Ten Thoughts: Arsenal 1-2 Watford

Well, that was a load of old bollocks, wasn't it?

Like I imagine you do, I don't want to spend tons of time reliving this. So, let's just get right to it and then never speak of this again, shall we?

1. We deserved that. Every single square inch of it. The way that we came out in the first half was absolutely inexcusable. Watford played like their lives depended on it, we played like we expected to win just because we turned up. I can't say that it's definitely the case, of course. I'm not in that dressing room, I don't know the behind the scenes.

But, to get blitzed like that in the first 10 minutes at home to Watford? Come on, now. It especially rankles when you consider that going into this one, there was every chance that Chelsea would drop points up at Anfield. It turns out that they did after all (thank you, Simon Mignolet!), and that makes it even worse.

2. You can complain all you want about the starting XI that was selected today, but the fact of the matter is that those 11 players were good enough on paper to win this game.  We had World Cup winners, Copa America winners, one of the better center-half pairings in the league, a goalkeeper that has won everything (more on him in a second)...and the opposition was Watford. Not to take away from their ability as professionals and all, but there is zero excuse for losing this game in the fashion that we did.

I mean, if we played well but fell victim to bad bounces, a lucky goal, one guy on the opposition playing the game of his life, that's fine. However, despite Lucas Perez hitting the bar late and their first goal coming off a silly and preventable deflection (FFS, Ramsey stuck his hip out at that one - trust your bloody goalkeeper mate), even the most blinkered Gooner would have to admit that the Hornets deserved this over the course of the match.

15 minutes of trying won't win a 90 minute game.

3. There were points though where I thought we might snatch a draw after all. It feels like we've had a run of tremendous luck in these situations this season, so it was a bit shocking to see Lucas Perez's Podolski-esque thunderbastard ring off the underside of the bar and go out.

Perhaps our luck has finally run out.

4. OR, perhaps recency bias has made us think that we've been luckier than we truly have been over the course of the season. I was wondering this shortly after Perez's unlucky meeting with the woodwork, so I did a wacky thing and looked it up. Specifically, about results in the Premier League.

As it turns out, we've only rescued 5 more points from dire positions than we've thrown away from winning ones. It is yet more impactful when you consider that these points thrown away have given direct rivals - Liverpool, City, Spurs - bonuses that they shouldn't have gotten.

5. A silver lining from that table though is that this was the first wall-to-wall loss of the season in the Premier League. It's annoying that it came against the opponent that it did, but what it tells me is that our overall season-long performance levels have not been all that bad. Even when we've had infuriating results, like in the NLD or the opener against Liverpool, we've been right there up until the end.

It can be hard to keep an even keel over the course of a 38-game season, and yeah, I get it that Chelsea are playing out of their minds right now. But, should we beat the Blues at the weekend, we're 6 points back with 14 matches left to play.

6. Speaking of keeping an even keel, I feel at times that roughly 95% of our fan base owes this man one hell of an apology.

Photo: arsenal.com

Because the game was not on NBCSN proper this afternoon, and further given that watching on a laptop is not miles away from watching the little sprites run around on Football Manager, I spent more time on Twitter mid-match than I would otherwise do. Were one to believe the combined genius found on that platform, you'd think Petr Cech was responsible for AIDS, the refugee crisis and Donald Trump being elected.

All this, of course, in a match where the goals came off of a crazy deflection and Nacho Monreal losing his man on the back post after Cech made a top-class save on a 1-v-1. I'm not going to give it its own thought, but consider "I am so done with Nacho Monreal at this point" to be thought 6b. His dive to try and win a penalty was embarrassing - if you're going to cheat, then do it well at least, laddie. I don't know what the issue is with him but it may be time to give Kieran Gibbs a serious run in the team.

7. I digress from my point, however. This was an actual exchange I had on Twitter with someone during the match:

Feelings are not facts, children.

Speaking of, you know, facts and stuff: Let's do a little thought experiment.

Club A: 12 clean sheets - 7 Premier League, 2 Europe, 2 EFL Cup, 1 FA Cup
Club B: 14 clean sheets - 7 Premier League, 3 Europe, 2 EFL Cup, 2 FA Cup

Can you guess who is who?

The answer is that Club A is us, Club B is Manchester United...you know, the one who has the consensus second-best keeper in the world in David De Gea. Keep in mind that, as far as I know, De Gea has played all the cup games this season, whereas for us David Ospina has gotten all the cup games.

8. So, this isn't really about the Watford game, but since people are blaming Cech for everything these days, I have to get two rants off my chest when it comes to assessing goalkeepers.

First: Save percentage, on its own, is a fantastically idiotic method to apply in this case. Another thought experiment: Keeper A concedes 5 goals on 10 shots, 2 on penalties, 2 on unmarked back-post tap-ins, and maybe 1 he should have saved. However, he also makes 4 world-class saves in key situations.  Keeper B concedes 1 horror goal, and saves 9 that are sent straight at him.

Keeper B has the better save percentage by far, but I damn sure would rather have Keeper A on my team.

Second: Clean sheets are a team-wide statistic. Goalkeepers naturally contribute to that stat, but it isn't ever entirely down to the keeper...good or bad.

Actually, let's tie that to this match. Watford's second goal should be played in every defensive video drill for every club in the world as a shining example of how not to defend. Francis Coquelin was a statue further up the field, and I believe there was a bad giveaway to begin the move in the first place. But, my god, watch Shkodran Mustafi on that one. He was in attendance for virtually the whole move, but instead of fouling him outside the area or staying tight on his man at the very least, he treated us to the best bullfighting Veronica seen this side of Sevilla.

On top of it all, Cech saves the 1-v-1, the ball loops back to the back post, and literally no one is there to deal with it. The goalkeeper more than did his job - exceeded expectations, in fact.

But, no, Twitter Man *feels* like he's playing badly, so it must be so. Muppets.

9. The absolutely weird thing is that I do think we'll be OK against Chelsea. We've performed far, far better against our title rivals this season than we have in the recent past, and people always forget that every match is a distinct and separate entity. It doesn't hold true that we're going to lose forever because we lost one match, just like we're not going to win forever because we won one match.

Peaks and valleys, kids. Welcome to top-level football.

10. Still, that fucking sucked, though.

Man of the Match: Troy Deeney

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Watford

Emirates Stadium, London
Tuesday, January 31
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Andre Marriner
    • Assistants: Scott Ledger and Sian Massey-Ellis
    • 4th Official: Kevin Friend
  • Reverse Fixture: Watford 1 - 3 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 4 - 0 Watford
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 14 Arsenal wins, 10 Watford wins, 1 draw
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-W-W-D-W-W
  • Watford's League Form: L-D-L-L-D-D
Arsenal have done a decent job with their bogey teams this season. They've beaten Swansea twice for the first time since their 2011 promotion to the top flight. They beat Chelsea by three at the Emirates. They handled Southampton with aplomb on Saturday at St. Mary's, a stadium in which Arsenal had not won since 2003, to set up a tasty fifth round tie with non-league Sutton United (**insert magic of the cup cliché here**). They'll get another crack at Chelsea this coming Saturday, with their title hopes possibly in the balance.

But before then, Arsenal need to win at home against Watford tonight. The Hornets have been struggling lately; they haven't won in the league in a month and a half. But just because a club is struggling doesn't mean they won't give Arsenal a fight. The Gunners have, in recent games, left it late to get wins against the likes of West Brom, Preston, and Burnley, while they spotted Bournemouth a three-goal advantage before storming back to rescue a point.

No games in the Premier League are easy and Chelsea probably aren't relishing traveling to Anfield tonight to play a Liverpool squad desperate to remember how to win. Arsenal's deficit in the table to the Blues right now is eight. It could be anywhere from five to 11 by the end of tonight. It could be anywhere from two to 14 by Sunday.

