at the weekend, and Arsène Wenger confirmed he is still out. Laurent Koscielny, who had been a doubt, started at the Potteries, but had a recurrence of his calf problem. Santi Cazorla remains the only long-term absentee.

So the question is, how much rotation? I would think Aaron Ramsey would come back into to the side, but does Francis Coquelin or Granit Xhaka drop for him? Does Nacho Monreal get a rest? How about Laurent Koscielny, who had that calf knock? If both get a rest, then we could see Gabriel as one of the back three with Kieran Gibbs in the left wingback slot.

Or course, rotate too much and you lose all fluidity, especially considering there are still bound to be growing pains with a new formation. So, we shall see.

Predicted XI: Čech, Gabriel, Mustafi, Holding, Gibbs, Bellerín, Coquelin, Ramsey, Özil, Walcott, Welbeck.

Sunderland Squad News

Out: McNair (knee,) Watmore (knee,) Kirchhoff (knee)
Doubts: Oviedo (hamstring,) Cattermole (Achilles,) Pienaar (ankle,) Anichebe (thigh,) Denayer (thigh,) Honeyman (back)

Sunderland are cemented to the bottom of the league table, but they're at the top of the injury table right now. They have a rather large number of players in contention for returns, however.

Lee Cattermole is more likely than unlikely to feature as he comes back from an Achilles problem. Bryan Oviedo is on his way back from a hamstring problem and made the bench at the weekend. George Honeyman and Steven Pienaar are both 50/50 with back and ankle injuries, respectively. Victor Anichebe and Jason Denayer are both strong doubts with thigh problems.

Sunderland's absences include three players who all have knee injuries: Duncan Watmore needed a second surgery on his knee, Paddy McNair's season is also over through a cruciate ligament injury, and Jan Kirchhoff's knee injury was supposed to keep him out for six weeks, though that was eight weeks ago. Sounds like he's on some sort of Arsenal timeline.

Predicted XI: Pickford, Jones, Koné, O'Shea, Manquillo, Ndong, Larsson, Cattermole, Borini, Khazri, Defoe.

Current Form

Arsenal now have six wins from seven matches since switching formations to three at the back on April 17. Of course, after Liverpool took all three points at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday, it's starting to look like it's too little, too late. Arsenal's road wins over Stoke and Southampton in the past week means they will finish the season with 30 points from 19 road games.

Sunderland had been winless in the league on the season when the clubs met back in October. After Sunderland lost to Arsenal, they went on to win four of their next seven before Boxing Day. Since then, they have won twice in 21 fixtures, 19 of them league games. In the FA Cup, they drew Burnley before losing the replay. So, it's no wonder the Black Cats were relegated on April 29. Incidentally, two of their six wins on the season came against Hull City, which, in effect, relegated the Tigers themselves.

Match Facts

Martin Atkinson made things interesting, but Arsenal ended up winning the reverse fixture comfortably in the end, 4-1. Alexis Sánchez put Arsenal up 1-0, but Sunderland were level from the penalty spot on 65 minutes after Petr Čech brought down Duncan Watmore. Arsenal were back in front just six minutes later, however, as the Gunners scored three goals in seven minutes.

Arsenal beat Sunderland at the Emirates twice last season, in the league in December and in the FA Cup a month later. Both matches ended 3-1 in favor of the Gunners. Arsenal's goal scorers were the same on both occasions as well, with Joel Campbell, Olivier Giroud, and Aaron Ramsey all scoring for Arsenal on both days, in that order both times. The only difference was the timing of Sunderland's goal. In December, Sunderland equalized before halftime with an Olivier Giroud own goal from a set piece. In January, Sunderland scored first, through Jeremain Lens, before Arsenal came back to win comfortably.

Sunderland's last league win against Arsenal came in November of 2009; Arsenal had just lost Robin van Persie to injury over the preceding international break and Darren Bent scored in the 71st minute to give Sunderland a 1-0 win.

The Referee

The referee is Wiltshire-based Roger East, which I suppose is funny since Wiltshire is in the South West. Arsenal have seen East five times in the past, winning three and drawing two. Only one of those five games was this season and it was all the way back in September, when Arsenal won 4-1 at Hull City; Arsenal were up 1-0 when East sent off Jake Livermore, but Alexis missed the penalty and, at 2-0, East correctly gave Hull a penalty to put them back in the match. Arsenal restored their two-goal lead just four minutes later before Granit Xhaka's long-range thunderbolt finished the scoring.

Sunderland have not had Roger East at all this season. All-time, they have a record of one win (an FA Cup tie against Kidderminster Harriers,) three draws, and four losses. The last time East worked a Sunderland match, it was April 2 of last year, when the Black Cats played a 0-0 draw at home to West Brom.

Around the League
  • Monday: Chelsea 4 - 3 Watford
  • Tuesday: Manchester City v. West Bromwich Albion; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Wednesday: Southampton v. Manchester United; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Thursday: Leicester City v. Tottenham Hotspur; King Power Stadium, Leicester
--
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a reality television program. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for non-stop drama.

Ten Thoughts: Stoke City 1-4 Arsenal



Goddamn, fuck Stoke City forever, Just, literally forever, I don't know if there's a club I hate more in all of England, and that waaaaaaaaaay includes the nearest and dearest. I swear to (insert deity here) that I would live in Somalia before I ever ever EVER consented to live in Stoke-on-Trent.

1. Keeping with the Lord of the Rings theme, it felt like a long trek into Mordor just to get to the damn pub to watch the match. Never mind the horrendous rainstorm that is apparently going to last clean through until Sunday afternoon, but there was also an electrical failure at Times Square *just* as I was heading out on the subway. So, a fun 30 minutes at Queensboro Plaza in the gray, damp hell later, I was finally able to catch an N train and only missed about 4 minutes or so of the match. Miracles truly never cease.


2. As I mentioned in the last one of these, we've had a bit of a streak of ending bad runs lately. Be it the general malaise in away matches, or the record against Jose Mourinho, or the hoodoo at St. Mary's, we've made a practice lately of breaking bad streaks. So, why not away at the Potteries, too? The weird thing is, Stoke showed up to this thing with a little bit of their usual petulance, which we'll get to in a bit, but no real serious desire to win this match.

It's funny, in retrospect, how we managed to lose to badly away to West Brom when they were already safe and especially in light of how bad they've been since safety has been assured. This could have been something similar, but Stoke just...I don't know...never turned up. It's so bizarre. Maybe it's because they're slightly different under Mark Hughes than they were when Sauron managed them, but even still it's not what one would normally expect.


3. Let's be real - Arsenal thoroughly dominated the first half. Whether it was a looping header from Shkodran Mustafi that tested Jack Butland in the Stoke goal early, or Nacho Monreal hitting the post after great work from Hector Bellerin down the right, our boys were all over this lot from first minute to last.

I wonder if these early chances were what shook Stoke out of their early torpor enough to start committing the kind of horror fouls that we're used to from them, but either way they didn't seem to care enough to do even that in the first 20 minutes or so.

