One Thought: Liverpool 4-0 Arsenal

I don't know if there's any better way to sum up...whatever THAT was...then this screengrab of the fourth goal right here.

There are six Arsenal players allegedly defending here, none of whom are doing anything useful against the three attacking players. Two completely unmarked men on the back post, and the cross was allowed to come in virtually uncontested. This is plumbing new depths of incompetence and sub-professionalism.


This is only just the one thought because, as it turns out, I didn't see a solitary minute of this shitshow. Small blessings, and all that. As it turns out, I was spending my time taking a massive step forward in my side career as a referee by taking charge of a preseason friendly in the Cosmopolitan League here in NYC. Awwww, baby's first 11-a-side full-field match. 

I got a little nervous and put the yellow card indicator on the wrong side, but other than that, I did pretty well! 

1. All of that said, as mentioned, I didn't see anything other than the clip of the 4th goal that I pulled the first picture from. I've gotten the general idea though from news reports and the rivers of bile that can be found on Twitter, from fellow Gooner friends, and a forum that I post at. Well, of course, all of that and the other one or two of these we seem to have every season, especially in the early going. This may not be quite the same species as the 8-2, but it damn sure is in the same genus. 

It's looking like it will be a running theme on here for the rest of this season the next two years, but if you're looking for anger and vitriol, you've come to the wrong place. I have completely given myself over to resignation. There's a school of thought where I'm even kind of happy that it's all happening this early - three games is a remarkably efficient amount of time to drown hope and expectation in the bathtub. Don't get it twisted - I'm still going to cheer on my side, I'll still be at the pub most weeks, I'll still do everything I can to keep these write-ups going, win or lose.

I just refuse to let a dysfunctional, incompetently run football club dictate the entire happiness of my life.

I'll never count myself among the number of those who think it's on to hire planes to fly banners, who drop c-bombs towards the manager, that sort of thing. As it turns out, I'm in possession of the normal number of chromosomes. But, there were many of us who were saying years and years ago (respectfully) that change was needed at the top at this football club. Hell, I wrote "Time to Go" on November 23, 2010.  I wrote "Root Causes - A Time to Go Repisal" on February 21, 2012. That was followed by "The Elephant in the Room" towards the end of that season, on July 5, 2012.  At the forum I post at, there's a thread called "Arsene Must Change or Go" - it has accumulated 25,654 posts dating back to April 7, 2007.

There's nothing new under the sun in Arsenal Land, folks.

Perhaps back in 2007, the sentiment was a little short-termist. Arguably in 2010, I was being a tad bit hysterical. I'd say in 2012, I was starting to have a point. That was five years ago.

I go through all of that to make the point that having a go at Player A or Player B or whoever misses the point. Just like many different people have been The Phantom of the Opera and Christine at one point or another, we've had a vast cast of characters performing the same play year in, year out. So, when Aaron Ramsey or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is dawdling back after being caught upfield, when Nacho Monreal or Andre Santos or Gael Clichy lets a cross in uncontested, when the real problem is apparently Granit Xhaka or Denilson or Nicklas Bendtner or Emmanuel Eboue or Gilles some point, what's the one common denominator here?

The people that go after the players the hardest are, I suspect, those who have never played a sport competitively in their lives. Here's the thing, folks. Players are not hard people to figure out. Money is a consideration, of course it is, and moreso than it may have been in days of yore. But, most of these guys got to where they are because they're winners who have a strong desire to win things...or, at least, be on a team that will have a proper go of it. I'm not talking about the journeymen who are just happy to have a Premier League job at West Brom or Crystal Palace or whatever dreck crawled its way out of the Championship. I mean the kinds of players we expect to see at a club like Arsenal.

Players like that will always down tools mentally when they're in a situation where they know that nothing they do will make a difference to whether they can win or not. That's not just human nature, that's simply nature. Shake an ant farm enough times to destroy their tunnels and eventually the ants will die from frustration. Some things are universal. And honestly, spare me the whole thing about they're zillionaires - that may be true, but people are people no matter how much is in their wallet.