So, yeah. Big week, this.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Elneny (Africa Cup,) Debuchy (match fitness,) Cazorla (Achilles)
Suspended: Xhaka (second of four, serious foul play / second red card)

Rotation is one thing, especially for a cup tie ahead of a league fixture three days later, but when the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud, Mesut Özil, and Francis Coquelin all failed to make the bench at all, some alarm bells went off. Thankfully, those alarms were unfounded; all four are available for selection tonight.

Meanwhile, Arsenal got a number of players back from injury, as Per Mertesacker made the bench and Theo Walcott, making his first appearance since Christmas, picked up a hat trick.

There's bad news regarding Mohamed Elneny, who is on international duty with Egypt, and missed the Pharaohs' quarterfinal match against Morocco with a calf injury picked up in training. Egypt won 1-0 and will face Burkina Faso in the semifinal tomorrow.

Predicted XI: Čech, Bellerín, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey, Alexis, Walcott, Özil, Giroud.

Watford Squad News

Out: Behrami (hamstring,) Pereyra (knee,) Amrabat (ankle)
Doubts: Ighalo (transfer speculation,) Pantilimon (ankle,) Success (hamstring,) Kabasele (cramp)
Suspended: Holebas (second of two, accumulation)

Defender José Holebas will serve the second match of his two match ban for accumulating 10 yellow cards. Watford will also be without Valon Behrami with a hamstring injury and Roberto Pereyra, who scored in the reverse fixture, with a knee problem. Nordin Amrabat is a likely absentee as well with an ankle injury.

In the doubts category, Odion Ighalo is very likely on his way to China in a transfer, as he's fallen out of favor with manager Walter Mazzarri. Meanwhile, exceedingly tall backup goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon is a doubt with an ankle injury, Isaac Success is a doubt with a hamstring injury, and Christian Kabasele is a doubt with a cramp.

Predicted XI: Gomes, Kaboul, Prödl, Britos, Zuñiga, Mason, Capoue, Watson, Cleverley, Okaka, Deeney.

Current Form

In recent weeks, Arsenal have won with surprisingly aplomb on the road in places they usually struggle, winning 4-0 at Swansea and 5-0 at Southampton. Of course, they've also made difficult work of Bournemouth, Preston, and Burnley in the process as well. Still, the Gunners are unbeaten in seven across all competitions (after they had lost three of six) and have won four straight for the first time since October.

Meanwhile, Watford are trending in the other direction; the Hornets have won once in their last nine across all competitions, and that was an FA Cup tie against Burton Albion, who are 20th in the Championship. They were then knocked out of the cup on Sunday by a Millwall side who are 10th in League One. They're winless in the league since beating Everton on December 10 (days before the Toffees beat Arsenal, but that match was in Watford and not Liverpool.) The Hornets have fallen to 14th in the Premier League table, eight points clear of relegation.

Match Facts

Arsenal won the reverse fixture at Vicarage Road, 3-1 in late August. Arsenal took the lead from a Santi Cazorla penalty within the first two minutes, then scored twice within six minutes, through Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil, to lead 3-0 at halftime. Roberto Pereyra scored for Watford in his first match for the club on 57 minutes to make things briefly interesting, but it was the only goal the Hornets could pull back.

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

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

Overall, Arsenal have a mixed-to-mediocre record against Watford; in their 19 league encounters, Arsenal have won 10 of them and Watford have won eight, with one draw. Of course, those were almost all in the 1980's, leaving them not particularly relevant to this fixture anymore.

The Referee

The referee is West Midlands-based Andre Marriner. Arsenal have lost only one of their eight matches with Marriner since that thing he did that time, winning five straight over Southampton, Everton, Newcastle, Tottenham, and Manchester City. After that, they had Marriner for their FA Cup loss to Watford last season, their come-from-behind 1-1 draw at Old Trafford back in November, and their 2-0 win over Crystal Palace at the start of this month.

I'm sure you noticed in there that Arsenal's only loss in that eight match stretch with Marriner was against Watford at the Emirates. In 12 matches all-time with Andre Marriner in the middle, Watford have only lost once, a 3-2 loss to Coventry in the Championship in 2009. The Hornets have won six and drawn five with Marriner in the middle aside from that loss. This will be the first time Watford see him this season.

Arsenal have a record of 19 wins, three draws, and six losses in 28 total matches with Marriner.

Around the League
  • Tuesday: Bournemouth v. Crystal Palace; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Tuesday: Burnley v. Leicester City; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Tuesday: Liverpool v. Chelsea; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Tuesday: Middlesbrough v. West Bromwich Albion; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Tuesday: Sunderland v. Tottenham Hotspur; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Tuesday: Swansea City v. Southampton; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Wednesday: Manchester United v. Hull City; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Wednesday: Stoke City v. Everton; Bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Wednesday: West Ham United v. Manchester City; Olympic Stadium, London
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a ghost town in Montana. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for BOO!!

Ten Thoughts: Fifth-Round FA Cup Draw

My god, I love the FA Cup.

The evisceration of Southampton's U-13s last weekend put us into today's draw for the Fifth Round Proper, and what a draw it was. If you missed it, we're away to Sutton United of the National League - the top division outside the Football League itself.

I happened to have caught their 0-0 third round home draw against AFC Wimbledon, so I know a little about these guys (sidebar: I started a "start from the bottom" game of Football Manager a while back, and my Hemel Hempstead side lost home and away to this lot, too). If you're one of the many who don't know much about the U's, then consider this your primer for what should be a cracker of a tie.

1. So, where IS Sutton, anyway? Glad you asked. Funny thing is, any time we have a tie against a club that's outside of our usual sphere, my first reaction is that we may as well be playing somewhere on the moon. Sutton? That's in outer Mongolia somewhere, right?

Thing is though, England is not a big country. I always forget that. As it turns out, the boys won't exactly have to travel far to get to the tie:

A few other things of note: Twickenham is where they do the rugby, Watford is just visible in the northwest part of the screen, and there are a few other places here that have clubs kicking around at or near Sutton's level. By my count, I see Slough, Hayes (if that's where Hayes & Yeading play), Woking, Bromley, Gravesend, Dagenham and Boreham Wood (where our Ladies play, last time I checked).

2. So we're clear, this is going to be a completely different world for our boys. It's one thing to go away to Brighton or Leeds, but we sometimes forget that the difference between the Premier League and the Championship is not that massive, money aside. Most of those stadiums are fairly big, especially for the fallen giants of the division. However, this is Gander Green Lane, where the tie is taking place:

Non-league clubs are not beholden to the old Taylor Report guidelines, meaning that these are some of the only seats in the whole place. According to Wikipedia, the capacity is a shade over 5000, but only about 750 of it is seating. This is from the school that closed down before the old school was built.

3. Furthermore, Sutton United utilizes a 3G plastic pitch at their ground. That's one thing for when I have my crunch 7-a-side league ties at Bushwick Inlet Park or McCarren Park, but at this level? It's highly unusual and it's going to take a major adjustment for our guys to be able to play on it.

As you might expect, Sutton's home record is exceptional given their familiarity with the conditions. The ball bounces differently on it, passes have to be weighed more carefully, etc etc etc. Especially given that our style of play relies on a large number of exquisitely precise passes, we might struggle to break down the 10-man defensive wall that Sutton will inevitably throw up to try and repel us.

4. In case you're wondering why the 3G pitch is there and allowable in their division, you have to keep in mind the finances of football down in the old Conference and thereabouts. Sutton are in the National League, which is the point where most of the clubs start becoming fully professional and such. However, the feeder league for that is the Conference North and Conference South, both considered the 6th division.

Down there, you get a lot of semi-pro clubs, who may have a handful of top players tied down to professional contracts. Otherwise, the roster is filled out with pay-per-appearance deals, so that one or two misfires in the transfer market won't bankrupt the club.

Given that reality, it's not shocking that most of these sides don't have amenities like under-soil heating in their grounds. Hence, they get far more postponements than we get up in the Premier League. The 3G pitch largely prevents that from happening, and at this level that can have significant financial benefits. It's also easier for the league to not have to reschedule a million fixtures as well.

