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.

Preview by Numbers: Tottenham Hotspur v. Arsenal

White Hart Lane, London
Sunday, April 30
11:30 a.m. EDT, 16:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Simon Bennett and Jake Collin
    • 4th Official: Andre Marriner
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 1 - 1 Tottenham
  • This Match, Last Year: Tottenham 2 - 2 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 75 Arsenal wins, 55 Tottenham wins, 49 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-D-W-L-W-W
  • Tottenham's League Form: W-W-W-W-W-W
It's times like these when you have to remember that all wins count the same. Wednesday's ugly-as-all-hell 1-0 win over Leicester City gave Arsenal consecutive wins in the league for the first time in three months (January 14 and 22 over Swansea and Burnley.) With it, Arsenal's odds of finishing in the Champions League places improved from 7.3% to 11.2%. It's a start!

We're down to six cup finals to go before the FA Cup Final and there may be no bigger fixture on the list than this one, Arsenal's final trip to White Hart Lane to face a Tottenham side that have won eight on the bounce in league play. An Arsenal win here will not only boost their own odds of finishing this year decently, but it will also seriously dent Tottenham's challenge for the title, which still has a 16% chance of happening.

They say form goes out the window in a derby, but let's hope Arsenal can retain some of the confidence that would naturally have come from finally remembering how to win football matches.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Pérez (thigh,) Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Koscielny (knee,) Mustafi (thigh,) Ospina (back)

Arsenal will have to sweat over the fitness of Laurent Koscielny, who buckled late in the second half against Leicester on Wednesday after jumping to head the ball, without any pressure from a player around him. Shkodran Mustafi remains a doubt with a thigh problem as well, meaning Arsenal may have to choose from a slew of secondary options to fill out the middle of their backline, whether it comprise three players or four. I'm optimistic about Koscielny, though, as he was able to finish the match.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had a foot problem between the FA Cup tie and the Leicester City game but made the bench on Wednesday, so I would expect he's fit again to start. It's as you were with the rest of the players: Santi Cazorla's season appears done, Lucas Pérez remains a mystery, and David Ospina may or may not be close to returning, though he'll only make the bench anyway.

I suppose there's some question over who you start at center forward: Arsène Wenger had been using Olivier Giroud since switching formations, then played Theo Walcott in a fit of rotation on Wednesday. Danny Welbeck is certainly an option, too.

Who gives you the better look against a Tottenham side that also plays three at the back? I have to say, it looked like the way Arsenal played against Leicester, they were desperately in need of a man to pump crosses to, not a speedster like Theo.

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

Tottenham Squad News

Out: Lamela (hip,) Winks (ankle,) Vorm (knee,) Carter-Vickers (knee)
Doubts: Rose (match fitness,) Dembélé (ankle)

Danny Rose, who first made his name in his fixture in 2010 when he scored a bullet from distance after Manuel Almunia punched out a cross and now I'm rambling... anyway, Rose has not featured since January due to a knee injury. Reports seem to indicate that he'll be back for this one.

Mousa Dembélé, who drew the penalty that led to Spurs' goal in the reverse fixture, was removed at halftime from their 1-0 win over Crystal Palace on Wednesday with an ankle problem. That moves him into the "doubts" category here as well.

There are four players out for Tottenham, including backup goalkeeper Michel Vorm, Erik Lamela, who hasn't played since October, and two younger talents, Harry Winks, whose season is over through ankle ligament damage, and Cameron Carter-Vickers, out with a knee injury.

Predicted XI: Lloris, Alderweireld, Dier, Vertonghen, Walker, Rose, Dembélé, Wanywama, Dele, Eriksen, Kane.

Current Form

Arsenal have won three straight (yes, yes, one needed extra time, but psychologically speaking, you can call it a win) for the first time since January when they won four in a row across all competitions. It's hard to even imagine that Arsenal's 19-game unbeaten run from August to November was even this season. Still, it's something to build on as Arsenal push for a return to the top four.