Our club is rotten down to the core, and it isn't going to change anytime soon. It's been talked to death about how Arsenal is an accountability-free cult of personality for one man, so there's little point in going over it again. I mean, even the pundits and journos are starting to figure it out, though I decline to hold my breath waiting for the retractions to all those finger-wagging "you ungrateful wretches don't know how good you have it" pieces. The same mistakes and the same mental instability that Gary Neville and Graeme Souness rage about on the telly are the same ones our guys made in 2015, and 2012, and 2010, and 2008, fuck, even in 2000 or 1998. Nothing is new under the sun in Arsenal Land.

Blaming the owner also misses the point, in my estimation. Stan Kroenke may be an evil over-rich chucklefuck with a 1970s shag rug on his head and a terrible porn-star mustache from the same decade, but can we stop acting like the $3 million he took out of the club once or twice was the only thing stopping us from buying players? Can we really stop acting like he's the devious Moriarty mastermind controlling Arsene from the outside? Folks, the man is an absentee landlord. He probably thinks "Bergkamp" is a shipping company in Rotterdam. Again, we are a one-man cult of personality, and it's not the guy who's rich because he married into the Wal-Mart fortune. Get a grip.

Whatever arguments there were for sticking behind this guy have utterly evaporated. Even at his best, he was always one who found talented players and then let them do their thing. That was fine back when 95% of the league thought it was exotic when you brought in a player from Ireland or Wales. It's not hard to work out that playing a bit of football can work against the stout yeomen kicking a pig's bladder between two distant hamlets. 

But, the half-life of that strategy has gotten shorter over the years. Some of it was financing our stadium, some of it was the oligarchs, some of it is everybody else copycatting the stuff about diet and fitness and perhaps signing a player or two from further away than you can throw a rock. We've been sussed out, folks, and we were a long time ago.

Now, everyone else has caught up and most have surpassed us, and what's left is a collection of exceptionally-talented individuals who are arguably the easiest team to play against in all of world football. There is never a Plan B. There is never a neutralization of what the opponent does well. We're a football team on rails. There remains enough individual talent where the floor isn't quite where the Chicken Littles think it is - it's virtually impossible to see us falling further than 7th or 8th. But, for a club of our resources, that's a virtuoso performance of failure. It's like starting a game of Risk with one player already owning four continents but they still somehow lose. 

Despite what I just said above, I don't even know how much of the talent is still going to be here by the time the window closes. There's always been a baseline competence buried somewhere under there, but now we're sending Mustafi out on loan apparently (answers on a postcard about that one, huh, because I've got absolutely nothing), and that may be the tip of the iceberg as far as a mass exodus goes. As I write this, Oxlade-Chamberlain has had a fee agreed with Chelsea (Bye, Felicia...all this is is a domestic remake of selling Hleb to Barcelona...good riddance to overrated rubbish) and Alexis has handed in a transfer request.

We'll see if there's still enough talent to see off the West Broms of the world on that and that alone come September 2nd. 

This was always going to be the end result of this story, though. The man had TWO chances to leave on a high note with the FA Cup, and his stubbornness and vanity wouldn't let him do it. The second that contract was signed, this was always the final destination. Be it thanks to Arsene's imperfections as a human, the spinelessness and incompetence of our board, our absentee landlord, the press covering for him for far far far longer than would seem possible in a world where Frank De Boer might get fired at Palace after THREE FUCKING GAMES, and all the other outside factors I mentioned above, we cannot escape this fate.

So, I won't let them ruin my life. Sod it. I'll enjoy the good moments, because they'll be unexpected. I'll let the rest roll off my back because, at this point, no one at the club has done a single solitary thing to deserve any of my angst. I put a higher price on it than that.

Until the end of the interlull, friends. 