5. There is an Arsenal connection here, by the way. One of Sutton's top players is a guy named Craig Eastmond. Gooners of a certain age may remember him as one of our own academy kids.

Photo: www.caughtoffside.com

Eastmond never broke into our first team, but he did see action in the League Cup and - bizarrely - as a substitute in a Champions League tie away to Shakthar Donetsk in 2010.

6. So, how did Sutton get here, anyway? Again, the reality of life in the National League couldn't be further from our experience as a top Premier League side. Whereas we enter in the Third Round Proper every season, Sutton's adventure started even before you can throw the word "proper" around.

The National League sides come in at the Fourth Qualifying Round stage, where Sutton knocked off their division colleagues Forest Green Rovers 2-1 at home (the "at home" is going to be a pattern, which in fairness is a massive reason why they're here).

That got them into the hat for the First Round Proper, where they traveled to National League South club Dartford (visible in the map screenshot above). They prevailed 6-3 in a bonkers game, where they scored in the 1st minute, saw it get to 2-2 by the 17th, actually went down 3-2 before storming back to win it.

The next hurdle was Cheltenham Town, who are currently in League Two. Sutton's 2-1 victory was seen as a massive giant-killing for them at the time, but they were just getting started. AFC Wimbledon was next, and a hard-fought 0-0 draw at Gander Green Lane honestly looked like the end of the line for them. A replay away to Wimbledon, who had survived a crazy tie against Curzon Ashton already (0-3 to 4-3 in about four nanoseconds) was a tough ask, especially as they were 1-0 down early. But, they got three goals - two in injury time - to send the Dons crashing out.

Next up was a home tie against Leeds United. Frankly, I thought this was going to be it for Sutton, but Leeds are more worried about promotion than anything else this season, and they ended up fielding a reserve side. Bad move, as a 53rd-minute penalty sent them out of the competition.

7. A word of warning: In 1988-89, Sutton United defeated Coventry City 2-1 in the Fourth Round of that season's FA Cup.

An even more dire word of warning: Coventry were in 2nd place in the old First Division (the equivalent of the Premier League now) at the time.

8. Meet Jennie the Giraffe, the mascot of Sutton United. Maybe we can get Gunnersaurus a date, eh?

9. We don't yet know the exact date of the fixture, but it will be played sometime during the weekend of February 17-20. In and around that time:

2/11: Hull City - Premier League (H)
2/15: Bayern Munich - Champions League (A)
2/17, 2/18, 2/19 or 2/20: Sutton United - FA Cup (A)
3/4: Liverpool - Premier League (A)

10. Believe or not, there is also a Sutton United Football Club in the third tier of football in the African nation of The Gambia.

Photo: http://www.suttonunited.net/gambia_intro.html

They are, sadly, not eligible to compete in the FA Cup.

So, there you have it. You're all now up to speed on our opponents in the goddamn greatest cup competition in the world. I'm psyched for this, and you should be too.

Ten Thoughts: Southampton Reserves 0-5 Arsenal Reserves

Ummm...hello? Is this thing on?

I think that this, the most hassle-free game we've had since roughly 400 BC, is the perfect one on which to end my little three-month hiatus. To be honest, I had gotten a bit burned out on writing these, and the worst of the Twitter brigade sapped a lot of my joy at times.

That said, I thought I'd try out a new format, with apologies to the fantastic Elliotte Freidman - if you're into hockey, his 30 Thoughts columns are mandatory reading.

1. I know that both sides were dipping into the reserves, with important league fixtures upcoming over the next few weeks and all. However, if I were Claude Puel, I'm not sure if I would have chosen the same back four that he did:

Jack Stephens - the youngest of the lot - was the only one to survive from the starting XI that so impressively dumped Liverpool out of the League Cup. In fairness, Cuco Martina and Florin Gardos are experienced professionals (you may remember Martina's long range rocket in THAT 4-0 Boxing Day loss to this very opposition), but I can't say I know who or what a Sam McQueen is. Any amount of rotation can make life in the back four difficult, but it gets infinitely harder when you have this in goal:

I mean, maybe Harry Lewis has a future in this game or perhaps he might not, but either way it is borderline child abuse to stick a 19-year old third-stringer in against Arsenal...no matter how many reserves we have out there. Half the reason these kids go out on loan so often is that, in the end, how they do in a Johnstone's Paint Trophy second-round tie away to Southend United is not exactly consequential. The fourth round of the FA Cup is a much different story.

The point of all this is that today was a shedload of fun, but let's not forget the meteor-sized caveat here.

2. All that aside, DAT GUY WELBZ returned to the starting XI with the subtlety of the Kool-Aid Man entering a room. The boss has talked up Welbeck's determination and resilience in coming back from this horror injury, and you can see the payoff for yourself. He was bloody everywhere, tracking back to pitch in on defense and then scampering up the other end to bang in a few as well.

The two goals were an illustration of how far he's come in his recovery, each highlighting a different facet of forward play. The first, an arrogant chip over the keeper-fetus, was a brilliant bit of pure finishing. The second was more heartening for me, though. He had time and space for the first, but he had to fight off a defender to give himself a yard on the second. No matter that a more experienced keeper probably doesn't get beat on that one - the important thing is that he was willing to get in there and fight, which is damn hard when you've been out for ages with a major injury.

The Salt Bae celebration was also super super top quality.

3. Welbeck was so good that his 60-minute brace made you forget for a bit that Theo Walcott got a freaking hat trick (especially when you remember that Danny assisted on the first one, as well).

You could tell that Theo was enjoying himself, but it'd be hard not to when you're getting impeccable service from your teammates. More on that in a second. While this was not the most fearsome defense that we'll face this season, there is no downside to having one of your secondary offensive weapons get a confidence boost at this point in the season.

4. Speaking of that service, Alexis Sanchez, amirite?

Look, if it were up to me, he'd have been nowhere near the pitch today, not at 3-0 up with half an hour to go and the game well in the bag. I get that his contract situation is a bit dodgy at present, but for me there's too much of an inmates running the asylum vibe with this stuff.

However - and this is a massive HOWEVER - when a guy can come on off the bench and provide two assists with the same ease that you or I cross a street, you have to think that the usual rules don't apply. We talk a lot about tactics and checkbooks and all sorts of other nonsense, but it's places like this where top-level managers truly earn their keep. Arsene has to somehow keep this lunatic (meant in the best possible way) happy while making sure he doesn't break down at some point.

Not a job I envy.

5. Lucas Perez is another one that had an excellent game, capped off with an assist for Danny earlier in the match. Another problem I don't envy for the manager is how do you find more minutes for this guy? He's direct, good on the ball, isn't a defensive black hole that I'm aware of, can pick out a pass as well as anyone on the team AND can finish himself if given the opportunity. It says a lot for us as a club, I think, that we can't get this man on the field with any regularity.

I said to someone on Facebook recently that I think Jack Wilshere should be sold, as he isn't really up to our standard anymore. I'm reminded of that because this right here is a perfect reflection of what I mean. All Lucas does when he gets a chance is deliver, and he still never plays. It's unreal to think about sometimes.

6. So, do you like hyphens?

All three played exceptionally well, by the way. Ox has kind of been up and down all season, but let's hope this gives him a platform to kick on and force himself into first-team reckoning. Given that Chelsea and Bayern both loom in the near distance, we need all hands to the pumps in the next few weeks.

7. A quick word about David Ospina - he didn't have a lot to do today, but there were a few moments where he played himself out of trouble majestically well. Imagine that, a keeper good with his feet who can, like, make saves and stuff too. Sure, some of the criticism of Claudio Bravo is over-the-top, but how great is it to have two keepers that you can trust in big games?

Even if you want to go down a level, Emi Martinez is 24 years old with a decent amount of professional experience by now. I have some sympathy for Southampton given that Alex McCarthy (a perfectly OK backup) is injured, but it does go to show the difference in depth here. Martinez could stroll into damn near any team in the Championship, this kid on Southampton should, at best, be on loan somewhere in League Two.