Tottenham's league record, on the other hand, has been perfect for almost three months. The last time Spurs dropped points in a Premier League fixture was February 11 at Anfield. Since then, it's eight wins from eight, over Stoke, Everton, Southampton, Burnley, Swansea, Watford, Bournemouth, and Crystal Palace. That explains how they've cut the gap to four points at the top. Following this fixture, they'll still have to play West Ham at the Olympic Stadium, Manchester United in the final game at White Hart Lane, Leicester City at the King Power, and Hull City, who might still be fighting for their Premier League survival, on the final day of the regular season on Humberside.

As for Chelsea's remaining schedule in the title race, they play at Everton on Sunday, then are home to Middlesbrough, travel to West Brom, then host Watford and Sunderland at the Bridge to close out the season. It seems unlikely that the Blues would fail to win those home games, meaning Spurs would need Chelsea to drop points from both of their road fixtures.

Match Facts

At White Hart Lane on March 16, 2014, Tomáš Rosický slammed in a goal after 72 seconds and Arsenal hung on for dear life for the remaining 88 minutes as the Gunners escaped the North London derby with a 1-0 win, their third win in three matches of Spurs that season. Since that match, Arsenal have failed to beat Tottenham in the league, winning only their third round League Cup tie in 2015 by a 2-1 scoreline, as Mathieu Flamini, of all people, scored twice.

In the reverse fixture at the Emirates in November, Arsenal blew a 1-0 halftime lead to draw 1-1. It was the venerable own goal that put Arsenal on the board back then, as Kevin Wimmer directed the ball into his own net on 42 minutes. Spurs equalized from the penalty spot in the second half after Laurent Koscielny tripped Mousa Dembélé in the box. It was the first time Mark Clattenburg had ever given a penalty against Arsenal.

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

Since Arsenal's 3-1 win in 2007, the Gunners have lost four league fixtures at the Lane, drawn three, and won just once.

The Referee

The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. Arsenal's history with Michael Oliver is a bit of a reversal from the usual situation with referees: normally, you only remember the calls that go against you and don't realize how good your record is with certain refs. Case in point, Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 10 games with Anthony Taylor and, way back when, never lost a home game with Howard Webb in charge.

With Oliver, people will always remember that FA Cup quarterfinal at Old Trafford when he didn't get duped by any of United's tactical falling. They'll remember the 3-0 win over Chelsea earlier this year when he didn't put up with any of Diego Costa's tactics, too.

They won't come to realize that Arsenal's record overall with Oliver is quite poor. They won't remember that he was the referee that sent off Coquelin from this fixture last year, then failed to send off Eric Dier for a second yellow card offense later in the same match. They won't realize he was the referee for the season opening loss to Liverpool, the damaging 3-3 draw at Bournemouth, or the 3-0 loss at Crystal Palace earlier this month.

They won't realize Arsenal's league record with Michael Oliver currently stands at three wins, seven draws, and seven losses.

Spurs, on the other hand, have 10 wins, five draws, and six losses in league games involving Oliver. They've won four out of five with him this year, beating Crystal Palace, Watford, Everton, and Bournemouth; the other match was a 2-1 loss at Chelsea in November.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Hull City; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. West Ham United; Bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Bournemouth; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Leicester City; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday (late): Crystal Palace v. Burnley; Selhurst Park, London
  • Sunday (very early): Manchester United v. Swansea City; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Sunday (early): Everton v. Chelsea; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Sunday (early): Middlesbrough v. Manchester City; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Monday (night): Watford v. Liverpool; Vicarage Road, Watford
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is made of candy. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for calorie information.

Five Thoughts: Arsenal 1-0 Leicester City

An eye-bleeding 1-0 win from a jammy deflected own-goal off of someone's face? WHAT YEAR IS IT? (Hence the five thoughts instead of ten - hell, if you can come up with five more out of this dreck then fair play to you.)

1. The manager rightly stuck with the 3-4-3, but this was a sort of experimental-jazz version of it. Hector Bellerin (thankfully sans those war-crime braids) was back in the team, Kieran Gibbs was in, shuffling Nacho Monreal to the left side of the central defensive three. Theo Walcott played in the central striker role, while Francis Coquelin deputized for Aaron Ramsey.