It was SUCH a bizarre match,


4. Most of the rest of the first half passed without incident, but I can't help but think that in most cases Bellerin could have won a penalty in the 22nd minute if he had just gone down when the contact happened. Of course, in retrospect, Mike Dean was refereeing this thing so he'd have probably be booked for diving anyway. Believe me, we'll get more into Dean in a second.

As it turns out, Arsenal would take the lead just before halftime in the 42nd minute. It feels odd to say, but the early stages of the build-up to the goal happened because of good work in the center of the park by Francis Coquelin, who kinda sorta impersonated a professional footballer today. He played it out right to Bellerin, who made room down the right and then sent a wicked cross back along the six-yard box. Olivier Giroud, making the most of a rare start, ghosted off his markers and popped up on the back post to slam home uncontested.


5. Sidebar: If you contributed in any way to the planes flying over Mordor today with the Wenger stuff? Sod off. Seriously. This just isn't the time and you're all goddamn wankers.


6. I'll be honest with you, I thought it was over when Ozil scored the second. Up until that point, if we're being honest, we were absolutely cruising. In this case, Alexis had dropped deeper, and for once it worked out for us. He got the ball and played a glorious chipped pass through the Stoke defense. Our German wizard ran onto it, dinked it over the advancing Butland, lovely jubbly.

Again, at that point? I thought it was game over.


7. But, enter Mike Dean!

It's amazing...something is honestly rotten in the English refereeing setup when the worst of the worst of the worst seem to always get the big matches, and when they retire they seem to always be put in charge of the refereeing setup. For me, at least as long as I've been paying attention, the lineage seems to go from Mike Riley being the worst referee, to being head of the officiating setup, to Mike Dean being the worst senior official.

Back when I first started to be able to see many games, I always thought Steve Bennett was the best referee...and it seemed like he never worked any match of importance. I mean, when FIFA can sometimes get this right (as in Pierluigi Collina working big matches back in the day, or Cunyet Cakir doing finals or semifinals now), why can't the FA? Where is the disconnect here?

The funny thing is, I have more sympathy for referees than most - I spend my Thursday afternoons refereeing a high school 8-a-side league, and I literally am working towards becoming USSF-certified. But my god, Dean and his ARs absolutely lost the plot in the second half.

The goal that made it 2-1 was, frankly, inexcusable for a professional crew. First of all, Bellerin was fouled bad enough for a yellow card offense to give Stoke the ball in the first place. Second, how the AR missed that Crouch clearly put it in with his hand? I'll never know. I mean, I've refereed like 15 games in my life, and I absolutely believe that I would not have missed that. Seriously.

Even beyond that though, there was the Ryan Shawcross elbow to Giroud's head in the 58th minute, or the elbow from Erik Pieters to Mustafi's head in the 70th. Both blatant, both dangerous, no call. But, when Rob Holding innocuously goes into Marko Arnautovic in the 79th and the Austrian goes down in the dramatic fashion, here comes Mr. Fussy waving the yellow cardboard around. It's astonishing.

Also, speaking of, isn't the hypocrisy of these inbred Stoke supporters AMAZING when they boo our guys for legitimately being injured, and don't pipe up at all when one of theirs fakes one?

If we do one day get hit by the Sweet Meteor of Death, I bloody well hope that Stoke-on-Trent gets hit first. Literally fuck them forever.


8. At the very least, we got two nice goals towards the end to put some gloss on the scoreline and smash our Stoke away curse forever. Alexis, despite having some kind of hamstring trouble a few minutes before, managed to ease the nerves caused by Stoke's fightback once they got to 2-1 with a delicious finish. Holding began the move with an audacious sashay through several Stoke defenders, and he played it up to Bellerin. The Spaniard played in Alexis, who rolled a cool-as-you-like low finish off of Shawcross' leg, off the post, and in.

That was probably the game there, but Giroud added his second goal in the 80th minute. Ozil sent in a magical long ball that left the Potters' back line for dead. The substitute Aaron Ramsey fought off the attentions of Glen Johnson, got to the goal line, and sent a tremendous cutback pass along the area. Ollie popped up to slam it home, and make a fantastic scoreline even better.

Seriously, have some of that you stupid orc bastards.


9. So, at this point, I think it's time to talk about Petr Cech. Again. He made a couple of absolutely unbelievable saves to keep any doubt from creeping into this result.

Again.

I swear to fucking all that is holy that there is no more underappreciated player in the league for what he does.

He did just enough on the hour mark to make it difficult for Mame Biram Diouf's header and ensure that it didn't find its way in. A few minutes later, Bruno Martins Indi must have thought he scored off a corner kick before our Czech stopper intervened.

If that wasn't enough, even though it was 4-1 already, Cech made an unbelievable save down low to his right to deny Geoff Cameron what absolutely would be a goal in most cases.

Arsenal Twitter makes me keep saying this, but PETR CECH WAS NEVER THE PROBLEM YOU MUPPETS.


10. Your move, Liverpool. Don't blow it against West Ham!


Man of the Match: Olivier Giroud

Preview by Numbers: Stoke City v. Arsenal


Bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
Saturday, May 13
12:30 p.m. EDT, 17:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Dean
    • Assistants: Simon Long and Ian Hussin
    • 4th Official: Graham Scott
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 3 - 1 Stoke City
  • This Match, Last Year: Stoke City 0 - 0 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 55 Arsenal wins, 25 Stoke wins, 24 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-W-W-L-W-W
  • Stoke City's League Form: L-L-W-L-D-D
Well, here we are, still in this thing somehow. Arsenal's odds of a top four finish improved from 7% at this time last week to about 24% now. That's not too shabby!

But there's still plenty of work to be done, in the form of three wins and some help. Arsenal can still finish with a maximum of 75 points. Manchester United can only get to 74. Liverpool can get to 76. Manchester City can get to 78. If Arsenal win all three remaining games, they cannot finish worse than fifth, but there's no difference between fifth and sixth in terms of next year's European places. They cannot finish worse than sixth because seventh place Everton can only get to 64 points and Arsenal have 66 now.

Arsenal can't get to fourth place on 75 points alone, they'll need Liverpool or Manchester City to drop points. With City, though, it seems unlikely they'll drop the four points Arsenal will need to pip them, since City have a large advantage in goal difference. It's all about somebody stealing points from Liverpool: they play West Ham at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday and Middlesbrough at Anfield next week. Seems hard to expect the Reds to drop points, but tell that to Tottenham a week ago...

All of that is moot, however, if Arsenal fail to win out. Nine points to go, three at a time. Let's keep this thing going.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring,) Koscielny (knock)

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain left the match against Southampton on Wednesday night on 38 minutes with a hamstring injury. After the match, Arsène Wenger said, "it was not a knife, you know," which I decided to take out of context to make it seem really bizarre. There's no definitive word on if he'll be out yet, which puts him in the "heavy doubts" column, which is really just the "doubts" column.

Laurent Koscielny did not pass fit on Wednesday, so remains in the doubt column here for now. Thankfully, Shkodran Mustafi returned to deputize. Granit Xhaka did pass fit, so he's removed from the injury list entirely.