I still don't get why Fraser Forster didn't play, though. Keepers don't need to be rested like outfield players do.

8. I joke in the post title about both sides being reserves, but let's not discount the overall accomplishment of getting through to the next round.

We could be Liverpool, who lost at home to Wolves.

We could be Newcastle, who lost comprehensively to League One opposition in Oxford United.

We could be Brighton, who traveled to Sincil Bank and lost to the Conference National side Lincoln City.

We could be the nearest and dearest, who went life-and-death with League Two's Wycombe Wanderers (Big Tone managed them for about 4.2 seconds, by the way!). They needed a 96th (!) minute equalizer. The utter state of it.

9. If the Alexis thing was a baffling substitution that we did make, a baffling one that we didn't revolves around our Big Fucking German, Per Mertesacker. If he was fit enough for the bench, isn't a 5-0 lead with 5 or 6 minutes left to play a perfect time to reintroduce him to the side? We never did make our third change, so it just seems weird to me. Minor gripe, but am I wrong here?

10. Mustafi Watch - we STILL haven't lost with Shkodran Mustafi in the team. It's February. That is absurd, in the good way.

Man of the Match:   (With thanks to Twitter's @8bitfootball)

Preview by Numbers: Southampton v. Arsenal, FA Cup Fourth Round

St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
Saturday, January 28
12:30 p.m. EST, 17:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Kevin Friend
    • Assistants: Peter Kirkup and Simon Beck
    • 4th Official: Tim Robinson
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 46 Arsenal wins, 20 Southampton wins, 25 draws
  • All-Time in FA Cup: 3 Arsenal wins, 1 draw
  • Arsenal's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Preston North End, 2-1
  • Southampton's Path Here
    • Third Round: Drew Norwich City, 2-2; won replay, 1-0
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-W-W-D-W-W
  • Southampton's League Form: W-L-L-L-L-W
Arsenal picked up three points in relatively simple, not at all complicated fashion last weekend against Burnley, but feel like they are simply treading water in the Premier League. They remain eight points out of first place, but they are alone in second right now, so who knows? As you know, Arsenal have a make-or-break visit to Stamford Bridge next week. Five points out of first and 11 points out of first are two very different things, even in February.

But for now, we focus on the FA Cup, as Arsenal take a trip to St. Mary's to face Southampton. Arsenal have struggled at St. Mary's since the Saints' promotion; in fact, they have not won there since Southampton rejoined the top flight, drawing twice and losing the last two by a combined 6-0 scoreline.

It has not been a happy hunting ground (and Arsenal still have yet to travel there in the league this season,) so Arsenal would be advised to exorcise some of those south coast demons tomorrow, before those demons cost them league points later.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Elneny (Africa Cup,) Debuchy (hamstring,) Cazorla (Achilles,) Mertesacker (match fitness)
Doubts: Walcott (calf)
Suspended: Xhaka (first of four, serious foul play / second red card)

There is some change in terms of player availability as Theo Walcott is finally back in full training, having figured out how to get that coffee maker to work. Per Mertesacker and Mathieu Debuchy are both back in full training now, but neither are match fit enough to feature yet.

Meanwhile, Granit Xhaka will serve the first match of a four match ban after his second sending off of the season last weekend. He'll miss this cup tie as well as league games against Watford, Chelsea, and Hull. Mohamed Elneny cannot deputize there as he is still off with Egypt in the Africa Cup of Nations; the Pharaohs won their group and will face Morocco in the quarterfinals on the 29th. Francis Coquelin, however, has returned, as evidenced by his appearance from the bench and that penalty he gave away against Burnley.

Santi Cazorla is the only long-term injury in Arsenal's first team at the moment. Chuba Akpom, who has not made any appearances in cup ties this year due to a back problem, is expected to go out on loan shortly. Elsewhere, there hasn't been any news regarding Yaya Sanogo ever since the cryptic comments Arsène Wenger made about him in December. He did appear, however, in a photograph of a team dinner Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain posted earlier this week. So, that's something. Then again, Mesut Özil wasn't in the picture, so you can get your storm in a teacup from that.

David Ospina will likely start between the poles, but other than that, I don't usually predict line-ups for cup ties.

Southampton Squad News

Out: Boufal (knee,) Austin (shoulder,) Pied (knee,) Targett (hamstring,) McCarthy (hamstring)
Doubts: Rodriguez (knock,) Ward-Prowse (chest,) van Dijk (ankle,) Hesketh (ankle)

New captain Virgil van Dijk has had to see a second specialist over an ankle injury he suffered last weekend against Leicester; he missed the cup tie against Liverpool on Wednesday and is about 25% to feature tomorrow. After selling former captain José Fonte to West Ham earlier in the month, van Dijk's injury leaves Southampton a little light at center back. Maya Yoshida and 22-year-old Jack Stephens started at Anfield on Wednesday. Florin Gardoș is on the way back from long-term injury, but has not played first team football in two years.

The Saints might have some worries up top, as well: Jay Rodriguez and James Ward-Prowse both left Wednesday's cup tie through injury, so are listed as doubts. Charlie Austin, purchased from QPR this past summer, is out with a shoulder injury. Jake Hesketh is a 50/50 doubt with an ankle injury.

Southampton are also expected to be without Sofiane Boufal, Jérémy Pied, Matt Targett, and Alex McCarthy.

19-year-old Harry Lewis started both FA Cup matches against Norwich City, so it remains to be seen if Claude Puel sticks with the youngster as his cup keeper or if he starts Fraser Forster against a Premier League opponent.

Current Form

On November 30, Southampton beat Arsenal 2-0 in the League Cup to snap Arsenal's 19-match unbeaten run across all competitions. That loss was the first of three for Arsenal over a six-match span, running through consecutive league losses to Everton and Manchester City on December 13 and 18. Since that three week span, however, Arsenal are unbeaten in six again, winning five of them. The one draw in that span was the 3-3 at Bournemouth, in which Arsenal came back from 3-0 down to take a point.

The Saints have advanced to the League Cup final, having beaten Liverpool 1-0 in each of the two legs of the semifinals. On the other hand, they needed a replay against Norwich City to advance to this round of this competition. Meanwhile, Southampton had lost four straight in the Premier League before defeating Leicester 3-0 at the weekend. In their 14 matches since beating Arsenal in the League Cup, Southampton have won just six of them, though that includes three straight.

Match Facts

Arsenal have already played Southampton twice this season, both times at the Emirates. The Gunners won the league fixture, but lost to the Saints in the fifth round of the League Cup.

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.

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.

Arsenal and Southampton have met in three prior FA Cup ties; Arsenal have won all three, in 1927, 1979, and 2003. The 2003 match was the final, with Arsenal winning 1-0 from a Robert Pirès goal in the 38th minute. In 1979, Arsenal went on to the win the trophy after beating Southampton 2-0 in a sixth round replay; they drew the first tie 1-1. Way back in 1927, the sides met in the semifinals; Arsenal won 2-1, then lost to Cardiff City in the final.

The Referee

The referee is Leicestershire-based Kevin Friend. Arsenal have split their two matches with Friend in the middle this season; the loss was the League Cup tie against Southampton at the end of November. The win came much earlier in the season, in August, 3-1 at Watford. Southampton have also split their two matches with Friend; aside from the win over Arsenal, Friend worked the Saints' 3-0 loss at Everton on January 2.

All-time, Arsenal have a record of 11 wins, four draws, and two losses with Friend in the middle; the other loss was against Swansea. Southampton have four wins, four draws, and seven losses with Friend across all competitions. Friend was also in the middle for Arsenal's 6-1 win over Southampton back in 2012.

Friend has shown only one red card all season and it was to John Terry, so he is truly a champion and a scholar.

