Preview by Numbers: Sutton United v. Arsenal, FA Cup Fifth Round


Gander Green Lane, London
Monday, February 20
2:55 p.m. EST, 19:55 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Simon Long and Sian Massey-Ellis
    • 4th Official: Andy Davies
  • All-Time in All Competitions: First competitive meeting
  • Arsenal's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Preston North End, 2-1
    • Fourth Round: Beat Southampton, 5-0
  • Sutton's Path Here
    • Fourth Qualifying Round: Beat Forest Green Rovers, 2-1
    • First Round: Beat Dartford, 6-3
    • Second Round: Beat Cheltenham Town, 2-1
    • Third Round: Drew AFC Wimbledon, 0-0; won replay, 3-1
    • Fourth Round: Beat Leeds United, 1-0
  • Arsenal's Premier League Form: D-W-W-L-L-W
  • Sutton's National League Form: W-L-W-D-L-L

No. God, Arsenal, why? I don't want to. Why would your Website even post this?

So now, the last two times Arsenal have won their Champions League group, they have gone on the road for the first leg of the Round of 16 and lost by four clear goals. That is literally insane. And that's the classic cliché, Einstein's definition of insanity, no? Doing the same thing over again in the same way and expecting different results.

It probably wasn't actually Einstein who originated that saying, but the meaning is clear. It's getting a bit exhausting to talk about it. In my preview for Wednesday's match, I opened with a selection of Arsène Wenger quotes from each of Arsenal's six first leg losses dating back to 2010, saying that it only takes 90 minutes to change history. Apparently, it also only takes 11 minutes for Bayern to score three and solidify the prevailing narrative.

So here we are, 10 points out of first in the league and one foot out of Europe in February, again. The FA Cup again looks like Arsenal's only legitimate chance at silverware, but does it even matter? Will it change anything? We're past the trophy drought years now, another FA Cup title isn't going to mask this club's failings anymore. They're all too clear now to hide any longer.

Arsenal Squad News

We need more Jeff! Hi Jeff!
I think the most damning statistic from Wednesday night's loss is one Sean mentioned in his recap: Mesut Özil won more challenges than holding midfielder Francis Coquelin. That is an indictment on the Frenchman, a player who, in my opinion, has looked nothing but second best since returning, possibly too quickly, from injury in January. He must be dropped, in my opinion. On Monday, I'd play Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka; the latter needs minutes after serving that four match ban.

Cup keeper David Ospina should retain his place between the sticks and he deserves to. If it weren't for him, we'd be talking about a much worse loss right now. Laurent Koscielny's injury obviously caused a lot of damage for the Arsenal backline, clearly showing how important he is to the squad. As such, he can't be risked here. At the same time, Gabriel needs to be dropped for a bit, too. Ditto Kieran Gibbs; I can't fathom why he started over Nacho Monreal on Wednesday.

In the forward quartet, Wenger would be well advised to select some players who might do something with the opportunity. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was poor on the wing on Wednesday, but has excelled centrally as of late. Danny Welbeck needs a start. Lucas Pérez should start, if he's fit.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Jeff Reine-Adélaïde have appeared in each of Arsenal's previous FA Cup ties this year, the former having started both.

Sutton Squad News

Craig Eastmond, pictured here in 2010 against Shakhtar
Donetsk, made 10 appearances for the Gunners.
Eastmond had an own goal in this, a 2-1 loss.
It can be difficult to find team news for some Championship sides, let alone National League's Sutton United. I scoured their website as much as I could, but couldn't tell you who's carrying an injury or who's unavailable.

That said, their squad does include four products of Arsenal's academy you might remember. The most prominent is Craig Eastmond, who was part of the academy squad that won the double in 2009 (that's the FA Youth Cup and Premier League Academy.) Francis Coquelin and Jack Wilshere were both on that cup winning squad. Eastmond made 10 first team appearances before leaving Arsenal.

The other three are Jack Jebb, who Sutton signed earlier this month, Roarie Deacon, and Jeffrey Monakana, all midfielders.

Current Form

They look just like us!
Regarding Arsenal, well, they've lost three of they're... you know, they ((trails off mumbling incoherently))

Sutton! How about Sutton!? How are they doing? Well, they are 17th in the National League, which is England's fifth tier, which means out of all of the clubs in England, they are 109th. Since Sutton are a non-league side, they are obviously ineligible for the League Cup, but they are involved in the FA Trophy, which consists of sides from tiers five through eight. That said, they were eliminated from this competition in the third round proper (the round of 16) in a replay against Boreham Wood, 5-0.