Preview by Numbers: Liverpool v. Arsenal

Anfield, Liverpool
Sunday, August 27
11:00 a.m. EDT, 16:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Martin Atkinson
    • Assistants: Adam Nunn and Steve Child
    • 4th Official: Craig Pawson
  • This Match, Last Year: Liverpool 3 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 79 Arsenal wins, 85 Liverpool wins, 59 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-W // W-L
  • Liverpool's League Form: W-D-W-W // D-W
The shine of Arsenal's season-opening 4-3 win is long gone, replaced by the sense of utter panic and anxiety that can only come from Arsenal losing a 1-0 game that they probably win nine times out of 10. As I said on Twitter as the loss to Stoke came to an end, "Indeed, we are 'doing this again'."

The thing that was so frustrating about the loss at the Potteries was not that it happened or even how it happened. It was the fact that it almost felt inevitable. The fact that we've seen this exact loss so many times before. We've seen it before, we'll see it again. 77% possession doesn't win matches.

So, we go into the final match before the first international break in 11th place. Win at Anfield and the fan base will be buoyed. Lose and we'll see some really weird opinions on social media.

I know which of those futures I'd prefer to live through. How about you?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Wilshere (match fitness,) Cazorla (ankle)

For one of the first times ever that I can remember, the Arsenal team news largely consists of players who are available again, rather than players who are out. Exciting times!

Laurent Koscielny returns from his three match suspension and will be available at center back again. This should mean that we can start playing our defenders in their correct positions, as Stoke's goal last week took advantage of Nacho Monreal playing much farther to the right than usual. Meanwhile, Arsène Wenger was oddly cryptic regarding a potential sale of Shkodran Mustafi on the horizon, which doesn't make a lot of sense to begin with, seeing as Gabriel was sold last week. Unless we're going to switch to a new-fangled "one at the back" formation...

Alexis Sánchez should also make his first appearance of the season in an Arsenal jersey. Reports indicate that Manchester City are readying some sort of nominal bid before the transfer window closes, though they are pessimistic that such a bid would be accepted.

You may have heard that Jack Wilshere was sent off from an Under-23s match on Monday, though that ban does not apply to first team games. It's not like we were going to see Wilshere on Sunday, anyway.

It hasn't been mentioned much this summer, but with the transfer window closing before the next preview I feel I should mention that Joel Campbell is out with a long-term knee injury suffered on international duty this summer.

Predicted XI: Čech, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Bellerín, Kolašinac, Xhaka, Ramsey, Özil, Alexis, Lacazette.

Liverpool Squad News

Out: Clyne (hamstring,) Lallana (thigh,) Bogdan (knee)
Doubts: Coutinho ("back")

Philippe Coutinho remains "out" with a "back problem" that has also been called "illness" and should remain out until his transfer saga ends. Barcelona lodged a fourth bid for the Brazilian playmaker this week, this one worth £138 million and all of the diamonds in Siberia. The fact that Liverpool have not sold has led to pundits taking the angle that the club is "serious about their ambitions" this season. Again, that's all down to #narrative.

Adam Lallana suffered a thigh injury in early August that will keep him out for a few months. Nathaniel Clyne is most likely out as he rehabs a hamstring injury. Third-string goalkeeper Ádám Bogdán, whose name has more accent marks than I thought at first, is out with a serious knee injury.

Predicted XI: Mignolet, Gomez, Matip, Klavan, Robertson, Wijnaldum, Henderson, Can, Mané, Firmino, Sturridge.

Current Form

Arsenal's form went from A-OK to A-O-The-Sky-Is-Falling in a single week, which sounds about right and isn't surprising at all.

So, let's talk about Liverpool's form so far. On opening day, the Reds played a wild 3-3 draw at Watford in which Miguel Britos equalized late for the Hornets. A week later, Sadio Mané had the only goal in a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace. Meanwhile, Liverpool faced Hoffenheim in the Champions League playoff qualifier, winning 2-1 in Baden-Württemberg in the first leg and 4-2 at Anfield in the second. Now, Hoffenheim drop to the Europa League, where they lurk in Pot 3 to inevitably draw Arsenal.