Around the Fourth Round
  • Friday (night): Derby County v. Leicester City; Pride Park Stadium, Derby
  • Saturday (early): Liverpool v. Wolverhampton Wanderers; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Blackburn Rovers v. Blackpool; Ewood Park, Blackburn
  • Saturday: Burnley v. Bristol City; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. Brentford; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Manchester City; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Lincoln City v. Brighton & Hove Albion; Sincil Bank Stadium, Lincoln
  • Saturday: Middlesbrough v. Accrington Stanley; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Saturday: Oxford United v. Newcastle United; Kassam Stadium, Oxford
  • Saturday: Rochdale v. Huddersfield Town; Crown Oil Arena, Rochdale
  • Saturday: Totenham Hotspur v. Wycombe Wanderers; White Hart Lane, London
  • Sunday (very early): Millwall v. Watford; The Den, London
  • Sunday (very early): Fulham v. Hull City; Craven Cottage, London
  • Sunday (early): Sutton United v. Leeds United; Gander Green Lane, London
  • Sunday (late): Manchester United v. Wigan Athletic; Old Trafford, Manchester
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and accidentally just ate a whole bag of granola. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for more idiocy.

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Burnley

Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, January 22
9:15 a.m. EST, 14:15 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Jonathan Moss
    • Assistants: Marc Perry and Andy Halliday
    • 4th Official: Anthony Taylor
  • Reverse Fixture: Burnley 0 - 1 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Time: Arsenal 3 - 0 Burnley (November 1, 2014)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 48 Arsenal wins, 33 Burnley wins, 21 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-L-W-W-D-W
  • Burnley's League Form: L-L-W-W-L-W
It is now mid-January, also known as "when Arsenal started to fuck up their title run last year," and the Gunners are currently right in the middle of a six team title race. Chelsea have a moderate-to-enormous seven point lead at the top of the table, meaning the odds of them winning the league are something like 75%-ish right now, but there's still plenty of football to be played. Arsenal play at Stamford Bridge in two weeks' time in a match that will likely make or break Arsenal's title chances this season.

But you can only play one match at a time, so Arsenal will need to focus solely on Burnley at home on Sunday. The Clarets have been a decent side this season, especially at Turf Moor, which has propelled them into the top half of the table, but their road form is abysmal. That means Arsenal need to be looking to take all three points from this fixture, as well as from Watford's visit to the Emirates on the 31st before they head into that showdown in West London on February 4.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Elneny (Africa Cup,) Walcott (calf,) Debuchy (hamstring,) Cazorla (Achilles,) Mertesacker (match fitness)
Doubts: Giroud (ankle,)

There's plenty of good news in the injury list this week as Hector Bellerín, Francis Coquelin, and Kieran Gibbs are all back in training and supposedly available; among the three, I would think that only Bellerín will start. I would not rush Coquelin back from a hamstring problem.

Olivier Giroud was back in training on Wednesday after he had to be removed from last weekend's win; the Frenchman has scored a goal in nine consecutive starts, but it remains to be seen if the in-form target man will retain his place in the XI without a full week of training. If he's not ready, then Alexis will play up top. There's still no sign of Theo Walcott, out since Christmas with a calf problem, and he has not been in training. So, if Alexis plays up top, it looks like it'll be Alex Iwobi and Lucas Pérez on the wings.

Per Mertesacker is a few weeks away from match fitness, so the BFG remains out. Mohamed Elneny is still on international duty with Egypt; the Pharaohs opened the group stage with a scoreless draw against Mali. They play Uganda tomorrow and Ghana on the 25th.

Carl Jenkinson's sale to Crystal Palace has fallen through; it looks like the clubs had arranged a transfer fee, but Jenkinson could not agree to personal terms with the Eagles. Considering Arsenal has been starting a center back at right back with Bellerín out injured, I could not really fathom why Arsenal would sell their only depth at the position during the January window. That aside, I would not expect Jenko to remain with the club this summer.

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

Burnley Squad News

Out: Long (knee)
Doubts: Marney (knock,) Guðmundsson (hamstring,) Arfield (hamstring)

Jóhann Guðmundsson and Scott Arfield are both 50/50 doubts with hamstring injuries, while Dean Marney is more like 75/25 to play with a knock of his own. Kevin Long is ruled out until February following knee surgery; Long has only made one appearance this season, in a League Cup tie against Accrington Stanley. Long injured his cruciate ligament two years ago and recently had minor surgery to remove scar tissue; he's made only 24 appearances for the club since joining in 2010.

Meanwhile, the Clarets have Joey Barton again. The outspoken midfielder signed with Burnley before last season and made 37 appearances for the club before switching to Rangers this past summer. He made only eight appearances for the Scottish club, however, and signed again with the Clarets at the start of this January window. He's already made three appearances for Burnley and scored the winner off the bench last weekend against Southampton. He should start, considering Dean Marney's availability is questionable.

Burnley did play in midweek, as they needed a replay to beat Sunderland in the FA Cup, so they may not be as well-rested as Arsenal. Still, Sean Dyche rotated a bit in the cup tie Tuesday, meaning the Clarets should have a fairly usual starting XI on Sunday.

With the Marney/Barton decision in the center of midfield aside, the only question will really be the two strikers up top, with Ashley Barnes, Andre Gray, and Sam Vokes all looking for starts. Vokes started the cup tie, so I'll guess Gray and Barnes start here.

Predicted XI: Heaton, Lowton, Keane, Mee, Ward, Boyd, Barton, Defour, Hendrick, Gray, Barnes.

Current Form

Arsenal's 4-0 win over Swansea last weekend brings their current unbeaten streak up to five. It certainly doesn't feel like they're unbeaten in five, right? That's because, among the five, Arsenal left it late to beat West Brom, beat Palace 2-0, needed to come from 3-0 down to draw Bournemouth, needed to come from behind to beat Preston North End, and then finally won comfortably for a change last weekend. It all means that Arsenal are basically treading water; they were nine points out of first after losing to Manchester City on December 19 and they are eight points out of first now.

On December 19, Burnley had 17 points and were only three points clear of relegation. Today, they are in 10th place, with 26 points, and are 10 points clear of relegation. So, what happened over the holiday period for the Clarets? Well, they've won three of four in the league, losing only to Manchester City just after New Year's Day. They beat Middlesbrough 1-0 on Boxing Day, Sunderland 4-1 on New Year's Eve, and Southampton 1-0 last weekend. They also beat Sunderland 2-0 in a replay in the FA Cup, earning them a date with Bristol City at Turf Moor next weekend.

The secret to Burnley's success has been their home form, however. The Clarets are 6th in the league at home, but dead last away from home. They've lost eight of their last nine away from Turf Moor in the league; they're only road point earned this season came, oddly enough, at Old Trafford of all places, when they earned a 0-0 draw on October 29. Their last Premier League road win was the final day of the 2014/15 season, when they beat Aston Villa in Birmingham.

Match Facts

Arsenal have won five straight against Burnley across all competitions, including the reverse of this fixture. Their 1-0 win at Turf Moor on October 2 was Arsenal's fifth straight in the league at the time, but it was not without its difficulties. Laurent Koscielny bundled a winner across the line after a short corner routine in the third minute of two added minutes in second half added time.

Burnley have lost four straight against Arsenal in the league and are winless in their last eight league fixtures against the Gunners. They did snare a 1-1 draw at Turf Moor in December of 2009; I'll always remember that midweek fixture because I had a nasty cold and it was the first time Cesc Fábregas injured his hamstring. I don't think he was ever fully healthy for Arsenal ever again.

These sides met at the Emirates last season, even with Burnley playing in the Championship, as they were drawn together in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Arsenal won that match 2-1. Calum Chambers opened the scoring for the Gunners, but Sam Vokes equalized after half an hour. Alexis Sánchez, returning from a hamstring injury, scored the second half winner.

Burnley's last win over Arsenal was in the League Cup, 2-0, on December 2, 2008. The Clarets' last win in London against Arsenal was on September 7, 1974.