So, the remaining questions come down to rotation. Arsenal played Sunday and Wednesday and will now play Saturday, Tuesday, and Sunday again. Five must-win games in a 15-day span is ridiculous. Arsenal will obviously look toward Sunderland at home on Tuesday as their best shot at rotating.

Predicted XI: Čech, Holding, Mustafi, Monreal, Gibbs, Bellerín, Ramsey, Xhaka, Özil, Alexis, Giroud.

Stoke City Squad News

Out: Ireland (leg,) Affelay (knee)

Not much to say about the Potters regarding their available player selection. Stephen Ireland suffered a double leg break a year ago this past Wednesday and has missed all year, while Ibrahim Affelay is out after knee surgery.

Stoke have retained the same back line for the last two matches, playing with Bruno Martins Indi along with Ryan Shawcross in the center of defense. This has allowed U.S. international Geoff Cameron, nominally a center back, to play in a more advanced defensive role alongside Glenn Whelan.

The only question is really up top, as to whether it will be Mame Biram Diouf, Saido Berahino, or even Peter Crouch.

Predicted XI: Butland, Johnson, Shawcross, Martins Indi, Muniesa, Cameron, Whelan, Allen, Shaqiri, Arnautović, Diouf.

Current Form

Arsenal have now won four out of five games since switching to three at the back against Middlesbrough, though they did need extra time to beat Manchester City and the one non-win was a pretty embarrassing derby loss to Tottenham. Still, it's something, at a time when Arsenal needs any little something they can get.

Stoke, on the other hand, have one win from nine. They went out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle, losing at home to Wolves. Since that match, they've won four, drawn five, and lost seven.

The Premier League table this season has a lot of distinct zones: there's a top six, there's Everton, there's the five relegation candidates, and then there are eight teams that are just so completely "mid-table" that they could do anything on any given matchweek. Stoke City have 41 points. They are in 13th place. They are four points out of 8th but only seven points clear of relegation. They're safe, but barely. I think what's incredible about the table is that 8th place West Brom have only 45 points.

Match Facts

Arsenal have won 15 straight home games against Stoke across all competitions, but have only one once in the Potteries since Stoke's 2008 promotion. They won the reverse fixture 3-1 in December, just before everything came crashing down (in the form of consecutive losses to Everton and Manchester City.) Stoke scored first from a penalty conceded by Granit Xhaka (of course!) but Theo Walcott replied before halftime, Mesut Özil put Arsenal on top on 49 minutes, and Alex Iwobi made the points safe a quarter of an hour from time. The win put Arsenal on top of the league on goals scored, though Chelsea had a game in hand. Nine days later, Arsenal were nine points out of first.

I've told the story of Arsenal's struggles at Stoke many times before, so here's a condensed version: 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; it's still 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.

The Referee

The referee is Wirral-based Mike Dean. Arsenal have only seen Mike Dean once this season, which is for the best; it was a scoreless draw at home to a team that was relegated. When it phrase it that way, it sounds abysmal, and in so many ways, the 0-0 against Middlesbrough in October was. It was a bit of a European hangover match, with Arsenal having thumped Ludogorets earlier in the week. Then again, away to Stoke won't be much different following a Wednesday night in Southampton than the Middlesbrough match was following a Wednesday at home to the Bulgarian champions.

You have to go back to April 11, 2015 for the last time Arsenal won a match with Mike Dean in the middle, a 1-0 win at Turf Moor. Since then, Arsenal drew 1-1 at Old Trafford, lost 2-0 amidst Diego Costa-related circumstances at Stamford Bridge, drew 0-0 at home to Hull in the FA Cup, drew 0-0 at relegation-threatened Sunderland last last year, then drew 0-0 to Boro, as mentioned above. Since 2006/07, Arsenal have won just 27% of their games with Dean as the referee.

Stoke have only five wins from 22 in the league with Dean in the middle themselves. They've lost to Manchester City and Liverpool with Dean in the middle this season, but beat Sunderland 3-1 at the Stadium of Light in January.

I'm quite surprised Dean worked a Liverpool match at all, since he's from Wirral. He worked a Liverpool derby in December, but had never worked a Liverpool match before that in the league and had not done an Everton game since 2006.

Around the League
  • Friday (night): Everton v. Watford; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Friday (night): West Bromwich Albion v. Chelsea; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday (early): Manchester City v. Leicester City; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Bournemouth v. Burnley; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Saturday: Middlesbrough v. Southampton; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Swansea City; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Sunday (very early): Crystal Palace v. Hull City; Selhurst Park, London
  • Sunday (early): West Ham United v. Liverpool; Olympic Stadium, London
  • Sunday (late): Tottenham Hotspur v. Manchester United; White Hart Lane, London
--
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is running out of jokes. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to remind him of when he's used that line before; he's sure it's been done somewhere.

Five Thoughts: Southampton 0-2 Arsenal


Photo: Getty Images


1. Only 5 thoughts today because I have somewhere to be and there were only a few talking points out of what was frankly a dreadful game of football on the whole.

Of course, the most important thought out of this is that three points are three points, no matter how you get them. Southampton away has been a horror show for us in seasons past, so to go in there and nick the points, no matter how dull the way we went about it (two moments of absolute quality aside), is a massive result and gives us serious momentum into what may be our most unlikely top-four charge yet.

But, let's not be over-harsh here. Other than one brief passage in the first half, there was never a point where it looked like Saints were going to score. Shkrodan Mustafi came back in with Laurent Koscielny injured, and our back three didn't miss a beat.

The problems for us were, as so often this season, going the other way. Southampton aren't Sunderland at the back or anything, but in the absence of Virgil van Dijk and with Fraser Forster enduring an off-season, you'd like for us to put them under more pressure. But, the first half was an unwatchable dirge and much of the second half wasn't better,


2. For me, a large part of that was the presence of Kieran Gibbs at left wingback. I know that sounds odd, but let's think this through for a second. Who are our biggest offensive threats? Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, of course. With Alexis out wide on the left, it stands to reason that there's going to be a large degree of interaction in this system between him and whoever is in that LWB slot. Nacho Monreal is slightly better there but still not a world-beater, and he's needed in the center with our injury situation and Gabriel's talent situation anyway.

Gibbs, though. He's probably going to be OK at Everton or Bournemouth or wherever he goes next, but the dude is just emphatically not good enough for this formation, or even for a club of what should be our standards. He can't cross, he can't unlock defenses with a pass, he can't beat a man. Someone who's only skill is "decent defensively" and a degree of pace that I'd even argue isn't there anymore is not someone who is good enough to play with someone like Alexis.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is almost the same thing in reverse, but his offensive capabilities make him a worthwhile option in the position for all but the biggest games (where his lack of defensive nous kills us dead). So, of course, he does his hamstring and Hector Bellerin had to come in. The Spaniard has been in a revolting run of form lately, but today he did all right, I thought. Nothing too outstanding and nothing too terrible. If we get him back in form though, it could be a net benefit - as a complete wingback, Bellerin does have a higher ceiling than AOC does.