Match Facts

Liverpool won both meetings against Arsenal last season, which was a big component of their finishing fourth place to Arsenal's fifth by a single point in the league table.

This will be the third year in a row in which Arsenal and Liverpool are meeting in the month of August, though their last two August meetings took place at the Emirates. Arsenal opened the season against Liverpool last year and, unlike this year's opening match, lost 4-3. Theo Walcott had an early penalty saved but opened the scoring in the 31st minute anyway. Philippe Coutinho hit an unstoppable free kick just before the break to equalize at halftime. Adam Lallana, Coutinho again, and Sadio Mané made Liverpool's lead 4-1 by the 63rd minute. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Calum Chambers pulled goals back for the hosts, but Arsenal could not find the equalizer.

At Anfield in February, Roberto Firmino put Liverpool up 1-0 on just nine minutes and Mané doubled the lead before halftime. Danny Welbeck pulled a goal back in the 57th minute, but again, Arsenal could not find the equalizer. Georginio Wijnaldum made it 3-1 in the 90th.

The two clubs split their two league encounters the year before, meaning Arsenal have not beaten Liverpool in four tries, dating back to April 4, 2015. In that season, Liverpool snatched a late equalizer in their meeting at Anfield, meaning Arsenal have not beaten Liverpool at Anfield since September 2, 2012.

The Referee

The referee is West Yorkshire-based Martin Atkinson. Arsenal do not historically have a good record with Atkinson in the middle; for example, he was the referee for Arsenal's 3-1 loss at Stamford Bridge in which he allowed Chelsea's opening goal while Hector Bellerín was getting elbowed in the head. He also took charge of a 2-1 loss to Manchester City, as well as wins over Sunderland and West Ham. So, in total, a split for Arsenal in last year's four matches with Atkinson, though those two losses were each pretty damaging at the time.

For Liverpool last year, Atkinson was in the middle for two league wins, over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and Middlesbrough on the final day of the regular season, as well as a League Cup loss to Southampton. That match was the second leg of the semifinal; Southampton led the tie 1-0 already, but sealed it with a late Shane Long goal to win the match 1-0 and the tie 2-0. The Saints, of course, went on to lose the final to Manchester United.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Bournemouth v. Manchester City; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Swansea City; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Huddersfield Town v. Southampton; John Smith's Stadium, Huddersfield
  • Saturday: Newcastle United v. West Ham United; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: Watford v. Brighton & Hove Albion; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Saturday (late): Manchester United v. Leicester City; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Sunday (early): Chelsea v. Everton; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Sunday (early): West Bromwich Albion v. Stoke City; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Sunday (late): Tottenham Hotspur v. Burnley; Wembley Stadium, London
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a subdivision of musical set theory. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for harmonic triads.

Five Thoughts: Stoke City 1-0 Arsenal

Photo: BPI/Shutterstock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preview by Numbers: Stoke City v. Arsenal

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

So, uh, yeah, let's win.

Arsenal Squad News

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stoke City Squad News

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

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

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

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

Current Form

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

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

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

Match Facts

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

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

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

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

The Referee

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

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

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

Around the League

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

Ten Thoughts: Arsenal 4-3 Leicester City

Photo: Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Leicester City

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

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

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

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

Arsenal Squad News

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leicester City Squad News

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

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

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

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

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

Last Season in Review

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

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

Match Facts

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

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

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

The Referee

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

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

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

Around the League

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

2017-18 Arsenal Season Preview


Wait, didn’t last season just end?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for us, third seems about right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Community Shield

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

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

Arsenal Squad News

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chelsea Squad News

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

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

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

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

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

Preseason Recap

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

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

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

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

Match Facts

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Referee

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

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

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

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