The Referee

The referee is West Yorkshire-based Jonathan Moss. Arsenal had a record of 11 wins from 11 matches with Moss as referee, including the 2015 FA Cup Final win over Aston Villa. Then, the middle of last season hit. Moss was in the middle for Arsenal's damaging 1-1 draw with Norwich City in November, then found himself in the middle of Arsenal's Boxing Day destruction at Southampton.

The Gunners righted the ship again in Moss matches with a 2-0 win over West Brom last April, and earlier this year beat Swansea 3-2 with Moss in the middle, so now Arsenal's record is 13 wins from 15. Still, that win over Swansea was complicated, as Granit Xhaka was controversially sent off while Swansea went unpunished for a few elbows to the faces of Theo Walcott and Nacho Monreal.

Burnley have only had Moss once so far this season, on the opening day of the year, as they lost 1-0 at home to Swansea. Last year, with Burnley in the Championship, Moss worked two Clarets matches: a 0-0 draw at Wolves in November and a 1-0 win over QPR in May; that win secured Burnley's promotion to the top flight.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Liverpool v. Swansea City; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Bournemouth v. Watford; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Everton; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Middlesbrough v. West Ham United; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Manchester United; Bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Sunderland; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday (late): Manchester City v. Tottenham Hotspur; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Sunday (very early): Southampton v. Leicester City; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Sunday (late): Chelsea v. Hull City; Stamford Bridge, London
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a species of bird. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for ca-CAW ca-CAW.

Preview by Numbers: Swansea City v. Arsenal

Liberty Stadium, Swansea
Saturday, January 14
10:00 a.m. EST, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Jones
    • Assistants: Richard West and Mark Scholes
    • 4th Official: Oliver Langford
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 3 - 2 Swansea
  • This Match, Last Year: Swansea 0 - 3 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 11 Arsenal wins, 8 Swansea wins, 3 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-L-L-W-W-D
  • Swansea's League Form: W-L-L-L-L-W
Short preview this week as I've been insanely busy at work. Here's the deal: Arsenal are eight points out of the top spot in the league and have a winnable run of fixtures: Swansea away, Burnley at home, and Watford at home, before a big showdown at Stamford Bridge. Win all three and we'll talk about title hopes going into that match. Win in West London and then we're really in business. Continue stumbling and who knows what we're focusing on by mid-February.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Coquelin (hamstring,) Elneny (Africa Cup,) Debuchy (hamstring,) Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Bellerín (knock,) Gibbs (knee,) Walcott (calf,) Mertesacker (match fitness)

Okay, still a lot going on here, so let's focus: Danny Welbeck came back against Preston last week, so he's off the injured list for the first time since May. Arsenal were without Laurent Koscielny, Alexis Sánchez, and Lucas Pérez through knocks and rest last week, and as far as I know, all of them should be returning. Will we see Mesut Özil for the first time in 2017? I certainly hope so.

How about Hector Bellerín, who played hurt against Bournemouth? How about Kieran Gibbs, out since Boxing Day? Or Theo Walcott, out since before Boxing Day? I believe all three will face some fitness tests, and will have to stay in the doubts column.

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

Swansea Squad News

Out: Montero (hamstring,) Taylor (face)
Doubts: Barrow (knock)

Jefferson Montero, who has terrorized Arsenal in the past, is out until the end of the month with a hamstring injury. Meanwhile, Neil Taylor has a fractured cheekbone, which will require surgery. Modou Barrow is a major doubt, having suffered an injury during an Under-23 match recently.

Predicted XI: Fabiański, Naughton, Fernández, Mawson, Kingsley, Britton, Cork, Fer, Routledge, Sigurðsson, Llorente.

Current Form

Since Arsenal lost to Southampton in the League Cup, snapping their unbeaten run at 19, their form has been all over the map: W-W-W-L-L-W-W-D-W. No major stretches without wins, yeah, but they've dropped eight points in the league over the last month. Incidentally, Arsenal are currently eight points out of first. Funny how that works.

Meanwhile, it has been a dreadful season for Swansea City, yet they are only one point from safety. In fact, they've won three of their last eight! Not bad, since they had gone 11 in the league without a win during that time frame. They did, of course, lose their FA Cup tie to Hull City, 2-0, last weekend. However, since that's a relegation six-pointer in league play, perhaps it's best for the Swans to be the team left focusing on their league survival after the first hurdle.

Match Facts

Arsenal won the reverse fixture 3-2 at the Emirates in October, but the Gunners have yet to pick up all six points against Swansea in a given season since the Welsh club's promotion in 2012. At the Emirates, Theo Walcott scored twice to give Arsenal a 2-0 lead, but Gylfi Sigurðsson pulled a goal back for Swansea before halftime. Mesut Özil restored the Gunners' two goal lead, but Borja Bastón made it 3-2 on 66 minutes and Granit Xhaka was sent off on 70. Arsenal had to hang on for 20 minutes and change to get the three points and hand American manager Bob Bradley his first of many losses with the club.

As for Arsenal's prior record against Swansea, well, as I mentioned, they've never won both league fixtures in a given season. In 2012/13, Arsenal won at home but lost in Wales. In 13/14, a late Mathieu Flamini own goal gave the Swans a point at the Emirates after Arsenal won at the Liberty. In 14/15, Swansea came back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 at home, before losing in London.

Last year, Arsenal had a dreadful first half in Wales, but ended up with a comfortable 3-0 win. Olivier Giroud, Laurent Koscielny, and Joel Campbell all had second half goals for the Gunners.

The Referee

The referee is Chester-based Sting-lookalike Mike Jones. Arsenal have seen Jones once so far this season, for their 3-1 win over Bournemouth at the end of October. Jones did not have a great match that day, however, giving the Cherries a pretty borderline penalty in the first half.

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

Swansea have also seen Jones only once this year, losing 1-0 to Southampton at St. Mary's on September 18. Last year, Jones worked a 2-0 Swansea win over Newcastle as well as a 2-1 loss to Tottenham.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Tottenham Hotspur v. West Bromwich Albion; White Hart Lane, London
  • Saturday: Burnley v. Southampton; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Hull City v. Bournemouth; KCOM Stadium, Kingston-upon-Hull
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Stoke City; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: Watford v. Middlesbrough; Vicarage Road, London
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Crystal Palace; Olympic Stadium, London
  • Saturday (late): Leicester City v. Chelsea; King Power Stadium, London
  • Sunday (early): Everton v. Manchester City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Sunday (late): Manchester United v. Liverpool; Old Trafford, Manchester
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a French documentary about birds. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat pour français, s'il vous plaît? Yes, I have started getting these by clicking "Random article" on Wikipedia.

Preview by Numbers: Preston North End v. Arsenal, FA Cup Third Round

Deepdale, Preston
Saturday, January 7
12:30 p.m. EST, 17:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Robert Madley
    • Assistants: Jack Collin and Andrew Garratt
    • 4th Official: Paul Tierney
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 35 Arsenal wins, 26 Preston wins, 19 draws
  • All-Time in FA Cup: 2 Arsenal wins, 2 Preston wins, 2 draws
  • Arsenal's Premier League Form: W-L-L-W-W-D
  • Preston's Championship Form: W-D-W-L-D-W
It's a weird feeling, being unhappy taking only a point from a 3-0 deficit. By this point, plenty of digital ink has been spilled on the topic, about how Arsenal didn't show up for the first 70 minutes, so clawing back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 feels more like "well, yeah, but what if you played like that for 90 minutes?"

Meanwhile, Chelsea lost and Liverpool drew, so not all is bad. I know I'm not the only Gooner out there who is at least a little glad Tottenham snapped Chelsea's winning streak before they could break Arsenal's 2002 record. It's funny, Chelsea beat Spurs back in November to end Spurs' unbeaten run to start the year and now Spurs have beaten Chelsea to snap their winning streak. I think that all evens out nicely for us, doesn't it?

So, it's two points dropped, even from 3-0 down, but Arsenal managed to claw back a point in their deficit behind Chelsea at the top of the table while also simultaneously falling into fifth place. But we'll worry about that when league play starts up again next weekend.