Still, it's weird to say it out loud, but several new wingbacks should be on the shopping list this summer, especially if we stick with this formation.


3. Quick sidebar: That kit that we had to wear today was an atrocity. It looked like our guys should have been repaving a highway or something. Godawful.

OK, OK, that's not a real thought, so how about this? Petr Cech saved our asses today. Again.

I'm going to keep harping on this because, man, it is so satisfying to be this right about something, especially when the whole world is screaming about the opposite.

When it was still 0-0, the home side had two chances in a minute or two where this game could have gotten seriously away for us. A mix-up in our end, a missed tackle by Mustafi, and Manolo Gabbiadini was in alone on Cech. The angle was a little tight, but you still see goals scored from there all the time. Cech came out well to cut the angle further, but the real brilliance in what he did was how he left his trailing leg flat along the ground. Most goals from that situation are scored *through* the keeper, because the nutmeg is the hardest thing for a keeper to defend when their legs are moving, which of course you have to do when you're rushing out. Cech got the leg down though, and the rebound was kind.

Soon after, a careless pass by Monreal gifted possession to Nathan Redmond outside of our penalty area, and given time and space he decided to lump one at goal. It had pace and it swerved wickedly on its way in, but Cech's footwork was excellent and it allowed him to claw it over the bar. That's the kind of save that is easily ten times more difficult than it looked, and our custodian did brilliantly to save that.

Pro tip for next season: If you want to assess a goalkeeper's performance, ask a goalkeeper. I realize that sounds smug but it's such a specialized position, and there's so much misinformation and bullshit out there about it.


4. Now, let's talk about those goals for a second. As I alluded to before, two absolute moments of quality. Alexis' goal kind of reminded me of Ozil's magical strike against Ludogorets earlier this season. Xhaka was in acres in the center of the park, and he sent a quick pass up to Ozil. The German maestro took one touch and shifted it to Alexis, who still had all to do. His turn was out of this world, sending Jack Stephens and Maya Yoshida careening the other way like Wile E. Coyote in a roadrunner cartoon. Then, just for fun, he cut it back the way he came, which straight up dropped Yoshida flat on his ass. Highest comedy. From there, it was a simple matter of slotting the ball past Forster, which he did with aplomb.

Safe to say, I enjoyed that one.

The second was a different sort of goal, but beautiful in its simplicity. Alexis lofted a chipped ball over the Saints defense. Aaron Ramsey was there on the back post to head it across the face of goal, where the substitute Olivier Giroud was on hand to smash a header into the net. Yoshida, who had a bit of a mare it must be said, wasn't in the same postal code as our HFB when the header came back across. How you lose the 9 foot tall magazine model standing a foot away from your goalkeeper is one of those outfield player things that I'll never understand.


5. The central theme of the day is a reversal of some recent unfortunate runs. St. Mary's, so long a source of misery for us, has been conquered with all three points coming back with us. The last 6 Premier League away game for us read: W1 L5 GF 5 GA 15. Of course, just this past weekend, the drought against Jose Mourinho was finally ended.

We're going to have to hope that the trend continues, because our annual trip to the Potteries is next. That's right, Stoke away.

There's no reason to believe that we can't do it, though. This Stoke side are nothing special, struggling for goals and any kind of identity or ethos. NLD aside, we're playing well recently. We can do this,

If we do, I'll spend a lot more time talking about the top four chase and whether it can realistically happen. Until then, only Stoke matters. Let's get this done.



Man of the Match: Alexis Sanchez, baby! Alexis Sanchez, woooooah!







Preview by Numbers: Southampton v. Arsenal


St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
Wednesday, May 10
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Jonathan Moss
    • Assistants: Eddie Smart and Simon Bennett
    • 4th Official: Mike Jones
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 2 - 1 Southampton
  • This Match, Last Year: Southampton 4 - 0 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 47 Arsenal wins, 20 Southampton wins, 25 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-L-W-W-L-W
  • Southampton's League Form: W-W-L-L-D-D
A big win for Arsenal on Sunday basically doubled the Gunners' paltry odds at finishing in the top four, thanks in part to Southampton's 0-0 draw at Anfield. Arsenal's odds of a top four finish jumped from 7.3% to 14.7%, leap-frogging their odds over Manchester United's 9.2%, thanks to their game-in-hand. This, however, is that game-in-hand.

Arsenal have 63 points with four games to play, meaning they can finish with no more than 75 (note: they had 71 last year.) United currently have 65 points with three to play, Manchester City have 69 with three to play, and Liverpool have 70 with two to play. They can fully leap over United with a win tonight and can close the gap on Liverpool to one point by winning both games in hand.

Unfortunately for Arsenal, Liverpool's remaining games are against West Ham and Middlesbrough; Arsenal need Liverpool to drop points in one of those while winning out themselves, or have Manchester City stumble in even worse fashion to finish in the top four. Doable, but a long shot.

A win tonight keeps the dream alive, while also ensuring they can't finish worse than sixth, avoiding the dubious fate of a third qualifying round entry to the Europa League.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Xhaka (calf,) Koscielny (knock)

At the moment, Arsenal are not particularly banged up by injuries. The biggest question would surround Granit Xhaka, who was expected to be ruled out against Manchester United after taking a knock in the North London derby, then passed fit anyway, then scored the opening goal, then left the match on 76 minutes. Maybe Arsenal should keep him rested since Jonathan Moss will be the referee...

Shkodran Mustafi has been back in training, so one wonders when he'll be able to crack the XI again, especially since Laurent Koscielny is a slight doubt.  Arsenal could really use some fresh legs in some positions, since they'll be playing again on Saturday. The word is that Lucas Pérez is fit and available again and rumors of a Danny Welbeck knock have been played down, so you know that means we'll get a frustrating 70 minutes from Olivier Giroud or something instead.

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

Southampton Squad News

Out: McCarthy (thigh,) van Dijk (foot)
Doubts: Targett (thigh,) Austin (shoulder)

Southampton have no fresh injury concerns after their 0-0 draw at Liverpool on Sunday. Alex McCarthy remains out with a thigh problem and captain Virgil van Dijk should remain out after foot surgery.

Charlie Austin has been out with a shoulder injury and recently made a return for the Under-23 team, but is expected to still lack match fitness. Matt Targett is on the way back from thigh surgery he had in December and should be near a return.

Fraser Forster made eight saves, including a penalty, against Liverpool at the weekend, so I fully expect him to make 13 saves tonight. You know how that works.

Predicted XI: Forster, Soares, Stephens, Yoshida, Bertrand, Romeu, Davis, Ward-Prowse, Redmond, Gabbiadini, Tadić.

Current Form

Let's talk a little about Arsenal's road form in the league, shall we? I've discussed before that it's all been downhill since Arsenal's win over Stoke in early December. Their form, in the league, away from home since that date is L-L-D-W-L-L-L-L-W-L. Two wins, one draw, seven losses. And even in the draw, they had to come from 3-0 down against Bournemouth. The wins were against relegation fodder, Swansea City and Middlesbrough. So if Arsenal want to finish in the top four, they're going to have to find a way to win on the road immediately, in places they have historically not won (St. Mary's and the Britannia.) Six points from these two fixtures though and they're coming back home with momentum on their side.