Nothing came off on the attacking side of things, but I think I get where Arsene was coming from. Leicester had one or two chances, but they didn't look to me like they were all that interested in coming out of their shell long enough to even try their usual lightning-counter thing. My suspicion is that Wenger was hoping to counter the counters, for lack of a better term. Walcott's pace would be perfect for that, and a rested Bellerin would also be more suited to that then a perhaps-tired Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Because the Foxes camped out in their half of the field, Walcott became a peripheral figure and it was soon right back to the endless sideways-passing thing that makes me want to jam a railroad spike into my eye.

2. I'm not kidding, you can count the true chances in this game on the fingers of one hand. Petr Cech had to be sharp in the first half to tip over a Riyad Mahrez shot, after a Stoke-ian long throw from Robert Huth caused panic in our area. Walcott had a tame shot saved by Kasper Schmeichel. Alexis hit the bar in first-half stoppage time with a thunderbastard of a shot. Granit Xhaka took a shot that deflected off a defender, forcing Schmeichel to change direction and paw it away. Gabriel made a fabulous sliding block to prevent a 2-on-1 from Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki.

That's five, by my count. I'm not including the goal, as really that was just a blind bit of luck more than an actual chance.

What a *dreadful* game.

3. Leicester didn't attack much during the game, but when they did we utterly failed to break at pace to punish them. Coquelin was part of the problem, although Ramsey was just as guilty of the needless backwards pass once he came on. I keep harping on the idea that a formation is only as good as the execution of all of its various components - we theoretically could counter effectively in this set-up, but the hesitancy that has pockmarked our campaign all year seems to not be so easily unlearned.

Beyond that, once it does get into attack-vs-defense as it so often has this season, I just wish that we moved more dynamically. Have guys switch wings, get the forwards moving around, try and open up gaps. We're so static, it's unbelievable. Especially on a day like today, a big lummox like Huth is not going to be comfortable trying to track mobile forwards.

Just as I praised Arsene for sticking to his guns at the weekend, here I think he could have made changes a little earlier.

4. When they did come though, they were the right ones. There was no need for the spare defender and a specialist defensive midfielder with Leicester refusing to stick their heads above the parapet. So, off came Theo, Coquelin and Gibbs, on came Ramsey, Danny Welbeck and Olivier Giroud. We moved back to the standard back four, and while the chances didn't flow from there I'd argue that we were at least a little more fluent on the ball and kept the Foxes pinned back further than they might have been.

Perhaps that might have been a factor late on, as Leicester tired and mistakes crept in. A late Alexis cross was only half-cleared by Wilfred Ndidi, and Monreal was able to volley it back into the mixer. Something broke our way for once, as it went off of Huth's face and in. Magic.

5. Finally, my god Alexis, have a little respect for yourself. Yes, Huth is a giant shitbag and how he escaped a yellow for deliberately throwing the ball into Sanchez's face, I'll never know. Still, to wait two or three full seconds before going down clutching your face? Fuck outta here, man, this isn't Serie A.

Right, so this isn't one that we're going to make a DVD of or anything (though the nearest and dearest might for their lucky escape against a bang average Crystal Palace side - goddamn they've been good five minutes and they're insufferable already...do it for two bloody decades and then get back to me you absolute muppets). But, we're starting to make United, City and Liverpool hear a few footsteps, and given that they will take some points off of each other just due to the schedule alone, maybe top four isn't so ridiculous after all. It didn't seem like it a few weeks back, but we may have stumbled into a formation that gives us enough structure to do it.

There's the small matter of the North London Derby before that though, and naturally that's going to be a significantly sterner examination of the new formation than a putrid Boro team and a Foxes side doing its best Punxatawney Phil impersonation. I'd say we can be just objective enough in this parish to admit that they're legitimately dangerous, even if they aren't the reincarnation of Brazil 1970 like their deluded supporters would have you believe.