Meanwhile, we've got the FA Cup to contend with and it's a trip to Lancashire to face Preston North End, who are 11th in the Championship. Mid-table Championship sides can often be a tricky lot to face in the cup; a team at the top or bottom of that table might be more focused on their promotion or relegation fight, respectively, but a mid-table side will see this as a chance for a famous victory.

I'm not sure how I feel about this one. 

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Koscielny (thigh,) Alexis (rest,) Coquelin (hamstring,) Özil (illness,) Elneny (Africa Cup,) Debuchy (hamstring,) Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Pérez (ankle,) Bellerín (knock,) Gibbs (knee,) Walcott (calf,) Mertesacker (match fitness,) Welbeck (match fitness)

Okay, there's a lot going on here, so let's take this position-by-position, shall we?

Arsène Wenger has already come out and said David Ospina will start in goal, so that takes care of that.

On the backline, there are injury concerns over both Hector Bellerín and Laurent Koscielny; the former played through a knock on Tuesday and the latter came out of the match as a precaution. Koscielny's injury was described as "two problems" with his thigh, so he will not make the 18-man squad. Expect Gabriel to play in the middle with Rob Holding. It's harder to tell with the fullbacks, because I'm not positive if Kieran Gibbs is ready to return from the knee injury he picked up on Boxing Day.

Francis Coquelin injured his hamstring and will be out three to four weeks, which is perfectly timed with Mohamed Elneny's trip to the Africa Cup of Nations. Aaron Ramsey may have to play in the deep-lying role along with Granit Xhaka for a while, but we're one red card away from needing to put an actual traffic cone in the holding role. The prognosis on Santi Cazorla, meanwhile, is getting worse instead of better.

Mesut Özil is just coming back into training now, having been bedridden all week, so he will not feature. Alexis Sánchez will be rested as well. Lucas Pérez picked up an ankle knock against Bournemouth, so even he makes the doubt column, but we could get an appearance off the bench from Danny Welbeck. We're getting into serious LANS territory here.

I won't predicted an XI for this because there might be a lot of fringe and youth players coming into the side and, honestly, Arsenal can't run the risk of losing any more players right now.

Preston Squad News

Out: Woods, Welsh
Suspended: Beckford (third of four, violent conduct and second red card)

Former Leeds striker Jermaine Beckford was sent off against his former side on Boxing Day, making it two consecutive matches in which the striker saw red. The story here is pretty astonishing: on December 5, Beckford and his teammate Eoin Doyle were both sent off for fighting with each other during injury time of Preston's 2-1 loss to Sheffield Wednesday. After serving a three-match ban, Beckford returned against his former club and after five minutes, kicked out at former Arsenal center back Kyle Bartley, catching him in the face while both were on the ground following a collision.

Midfielder and vice-captain John Welsh (who isn't even Welsh!) and defender Calum Woods are both injury absences for Simon Grayson's side.

It remains to be seen how much Preston might rotate for this match. They may go with their usual league squad if they feel like they can win it, but they did rotate for the League Cup earlier in the season.

Current Form

Hey, remember when Arsenal were unbeaten in 19 matches across all competitions earlier this year? Well, since that streak, they have won five out of nine, losing three and nearly losing the fourth before storming back from three goals down on Tuesday. After this match, Arsenal's next three league fixtures are against Swansea, Burnley, and Watford before heading to Stamford Bridge, so they'll really need to snare all nine points to keep their head above water in the table.

Meanwhile, Preston have only lost four of their last 19, dating back to a 5-0 loss against Brentford in September, but seven of the remaining 15 matches were draws, including a League Cup tie they won on penalties against Bournemouth. This streak has come after the club lost six of their opening 10 matches, but it still leaves them in 11th place in the Championship. With 36 points, they are six points back of Sheffield Wednesday for the final playoff spot and 16 points out of the last automatic promotion slot. At the same time, they are 12 points clear of relegation. If they turn these draws into wins in league play, they might have an outside shot at the promotion playoffs, but it looks like they'll be sitting comfortably mid-table by season's end.

Match Facts

Arsenal have not played Preston since a League Cup tie in October of 1999, which Arsenal won 2-1 at Highbury. Preston have not been in the top flight since 1960/61, when each side beat the other at home. For some reason, those fixtures were played a week apart in August of 1960 (later that year, Arsenal played both of their fixtures against Sheffield Wednesday over the Christmas period, on the 23rd and 26th of December.) Must have had something to do with travel?

The sides have met in four previous FA Cup ties, with each side advancing twice. Each side has won once on the first attempt and once in a replay. Arsenal have won the last two cup ties between the clubs, winning 4-2 in Preston in 1999 and winning 2-1 in a replay after drawing 3-3 in Preston in 1957. Preston's wins came in 1922 and 1938.

The Referee

The referee is West Yorkshire-based Robert Madley. Madley has been seemingly fast-tracked for the top level of officiating, even at the age of 31, as evidenced by being tabbed for this television fixture. He has also worked a number of big fixtures this season, including Liverpool's trip to Tottenham and Tottenham's trip to Manchester United. He's worked one Arsenal match so far this season, which was the 2-1 win over Southampton in September, in which he awarded Arsenal a late penalty.

The last time Madley worked a Preston match they were in League One and the date was April 11, 2015. Preston drew that match 1-1 at home against Bristol City. His previous Preston match was a 4-4 draw at Coventry City on August 25, 2013 which both sides scored in injury time. Coventry blew a late 3-2 lead, but Preston blew an even later 4-3 lead.

I've mentioned this before, but Madley has the odd distinction of having shown three red cards in his first Premier League match; this seems strange on the face of it, but all three decisions were correct.

Around the Third Round
  • Friday (night): West Ham United v. Manchester City; Olympic Stadium, London
  • Saturday (early): Manchester United v. Reading; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Saturday: Accrington Stanley v. Luton Town; Crown Ground, Accrington
  • Saturday: Barrow v. Rochdale; Furness Building Society Stadium, Barrow-in-Furness
  • Saturday: Birmingham City v. Newcastle United; St. Andrew's, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Blackpool v. Barnsley; Bloomfield Road, Blackpool
  • Saturday: Bolton Wanderers v. Crystal Palace; Macron Stadium, Bolton
  • Saturday: Brentford v. Eastleigh; Griffin Park, London
  • Saturday: Brighton & Hove Albion v. Milton Keynes Dons; American Express Community Stadium, Falmer
  • Saturday: Bristol City v. Fleetwood Town; Ashton Gate Stadium, Bristol
  • Saturday: Everton v. Leicester City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Huddersfield Town v. Port Vale; John Smith's Stadium, Huddersfield
  • Saturday: Hull City v. Swansea City; KCOM Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Saturday: Ipswich Town v. Lincoln City; Portman Road, Ipswich
  • Saturday: Millwall v. Bournemouth; The Den, London
  • Saturday: Norwich City v. Southampton; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Saturday: Queens Park Rangers v. Blackburn Rovers; Loftus Road, London
  • Saturday: Rotherham United v. Oxford United; New York Stadium, Rotherham
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Wolverhampton Wanderers; Bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Burnley; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: Sutton United v. AFC Wimbledon; Borough Sports Ground, London
  • Saturday: Watford v. Burton Albion; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Derby County; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday: Wigan Athletic v. Nottingham Forest; DW Stadium, Wigan
  • Saturday: Wycombe Wanderers v. Stourbridge; Adams Park, High Wycombe
  • Sunday (very early): Cardiff City v. Fulham; Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff
  • Sunday (early): Liverpool v. Plymouth Argyle; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Sunday: Chelsea v. Peterborough United; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Sunday: Middlesbrough v. Sheffield Wedneday; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Sunday (late): Tottenham Hotspur v. Aston Villa; White Hart Lane, London
  • Monday (night): Cambridge United v. Leeds United; Abbey Stadium, Cambridge
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and isn't even Welsh either! You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for a normal amount of consonants and vowels in each word.