Meanwhile, Southampton's form is as mid-table as you can get. After losing the League Cup final to Manchester United, they won at Watford, lost to Spurs, drew Bournemouth, beat Crystal Palace and West Brom (must be nice...), then lost to Manchester City and Chelsea, then drew Hull and Liverpool. Honestly, that is completely all over the place. It leaves Southampton in 10th place on goal difference, three points back of West Brom for 8th, but eight points clear of relegation. So, yeah, sort that out.

Match Facts

Arsenal and Southampton will be meeting for the fourth time this season, having been drawn against each other in both domestic cups. Just think, if that FA Cup tie went to a replay, this would be meeting number five. Then again, Arsenal won that tie comfortably, so it's for the best that did not happen.

In the league meeting in September, Arsenal came back from 1-0 down to win 2-1. The Saints took the lead in the 18th minute, as a Dušan Tadić free kick hit the crossbar, then Petr Čech's back, before rolling into the net for an own goal. Arsenal equalized from a Laurent Koscielny bicycle kick (seriously) 11 minutes later, then Santi Cazorla won it from the penalty spot in injury time.

In the League Cup tie, however, there was no comeback on the cards, as Arsenal made 10 changes to their league squad. Jordy Clasie scored in the 13th minute to give Southampton the lead, then Ryan Bertrand doubled the advantage in the 38th. The match ended 2-0.

In the aforementioned FA Cup tie, Arsenal('s reserves) ran out 5-0 winners over Southampton('s reserves.) Danny Welbeck had a brace and Theo Walcott had a hat trick.

Before the cup win, Arsenal's last win at St. Mary's was on December 29, 2003; Robert Pirès scored the only goal in a 1-0 Gunners' victory. Southampton, of course, were not in the top flight between 2005 and 2012. But Arsenal's struggles at St. Mary's since the Saints' most recent promotion have been well documented: they lost 4-0 there on Boxing Day last year, 2-0 on New Year's Day in 2015, and picked up two draws in other meetings for good measure.

The Referee

The referee is West Yorkshire-based Jonathan Moss, so watch out, Xhaka!

Arsenal have seen Moss twice so far this season and on both occasions Granit Xhaka saw red. That said, Arsenal also won both matches: 3-2 over Swansea in October and 2-1 over Burnley in January. The penalty madness ending of that match, of course, led to Arsène Wenger's touchline ban, when he called Anthony Taylor "dishonest to his federation." Moss has only shown one other red card this season in 34 total matches. It was to Manchester City's Nolito, late in a 4-0 win over Bournemouth in September.

Arsenal's all-time record with Moss is exemplary: 14 wins, one loss, one draw. Those two non-wins came one month apart last season, 1-1 at Carrow Road and, perhaps a bad omen, 4-0 at St. Mary's on Boxing Day.

Southampton also have a great record with Moss in the Premier League: 12 wins, two draws, and two losses in top flight fixtures. This year, he has taken charge of their 3-0 win at West Ham, their 1-0 FA Cup win over Norwich, their 4-3 win at Watford last month, and their 0-0 draw with Bournemouth on April 1.

--
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is ready for summer vacation from all this nonsense. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to suggest summer holiday destinations.

Ten Thoughts: Arsenal 2-0 Manchester United


Photo: Getty Images


Whatever the circumstances, Arsenal defeating Manchester United in a match of association football will always be a top-5 joy in my life. Sod off, Roy Keane. Do one, Peter Schmeichel. Arrivederci, David Beckham. Have some of that, Ruud van Nistelrooy, you cheating bastard. Eat it, Ryan Giggs. Up your hole, Paul Scholes. In your face, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Tell your story walking, Alex Ferguson (and fuck your "Sir", while I'm at it).


1. I will not entertain any talk about the manager today. There's plenty of time for that later on, but today Arsenal defeated Manchester United in a match of association football.



2. Regular readers might recall that I'm a bit of a Football Manager addict, and have been for eons. Both domestically and abroad, I have quite the range of obscure football knowledge (ladies, form an orderly line). But, United made so many changes coming into this thing, I had NO IDEA who their right back was. Literally none. He could have won a competition for all I knew. We actually were talking about this at O'Hanlon's after the match. John, our Preview by Numbers man here at this parish, reckoned he sent in 5000 box tops of some cereal. I thought it might have been a seat raffle thing. Either way, if you knew who or what a "Axel Tuanzebe" was before kickoff today, then more power to your superior football knowledge. Me, I'd have believed you if you told me he was Ludacris' character in Fast and the Furious or something.

The Wikipedia machine tells me he's a homegrown product of their academy, which would be a nice story if it were anything other than Jose Mourinho's tedious play at mind games. Towards the end, "Scott McTominay" came on as a sub. What a state their club is in - they used to bring on Solskjaer, now they're throwing on a fetus who probably should be turning out for Queen of the South. Unreal.


3. I haven't said this a lot this season, but I was late getting to the pub, so I missed the first ten minutes or so. I'm officially not ruling out this shit season being the direct result of my punctual pub attendance this season.

I'm so so so so so so so very sorry.


4. As for us, Rob Holding was preferred to Gabriel in central defense, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs retained their places at wingback, and Danny Welbeck got a start up top. I thought that it gave us a good balance, though of course there's the usual caveats about Ox being a natural midfielder, etc.

To their credit though, United largely kept us at arm's length for the entirety of the first half. David De Gea saved smartly from an Aaron Ramsey rasper just as I was walking into the pub, but other than that I don't remember any other gilt-edged chances. The first 45 was a bitty old thing, come to think of it, and I'm sure that is exactly how Mourinho liked it.

Still, as much as I joke about the United debutants, this was still an opponent with quality players. Their first-choice center-half pairing was on the field in Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, Juan Mata is no slouch, and Michael Carrick is still effective in the midfield engine room. Henrik Mkhitaryan is still dangerous on his day. De Gea is one of the best 5-6 in the world in his position.

Especially given our own recent troubles, we still did decently well to get into the interval scoreless.


5. Speaking of, we can thank Petr Cech (again) for getting us there. Holding, under no pressure whatsoever, played a preposterously under-hit backpass to the keeper, allowing Wayne Rooney to steal in and go 1-v-1 on Cech. Our man came out to cut the angle brilliantly, and it was timed to perfection to allow him to smother the chance. It not only spared our young defender's blushes, it also arguably changed the complexion of the match. If they score there, I'm not so sure we come away from this with any points, let alone all three.

It should also be said that he dominated his area well, one first-half cross in particular springing to mind. He was able to muscle his way through a forest of bodies to get a good punch on it, sending it clear of danger.

I'm going to keep saying this every week until it sinks in - it's almost like Petr Cech is still really bloody fucking good at this and he hasn't at any point whatsoever been the problem this season.


