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

image: www.themirror.co.uk

Wait, didn’t last season just end?

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOALKEEPERS:

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

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

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

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

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

DEFENSE:

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: www.thefa.com

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

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

MIDFIELD:

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

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

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

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

FORWARDS:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE VERDICT:

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

As for us, third seems about right.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

About the Community Shield

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

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

Arsenal Squad News

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chelsea Squad News

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

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

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

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

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

Preseason Recap

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

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

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

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

Match Facts

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Referee

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

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

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

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