Preview by Numbers: Bournemouth v. Arsenal

Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
Tuesday, January 3
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and Simon Bennett
    • 4th Official: Graham Scott
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 3 - 1 Bournemouth
  • This Match, Last Year: Bournemouth 0 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 4 Arsenal wins
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-L-L-W-W
  • Bournemouth's League Form: W-L-W-L-L-W
Well, there is not much more that can be said about Olivier Giroud's goal on Sunday that hasn't already been said, unless I make up a few new words to describe them. That'd be pretty original, wouldn't it?

Condivinious (from the Latin for with divine intervention, or something) scorpion kicks notwithstanding, Arsenal dominated the proceedings against Crystal Palace, even without Mesut Özil pulling the strings in midfield. It was a necessary effort as Arsenal tries to keep pace with the league leaders. They remain nine points back of Chelsea for the top spot in the league now that the season has reached the halfway point. Nine points is doable over 19 matches, but if that number climbs into double digits, then that's a hell of an ask.

Everyone has played everyone else once now (well, six teams have now played six others twice since there were matches yesterday) and the real serious part of the season begins now. Arsenal's title hopes faltered first in January last year, then a second time in March. Draws at Liverpool and Stoke before losing at home to Chelsea were the initial failings that saw Arsenal's ambitions fade, even though losses to Manchester United and Swansea more memorably crushed those hopes, since those followed their "turning point" win over Leicester.

What better way to start the second half of the season than with a potential trap game?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Elneny (Africa Cup,) Debuchy (hamstring,) Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Özil (illness,) Gibbs (knee,) Walcott (calf,) Mertesacker (match fitness,) Welbeck (match fitness)

There has been quite a bit of flux in Arsenal's list of available players as of late. Mesut Özil was a surprise absence on Sunday through illness, and prior to the match, Arsène Wenger made it sound like he was a serious doubt for this trip as well. Arsenal have also been without Kieran Gibbs and Theo Walcott through the holiday period as well, but regained Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey on Sunday, as both came back from hamstring injuries to make appearances from the bench. Shkodran Mustafi also returned to the bench on Sunday, but his presence was not required.

For this match, Arsenal will lose Mohamed Elneny to the Egyptian national team during the Africa Cup of Nations; Egypt's group stage matches are against Mali, Uganda, and Ghana on January 17, 21, and 25 respectively. The tournament runs through February 5, meaning Elneny will miss anywhere between four and seven Arsenal matches, depending on how far Egypt advances as well as whether Arsenal progresses past Preston in the FA Cup.

It's hard to tell how much rotation Arsène Wenger will opt for here, considering they played two days ago, but also have a cup tie against a lower divsion opponent coming up on the horizon. I would guess that Mustafi will return to the XI, as well as Francis Coquelin to replace the absent Elneny. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could push for a start, but I don't know who you remove from the attacking quartet, all of whom played so well against Palace on Sunday. The easiest to slip out would be Lucas Pérez.

Predicted XI: Čech, Bellerín, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Xhaka, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis, Iwobi, Giroud.

Bournemouth Squad News

Out: Wilshere (loan terms,) L. Cook (ankle,) Pugh (hamstring)

Without Jack Wilshere, Bournemouth will likely bring Josh King into the number 10 role. Marc Pugh and Lewis Cook are both unavailable through injury; the former is out with a hamstring injury and could be back at the weekend, while the latter suffered an ankle injury in late October that ruled him out three months.

Callum Wilson, who scored from the penalty spot at the Emirates in November, could push for a return to the starting XI after Arsenal product Benik Afobe started up top against Swansea. 18th century philosopher Adam Smith will push for a start to replace Ryan Fraser in midfield. These substitutions might be a bit harsh, as both Afobe and Fraser scored against Swansea at the weekend.

Predicted XI: Boruć, Francis, S. Cook, Aké, Daniels, Surman, Arter, Smith, Stanislas, King, Wilson.

Current Form

Arsenal look to have righted the ship a little bit after stumbling at the start of the holiday period, but winning your home games is a different story than winning away from the Emirates. Arsenal enter this match still having lost two straight away from home. If there's any light in that statistic, it is that they have scored in 12 consecutive matches away from the Emirates, though they have not kept a clean sheet away from home in their last seven road fixtures across all competitions, dating back to their late smash-and-grab 1-0 against Burnley on October 2. The last club to keep Arsenal from scoring in a road game was Leicester City in that 0-0 draw in August, a result that didn't feel bad at the time, but now looks like two points dropped.

Bournemouth ran out comprehensive 3-0 winners over Swansea in their weekend fixture on Saturday, further burying the Swans at the bottom of the Premier League table. The win snapped a two-match losing streak for the Cherries after they had fallen to Southampton and Chelsea earlier in the holiday period. The run of results leaves Bournemouth at 10th in the league table entering yesterday, behind Southampton on goal difference but level on 24 points. It should be noted that Bournemouth have yet to win consecutive fixtures this season; they have not won consecutive matches in the league since a three-match winning streak in March.

Match Facts

Arsenal won the reverse fixture at the Emirates 3-1 in February. In four meetings between the clubs, it was the first time Bournemouth had scored a goal. Alexis Sánchez opened the scoring on 12 minutes by pouncing on a poorly hit pass from Steve Cook that failed to reach goalkeeper Adam Federici. The Cherries, however, were level from the penalty spot on 23 minutes when Mike Jones ruled that Nacho Monreal fouled Callum Wilson. Arsenal were rattled, but did not concede another, and Theo Walcott scored the go-ahead goal from the back post on 53 minutes. Alexis added his second and Arsenal's third in the 91st minute.

Adam Federici must have nightmares about the Chilean; you'll recall that Federici was Reading's goalkeeper when Alexis scored twice in the 2015 FA Cup Semi-Final, the second coming from a Federici howler in extra time. Back in November, Federici was deputizing in goal for the injured Artur Boruć.

Arsenal won both fixtures against Bournemouth last season by 2-0 scorelines; at the Vitality in February, Mesut Özil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored Arsenal's goals 88 seconds apart.

Before Bournemouth's 2015 promotion to the top flight, the only other meeting between the clubs came in the third round of the 1987/88 League Cup; Arsenal, the League Cup holders at the time, ran out 3-0 winners. They would go all the way to the final for the second consecutive year, where they lost to Luton Town, who were, at the time, a mid-table top flight club (they finished ninth that year.)

The Referee

The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. Oliver gained a large amount of goodwill in Arsenal circles back in March of 2015, when he worked Arsenal's 2-1 FA Cup win against Manchester United at Old Trafford, in which he became one of the first referees I've ever seen to not get fooled by any of United's... duplicity at home.

Oliver has worked two Arsenal matches so far this season, both being rather large home fixtures. He took charge of Arsenal's season-opening 4-3 loss against Liverpool as well as the 3-0 win over Chelsea in September. Prior to the win over Chelsea, however, Arsenal had not won with Oliver as referee since the FA Cup tie at Old Trafford; before the loss to Liverpool, Arsenal had drawn three straight such matches.

This will be Oliver's first Bournemouth match of the season; last year, the Cherries drew both matches in which Oliver was the referee: 1-1 with Watford in October and 0-0 with Crystal Palace on Boxing Day.

Oliver is one of only two Select Group referees to not yet show a red card this season. The other is Kevin Friend.

Around the League
  • Monday: Middlesbrough 0 - 0 Leicester City
  • Monday: Everton 3 - 0 Southampton
  • Monday: Manchester City 2 - 1 Burnley
  • Monday: Sunderland 2 - 2 Liverpool
  • Monday: West Bromwich Albion 3 - 1 Hull City
  • Monday: West Ham United 0 - 2 Manchester United
  • Tuesday: Crystal Palace v. Swansea City; Selhurst Park, London
  • Tuesday: Stoke City v. Watford; Bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Wednesday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Chelsea; White Hart Lane, London

John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and an amateur meteorologist. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for drizzle changing to light snow after midnight in the higher elevations.