6. The goals, once they came, did so out of nowhere. Up until then, the match was like one of those old pull-cord lawnmowers (kids, ask your parents) where you had to pull the cord for ages and ages to get the damn thing fired up, only in this case after 56 minutes the engine went into turbo mode, sending the blades hurtling crazily down the street and....

Okay, that metaphor got away from me there a bit.

The point is, United must have felt that they were a significant part of the way through the hard work of coming away from the Emirates with a draw, a result that would have been more than sufficient for their purposes. Then, they blinked, and they were 2-0 down. Football, bloody hell.

It's a bit weird to me that the idea of "throw it on net and see what happens" isn't as much of a cliche in football as it is in ice hockey, as Granit Xhaka's opener was the platonic ideal of why said cliche exists. I can't say I get why United chose to stand so far off of him, as he was the only one of our starting XI who has ever shown the inclination to shoot from distance. They did though, and Xhaka dutifully let fly. The shot hit the otherwise-excellent Ander Herrera in the back, looped well up into the air, and arced over De Gea's dive on its way into the net.

I feel like we so rarely get the rub of the green like that, but there you go.

A few minutes later, the Spaniard was fishing the ball out of his net once again. Oxlade-Chamberlain made himself a yard on the right-hand side, and sent in a ferocious whipped cross. Welbeck did well to drift off into the space between Smalling and Jones, and he planted an unstoppable header past De Gea. Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.


7. United, if they were being honest with themselves, probably knew that there wasn't a way back from that. Rooney's 1-v-1 in the first half was their chance, really. I've seen it happen so often where a match can (and often does) turn on that one sliding-doors moment, and they tend to be obvious when they come around.

Look, the Xhaka goal was a little lucky, but the real difference is that Welbeck put away his chance, and Rooney didn't. End of.


8. The statistic that everyone was on about ad nauseum beforehand was Arsene Wenger's P12 W0 L5 D7 record against Mourinho in competitive fixtures. Now that we can change that 0 to a 1, here's a statistic that may be more relevant now (hat tip to Jacob Steinberg of The Guardian for pointing this out in his minute-by-minute).

This season, Manchester United do not have a goal in any away fixture, league and cup, against us, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City. I mean, it wasn't all that long ago where playing United at home was a scary proposition, even at your home ground. Now? It's not that different from playing Everton.

Oh, and since we're talking statistics, let's also take a second to revel in the fact that this result ends United's 25-match unbeaten run. While they weren't at a number high enough to make us all start worrying about 49, it was a number high enough where it was at least in the back of my mind just a little bit. Of course, it was laughable when dim bulbs like the Guardian's Jamie Jackson were seriously intimating that this rabble in United shirts were anything like the Invincibles, but it makes it that much sweeter that it was the original name brand that put paid to their pretensions of matching it.

Bye, Felicia.


9. While the luster is very much off the United name compared to vintages of the recent past, this is still a good win over a big enough opponent to hopefully get the team's mental state back on track. The North London Derby still hurts, but now over the fullness of the last month, our record isn't all that bad. Both Manchester clubs have been sent packing, and we continue to get more comfortable with the new formation.

I haven't wavered from the idea that Chelsea at Wembley is going to be a much different and more daunting challenge, but results like this will make us better equipped to take it on. Again, I believe that Abramovich's band of mercenaries go in as the favorites, but there's no way I'm writing off the possibility of us pulling off an upset. The FA Cup IS our competition, after all.


10. The win in this proverbial six-pointer makes the table look a lot more interesting and a bit more hopeful than it did when I woke up this morning:




Southampton on Wednesday is not going to be a walkover in any sense, but a victory there will make a few people in the greater Manchester area hear serious footsteps. We'd vault over United into 5th, on 66 points. City would be just three in front of us, Liverpool only four (and we have a game in hand on them still).

The title and St. Totteringham's are both gone, of course, but the Champions League is somehow still visible on the horizon. If we somehow derp our way into 3rd or 4th and win the FA Cup, then grudgingly I'd have to say that this was a semi-successful season...an outcome that I frankly didn't think was possible a week or two ago.

There's quite a lot to play for still, and I hope that we as supporters can stop with the circular firing squad nonsense long enough to get behind them in that quest. There'll be, as I mentioned before, plenty of time to worry about the other stuff after matters at Wembley have been decided.

Arsenal defeated Manchester United in a contest of association football. Today was a good day.


Man of the Match: Aaron Ramsey (I couldn't fit it into the ten thoughts above, but he was neat and tidy in possession all day and tested De Gea a few times...hopefully this is a platform for him to really kick on from here and get back to the form that we know he's capable of.)

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Manchester United


Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, May 7
11:00 a.m. EDT, 16:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Andre Marriner
    • Assistants: Simon Beck and Scott Ledger
    • 4th Official: Craig Pawson
  • Reverse Fixture: Manchester United 1 - 1 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 3 - 0 Manchester United
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 81 Arsenal wins, 94 United wins, 50 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-L-W-W-L
  • Manchester United's League Form: D-W-W-W-D-D
The good news, if you want to call it that, is that Arsenal are 16 points clear of 8th place, so West Brom can't catch them. That guarantees European qualification somewhere. But, Arsenal's already slim hopes of qualifying for the Champions League next season took a tremendous hit when they lost 2-0 to Spurs on Sunday, dropping 4.6 percentage points. Arsenal's odds of finishing in the top four are down to just 7.3%.

Lose this Sunday and they could be as many as nine points out of fourth with four games remaining. That would demand perfection in their remaining fixtures against Southampton, Stoke, Sunderland, and Everton, not to mention help from the teams ahead of them. It wouldn't be mathematically impossible, but it's a big ask.

There's still a 12.7% chance they fall to seventh and if that happens, they'll need to win the FA Cup Final to avoid having to play Europa League games as early as July 27. But what about the Emirates Cup!?

All that said, let's just focus on what's important this weekend: beating José Mourinho.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Xhaka (ankle,) Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Pérez (knock,) Mustafi (thigh)

Granti Xhaka picked up a swollen ankle in Sunday's derby loss and has been ruled out of this weekend's pivotal fixture. As a bit of a trade-off, Shkodran Mustafi is back in full training. I mean, they don't really play the same position, but you know what I mean.

Lucas Pérez was reportedly back in training as well, but picked up an additional knock, and is doubtful for this one, too. Sounds to me like something else is going on there. Santi Cazorla remains unavailable, but David Ospina is back in the fold, having returned to the bench last weekend. It's as you were with the rest of the players.

The remaining question is whether Arsenal retain their recent formation of three at the back. Since the ideal was to regain some defensive solidity, I can't imagine they'd switch back to a 4-2-3-1 against Manchester United.

Manchester United Squad News

Out: Rojo (knee,) Fosu-Mensah (shoulder,) Ibrahimović (knee,) Shaw (foot)
Doubts: Jones (toe,) Mata (knock,) Smalling (knee)
Suspended: Fellaini (second of three, violent conduct)

Manchester United just played last night in the Europa League at Celta Vigo, which means a lot of this team news is going to be a wild estimate.