Still, we're going to see if the recent upturn in form from Gabriel, Monreal, Cech, and others will be enough to withstand a tough opponent in top form, never mind in the cauldron of Shite Hart Lane. My hope is that Rob Holding is fit enough to play, that Coquelin is nowhere near the starting XI, and that either Alexis or Giroud plays up top. I think we can do it but it's going to be a big ask.

I'm well up for it, though...much more so than I would have been a few weeks ago. Arsenal Twitter may still be a ridiculous cesspool, but hopefully the atmosphere in the dressing room has improved enough for us to give it a right old go.

Man of the Match:  Gabriel

Man of the Match for Manchester City Cause I Forgot: Nacho Monreal

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Leicester City

Emirates Stadium, London
Wednesday, April 26
2:45 p.m. EDT, 19:45 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Jones
    • Assistants: Andy Garratt and Mark Scholes
    • 4th Official: Bobby Madley
  • Reverse Fixture: Leicester City 0 - 0 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 2 - 1 Leicester City
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 63 Arsenal wins, 28 Leicester wins, 45 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-L-D-W-L-W
  • Leicester City's League Form: W-W-W-W-L-D
Arsenal won the FA Cup Semi-Final, WTF?! Given how the last month of Arsenal football has played out, I have to say I was a little surprised that Arsenal came away victorious. Perhaps I should not have been so pessimistic, but let's face it, there wasn't much reason for optimism, was there?

There'll be plenty of time to obsess over the final over the next month, but Arsenal have to turn their attention to their seven other cup finals between now and then. The Gunners are presently seventh in the table, but have one to three games in hand on all of the teams ahead of them. This is one of those games in hand.

Sports Club Stats puts Arsenal's odds of a top four finish at a paltry 7.31%. But, if they run the table and manage 21 points from the remaining 21, their odds of qualification, while not guaranteed, are still 99.6%. So, there's everything still to play for and maybe some confidence coming back as well.

Three points at a time; let's see where we end up in a month.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Pérez (thigh,) Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Oxlade-Chamberlain (foot,) Mustafi (thigh,) Ospina (back)

Arsenal will only have two days rest after playing extra time against Manchester City, while Leicester City have not played since April 18. Not ideal for the Gunners and, as such, Arsène Wenger was vague when speaking about who was available and who wasn't during yesterday's presser.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain reportedly left Wembley on crutches "for precautionary reasons" after taking a kick to the foot. Elsewhere in the squad, I'm not sure if Shkodran Mustafi is available again, as he's missed a few weeks now with a thigh problem. David Ospina could remain out with a back problem; he was not on the bench for the cup tie.

Hector Bellerín, still dealing with a chronic ankle problem, has been withheld from the starting XI as of late, but came off the bench in extra time on Sunday. If the Ox can't start, Bellerín might be the best candidate for the right wingback position, should Wenger choose to retain the 3-4-3 formation.

I'd be curious if there will be further rotation as well, given the fixture congestion; Arsenal have the North London derby ahead on Sunday to keep in mind, but they don't exactly have the luxury of prioritizing one fixture over another right now. The points all count the same.

Predicted XI: Čech, Gabriel, Koscielny, Holding, Bellerín, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Özil, Alexis, Welbeck.

Leicester City Squad News

Out: Wagué (shoulder,) Mendy (ankle,) Slimani (groin)
Doubts: Morgan (hamstring)

Center back and captain Wes Morgan was forced off from Leicester's second leg Champions League tie against Atlético Madrid, which was the Foxes' last match, with a hamstring problem. However, that match was already 10 days ago, so it's entirely possible the Jamaican international will be able to return straight to the starting XI.

Islam Slimani has reportedly been ruled out with a groin injury. Nampalys Mendy needed surgery for an ankle injury and his season has been ruled over. Molla Wagué, on loan from Udinese, made only one appearance for the club before picking up an injury and remains out with a dislocated shoulder.

Predicted XI: Schmeichel, Simpson, Huth, Morgan, Fuchs, Ndidi, Drinkwater, Albrighton, Mahrez, Okazaki, Vardy.