We know that Marouane Fellaini will be out, since he's suspended. He was sent off against Manchester City for headbutting Sergio Agüero two weeks ago and will serve the second match of a three match ban. We know that Zlatan Ibrahimović is out with a knee injury, meaning Arsenal managed to avoid playing him in both fixtures this season. Marcos Rojo is also out with a knee injury, Luke Shaw might miss the rest of the season with a foot problem, and 19-year-old Timothy Fosu-Mensah is out with a shoulder problem.

The rest are all question marks. Chris Smalling and Juan Mata have both been recovering from injuries, but both made the bench last night. Phil Jones, suffering from a toe problem, did not make the bench. Eric Bailly and Paul Pogba, however, both recovered from knocks and started.

Current Form

Arsenal's wins over Middlesbrough and Leicester City marked the first time since Boxing Day and New Year's Day that Arsenal had won consecutive league fixtures. They could not extend that streak to three, something they have not attained since early December. Astonishing really; since beating Stoke City 3-1 on December 10, Arsenal have played 25 matches across all competitions. They've won 13 of them, drawn two, and lost ten. Ten!

Manchester United, on the other hand, have not lost a league game since losing 4-0 at Chelsea on October 23. That means they are unbeaten in 25 league games. However, they haven't won very many of them; they've won 13 and drawn 12. You'd think a team unbeaten in 25 would be higher than fifth in the table, but that's 24 dropped points out of a possible 75. The 52% winning percentage is the lowest among teams on a 15-match or longer unbeaten run in Premier League history. Five streaks in Premier League history have gone longer: United themselves have had two unbeaten runs of 29 games, Chelsea had a 29-match unbeaten run in 2008 as well as a 40-match run in 2005. Of course, the record remains Arsenal's 49.

Match Facts

On the night of Monday, November 21, I went to a local bar to work on a writing side project I have going. When I arrived, the bartender had just found the Manchester United v. Arsenal game on television. That game, of course, happened on Saturday the 19th. So, I present to you, the story of Manchester United 1 - 1 Arsenal, in three tweets:




Fin.

Arsenal won this fixture last year in swashbuckling fashion, 3-0. It came in the wake of their home loss to Olympiacos in the Champions League, so the circumstances surrounding the club, in terms of the must-win status of the fixture, was quite a bit like this match this weekend. The Gunners began the match on the front foot and didn't let up until they had three within 20 minutes. Alexis Sánchez scored in the sixth minute, Mesut Özil scored in the seventh, and Alexis scored again in the 19th. Arsenal took their foot off the gas a bit at that point, so by the end, United ended with 62% of the possession and twice as many corners as Arsenal, but Petr Čech made five saves to pick up the clean sheet.

In 2006/07, Arsenal actually won both league meetings between the sides. Since that year, across all competitions, United have met Arsenal 24 times. Arsenal have won four of those matches, drawn six, and lost 14.

The Referee

The referee is West Midlands-based Andre Marriner. Since Marriner was a part of that thing that time, Arsenal have a record of six wins, two draws, and two losses with Marriner in the middle. Peculiarly, both of those losses came at home to Watford, first in last year's FA Cup and then again at the end of January. So, since this isn't against Watford, we're in for some pretty smooth sailing, no?

Aside from the loss to Watford, Marriner also took charge of the reverse of this fixture, the 2-0 win over Crystal Palace in early January, and the 2-2 draw with Manchester City in early April.

For Manchester United, aside from the reverse fixture, Marriner has taken charge of their 3-1 win at Bournemouth, their 4-0 FA Cup win over Reading, and their League Cup Final win over Southampton this season.

Around the League
  • Friday (night): West Ham United v. Tottenham Hotspur; Olympic Stadium, London
  • Saturday (early): Manchester City v. Crystal Palace; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Bournemouth v. Stoke City; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Saturday: Burnley v. West Bromwich Albion; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Hull City v. Sunderland; KCOM Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. Watford; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday (late): Swansea City v. Everton; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Sunday (early): Liverpool v. Southampton; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Monday (night): Chelsea v. Middlesbrough; Stamford Bridge, London
--
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is not prepared to only have access to blurry team logos for the Europa League next season. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to provide design advice.

Ten Thoughts: Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Arsenal



All things come to an end. Sports, like anything else in life, is cyclical in nature. I've been an Arsenal supporter for pretty much as long as you can be as an American (circa 1992), and for the entirety of that time, we've been demonstrably better than our nearest and dearest. Year in, year out, there would be that fact to rely on even if Manchester United pipped us to the title again, or we sold our best players again, or an oligarch bought another club for us to have to compete with at the top level.

Well, all of that is over at present. Tottenham is unquestionably and emphatically better than us right now, stem to stern, and the sooner everyone involved at the club realizes that, the further along we'll be towards putting that state of affairs right.

I honestly don't know if I've ever seen the club at a crossroads like this before. So much is up in the air, from the manager to the futures of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, to some factors on their end as well (the new stadium not least of it). This summer will answer a multitude of questions about the future of our football club, that's for sure.


1. Should you read none of the other nine thoughts, at least read this one - this is the crux of the whole matter right here.

You're going to read a lot of SCORCHING HOT TAKES on this match and this season, and a lot of them are going to revolve around the players not being good enough, or not having PASSHUN. The first isn't true, the second is ridiculously over-simplistic.

People say that football is a simple game, and to an extent that's factually correct. But, in execution, the game is an interconnected series of complex systems. A failure in one area can trigger three or more failures somewhere down the line. You can have an impressive array of high-spec parts combined in a flashy array with all the bells and whistles. But, if the parts don't work together, if the design isn't right, the machine isn't going to work.

Do you know why they're better than us right now? I'd argue that it's not that their players are significantly better - hell, there is no one on their team who can hold a candle to Ozil or Sanchez in terms of raw footballing ability. But, they have a bunch of very good players, all of whom know when they're playing, what role they have and what their job is. They go out with a plan and they execute it, game in and game out. They're not better than Chelsea - the table doesn't lie - but they're for sure the second-best team in the division for that reason.


2. The other thing is, everyone on their end actually, like, plays in their natural position and stuff. I did say over the last few weeks that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was doing OK at right wingback, and I stand by that. But, doing it against Middlesbrough is one thing, doing it away in the North London Derby is quite another.

We found ourselves in a situation today where the choice was to either play Ox there or a woefully out-of-form Hector Bellerin. We had to choose between playing Kieran Gibbs at left wingback for only his 3rd or 4th start of the season and to play Nacho Monreal out of position at center-half, or to throw young Rob Holding into the fire after only a handful of starts this season.

None of them sound all that appealing, right? The switch to 3-4-3 was the right one, I'll continue to believe that, but it's in the knowledge that our pieces don't entirely fit for it, and there was going to be a weak point somewhere for an opponent well in form to exploit.

As it turned out, Spurs ruthlessly attacked the Ox on our right flank, and he simply couldn't live with it.


3. He wasn't entirely at fault for the first goal, but he does own a significant share of the blame as well. Dele Alli was allowed far too much time and space to slalom through our penalty area, and how Christian Eriksen had that much time for a shot I'll have no idea. Petr Cech did well to make the save, but the rebound going right back out to Alli was rotten luck. Still, there wasn't a lot of mustard on the shot, and AOC was in the immediate vicinity. A more natural defender would have known to get his whole body in between the ball and the goal line, but Ox in his inexperience just kind of waved his leg at it. He missed, the ball went in, and the match changed for good.

It comes back to what I said about the component parts and how they fit together. Gabriel has had a bit of a renaissance lately, but I don't think there's any honest assessment of him that has him projecting past anything other than "decent squad player" at the top end. You're in trouble if you're depending on him in a game of this magnitude, and unfortunately it proved to be the case again. Nanoseconds after they scored, Gabriel recklessly left his foot in and gave Harry Kane the opportunity to make a meal out of the contact. Penalty, goal, ballgame.


4. The funny thing is, the first half wasn't all that bad. They had more of the ball and we had a few lucky escapes, but all in all after 45 I was reasonably pleased with going in at 0-0. Sure, Alli missed a wide-open header off a corner, and Eriksen even more hilariously missed a gaping net soon after. But, we had counter-punched a little bit as well. Aaron Ramsey forced Hugo Lloris into the one good save he'd have to make all day with a scorcher from distance, and Alexis almost found the far corner with an audacious effort almost from the sideline right before halftime.

We were right there. Still in it. But, as alluded to above, all it took was one instance of letting Alli run free, one missed block on the goal line, and it all went to pieces. You have to rack your brains to remember that it was this very season where we were the ones coming back from the brink on several occasions to rescue points. It feels like some sepia-toned memory from when George Graham and Pat Rice were playing though, doesn't it? Somehow, we have schizophrenically gone from that team to the one that responds to adversity by exploding directly into our composite atoms. It's mind-blowing.


5. Anyway, remember how I said last time that Cech might be the most under-appreciated player in the entire goddamn league?

Well, Arsenal Twitter, please form an orderly line to pass on your contritions. Should you be in a charitable mood, we can take a second to congratulate me on being right (as usual with goalkeepers).

I honestly don't know what his best save was. Was it the one where he clawed out Jan Vertonghen's long-range shot that bounced awkwardly in front of him, just before halftime? Was it the one he tipped over from Victor Wanyama? Was it the other Vertonghen one from distance that swerved wickedly on its way in? The one on Kane that he blocked with his legs? The wide-open header that Toby Alderweireld had?

It's hard to tell, there were so goddamn many of them. He was the only thing that stood between us and an embarrassing rout, and all y'all owe my man a massive bloody apology.


6. Speaking of goalkeepers, you know who would not put up with any of this shit for a single nanosecond? THIS guy.


Man, I miss him.


7. As for us, it's telling when their two center-halves have more shots on target than our entire team did. I actually asked a few mates with questionable taste in football clubs as to whether those two (Vertonghen especially) make a habit of doing that, and I was told basically "sort of but not really". It must have been a game plan specifically for us, but thankfully Cech was up to the task.

Regardless, I don't think our offensive impotence was down to formations or tactics or a lack of PASSHUN. There were plenty of times that we broke at pace on the counter, times where our guys got into good positions and made some good runs off the ball. The final pass in their end of the field was almost always sorely lacking, though. Whether it was Ramsey trying to thread a needle through four white shirts, or Alexis doing his heroball me-against-the-world thing, or Ozil playing in a wonder-pass that went to no one because he doesn't have a Cristiano Ronaldo or Karim Benzema who can operate on his level, or Giroud theatrically looking up at the sky after skying one of our few good chances into low earth orbit, well, it all amounted to the same thing.

I also think Danny Welbeck should have started, let alone coming on as late as he did. Other than Giroud's space mission and the two aforementioned first-half chances, he was the only one who had a sniff at goal (thanks to a gorgeous cross from Ozil, I might add).

Hell, I forgot Giroud was playing half the time. I like him, a lot actually, but I wonder if he might be one of those who need a change of scenery at this point. More on that in a bit.


8. Actually, you know what, I lied just there. We did have a few other chances, notably one from Theo Walcott in the 86th minute. I don't think that would have been much more than a consolation anyway, but it's worth noting because like all of our other half-chances, it was shot directly at Lloris. The man literally had to dive once in 90 minutes, and that's not going to get it done against anyone.

There's just no conviction here. Again, note the comparison - Cech had to desperately claw out everything at full stretch, while Lloris could have read a book for much of that game.

We're so far behind them in every way, it's unbelievable.


9. The absolute state of this:



Gruesome, isn't it? If you're not able to read the caption up top, that's the form table in away matches against the current top 10 this season. Were we even as competent as Southampton, we'd be tied for 5th with United, with a game in hand. A win in that game would take us up to third.

It's just not good enough.


10. But, that's where we find ourselves. Again, we're not going to get anywhere until we do some serious soul-searching and get that through our heads. A quick review of Twitter and the closed forum I post at shows that, in general, the supporters understand this. Of course, we're also the ones not in a position to do anything about it.

To take this full circle, football is a game of complex and interconnected systems. Coaching, structure, discipline - these things are vitally important and all are badly lacking in our setup. I don't want to re-legislate the Arsene In/Arsene Out thing for the zillionth time here - chances are you've already chosen a side anyway. But, whether he stays or goes, I hope with all my heart that it's now obvious that things have to change drastically - and fast - one way or the other. Maybe this formation-changing Arsene can change his spots as he nears his 70th birthday. I suspect not, but the choice isn't up to me, now is it?

Were it my choice though, I'm coming around to the idea that the best possible course of action is a total root-and-branch upheaval of the club. We have a bunch of fantastic footballers who as a composite are far less than the sum of their parts. Maybe it's time to say a few difficult goodbyes. You know my feelings on the manager, I'm sure. But, as I said with Giroud, maybe he'll rediscover his scoring touch elsewhere. As otherworldly as Ozil and Sanchez are, maybe losing one or both won't be the end of the world. It might be time to say goodbye to Ramsey, like we've fairly obviously already done with Jack Wilshere.

At the end of the day, I believe that the malaise that has insinuated into every nook and cranny of this club has become terminal. I don't see a way to make one or two small adjustments and have us come back to the right path. I've said it before in this shebeen, but I daydream about the mighty wind that Diego Simeone would send through this club. I mean, I'm not sure that Thomas Tuchel and his valiantly falling short against Bayern every year is the right way to go - it just seems like it's a not-too-distant cousin of what we already have here now.

Do we have the wherewithal among our leadership to recognize the problem and to take decisive and correct steps to address it? I'm not sure. I do at least feel confident that there isn't much of a floor below where we're at right now. The players are too talented and there's too much inertia for us to worry too much about becoming the next Sunderland. But, given our clout and resources, the fact that we're even having this conversation is mind-boggling. It's an utterly catastrophic failure on every conceivable level.

As the great American poets Bone Thugs-N'-Harmony once said, I'll see you at the crossroads.