Current Form

I suppose this is the match that will dictate whether or not the ship has been righted. Arsenal had lost seven of 12 matches before switching to three at the back, then beat Middlesbrough 2-0 and Manchester City 2-1, the latter requiring more than the standard 90 minutes. But a win against Leicester City would go a long way towards proving that things are maybe okay again, possibly.

On February 23, Leicester City were in a stretch where they had lost five straight in the Premier League, been knocked out of the FA Cup by Millwall, and lost the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie to Sevilla. With relegation suddenly looming for the champions, Claudio Ranieri was relieved of his duties and replaced by Craig Shakespeare.

Since then, the Foxes won five straight in the league, though have now gone winless in two. They recovered to beat Sevilla on aggregate, but lost to Atlético Madrid in the quarterfinals. In spite of all of this turnaround, Leicester have only won once away from home since January 7. They're only six points clear of relegation, but have two games in hand.

Match Facts

Leicester have not beaten Arsenal in their last 22 tries, dating back to a 2-1 win on November 23, 1994. The Foxes did, however, advance past Arsenal via a penalty shootout in the 2000 FA Cup fourth round, after consecutive 0-0 draws.

In the reverse fixture, played in the second week of the season, the clubs played a 0-0 draw at the King Power Stadium. Mark Clattenburg denied Leicester two possible penalties, including one in second half injury time.

Arsenal, of course, won both meetings against the champions last season; they were two of Leicester's three losses during all of last season. In this corresponding fixture last season, Arsenal won 2-1. Jamie Vardy scored the opener from the penalty spot after it appeared he initiated the contact with Nacho Monreal in the box. Because football is a subjective sport, subject to the narrative of the person covering the game, this was deemed "clever" by most pundits.

Martin Atkinson gave a bit of a make-up call after halftime, sending off Danny Simpson a bit harshly after two yellow cards. Theo Walcott equalized in the 70th minute and Danny Welbeck, returning from months out injured, scored a dramatic winner at the death. Arsenal pulled within two points of Leicester with 12 games to play with that win, then proceeded to lose two in a row and never challenged for the title again.

The Referee

The referee is Chester-based Mike Jones. Arsenal have seen Jones twice so far this year, for their 3-1 win over Bournemouth in late November and their 4-0 win at Swansea in January. I thought I recalled him making a number of dubious decisions in the Bournemouth match, so I went back to my Swansea preview to see what I had had to say about it three months ago. Turns out, all I had said was "Jones did not have a great match that day, however, giving the Cherries a pretty borderline penalty in the first half." That's boring.

Arsenal won three out of four matches with Jones in the middle last season and their last loss with Jones came in 2014 at Stoke City, which the Potters won 1-0 on a borderline penalty for a Laurent Koscielny handball.

Leicester City have seen Jones only once so far this season, for an FA Cup tie against Derby County, which the Foxes won 3-1.

Jones also worked this corresponding fixture two years ago, which Arsenal won 2-1.

Around the League
  • Tuesday: Chelsea 4 - 2 Southampton
  • Wednesday: Middlesbrough v. Sunderland; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Wednesday: Crystal Palace v. Tottenham Hotspur; Selhurst Park, London
  • Thursday: Manchester City v. Manchester United; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a public high school. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for badly needing funding.

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

Photo: Football 365

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arsenal Squad News

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

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

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

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

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

Manchester City Squad News

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

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

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

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

Current Form

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

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

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

Match Facts

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

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

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

The Referee

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

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

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

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

Ten Thoughts: Middlesbrough 1-2 Arsenal

Photo:  @hughwizzy

Nice one, Alexis. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preview by Numbers: Middlesbrough v. Arsenal

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

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

Echte Liebe.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Arsenal Squad News

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

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

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

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

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

Middlesbrough Squad News

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

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

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

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

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

Current Form

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

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

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

Match Facts

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

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

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

The Referee

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

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

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

Around the League

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

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

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

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

Five More Thoughts: Crystal Palace 3-0 Arsenal

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

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

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

3. Submitted without further comment:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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