Since the start of the third round proper in the FA Cup, Sutton have not won a league fixture. They lost to Braintree, drew Eastleigh, then lost to Solihill Moors and Guiseley. The latter match was played on Tuesday, in which Guiseley scored an injury time winner.

Match Facts

Pascal Cygan goes in for a challenge against Farnborough
in 2003. With the match moving to Highbury, Arsenal had to
wear their change kit at home, since it was considered an
away game.
Lincoln City and Sutton United are the eighth and ninth non-league teams since World War II to qualify for the fifth round proper of the FA Cup; no non-league team has advanced past this stage in the modern era. This is the first time two non-league clubs have reached this point in the competition in 129 years. Only Blyth Spartans, in 1978, forced a replay, thereby getting their name in the sixth round draw; incidentally, they would have played Arsenal if they had won the replay against Wrexham.

Arsenal have never played Sutton United before; the last time the Gunners faced a non-league side (which, of course, can only happen in the FA Cup,) it was Farnborough Town in 2003's fourth round. The FA had to move that match to Highbury from Cherrywood Road due to safety concerns and Arsenal ran out 5-1 winners. Arsenal went on to win the FA Cup against Southampton that May.

The Referee

Was Arsenal's 3-3 at Bournemouth a good result or a bad
result, I don't even remember anymore.
The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. Arsenal have seen Oliver three times this season, with mixed results. Oliver was in the middle when Arsenal lost to Liverpool 4-3 on the opening day of the season, but he also worked the 3-0 win over Chelsea at the Emirates in September. Arsenal last saw Oliver at Bournemouth in January, in which Arsenal came from 3-0 down to draw 3-3.

This will be the fifth FA Cup tie Oliver has worked for Arsenal; the Gunners have advanced from all four previous ties. Oddly, two of them were against Brighton & Hove Albion, first in 2013 and again in 2015. He also worked the 2014 semi-final penalty shootout win over Wigan and, of course, the 2015 sixth round tie at Old Trafford.

You wouldn't know it from all the memorable wins he has worked, but Arsenal have a terrible record overall with Oliver. In 22 matches all-time with Michael Oliver as the referee, Arsenal have a record of eight wins, eight draws, and six losses. They have just three wins from 16 league games. They are winless away from the Emirates with Oliver in the league, but this isn't a league game, so at least that's not relevant now.

The records I can find of Oliver's matches only go back to 2006, so they don't include the time he spent working outside of the Football League, but unless he worked a Conference South match in 2005/06, it doesn't look like he's ever taken charge of a Sutton United match before.

Around the Fifth Round
  • Saturday (early): Burnley v. Lincoln City; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Huddersfield Town v. Manchester City; John Smith's Stadium, Huddersfield
  • Saturday: Middlesbrough v. Oxford United; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Saturday: Millwall v. Leicester City; The Den, London
  • Saturday (late): Wolverhampton Wanderers v. Chelsea; Molineux, Wolverhampton
  • Sunday (early): Fulham v. Tottenham Hotspur; Craven Cottage, London
  • Sunday (late): Blackburn Rovers v. Manchester United; Ewood Park, Blackburn

Arsenal NYC are thrilled to announce that we will be hosting Arsenal and Ireland legend Liam Brady for a wide-ranging discussion about football past and present, followed by a Q&A session. The event is February 25 at 1:00 p.m. at Barleycorn and tickets are available here.

--
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is about to take a vacation. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, though he often does not tweet from vacation.

Ten Thoughts: Bayern Munich 5-1 Arsenal

To quote the great American poet Bizarre: "My DJ's in a coma for letting the record skip....letting the record skip....letting the record skip....."



Yep, I'm at the point where I'm amusing myself with D-12 lyrics because, really, what else is there to do? What's the point of even getting mad about this stuff anymore? I just said on Twitter that I have literally no anger left, and I mean it. Even the most optimistic Gooner had to have given it a 50-50 shot of this happening beforehand, right on down to the manner in which it did.

Late-Stage Wenger's Arsenal has a single epitaph: High-end football, but *predictably* so.



1. I'm going to do all 10 thoughts, but this is the only one that matters...the genesis of everything I'm going to say in the other 9: This is all - ALL - on Arsene.

I have honestly tried to not harp on the subject too much this season because, well, we all know it's the case, and we all know it's not going to change. I half-expect him to sign a two-year extension tomorrow because, really, do you see this board as capable of sourcing a replacement? I sure as shit don't.

Everything from the team selection to the substitutions to the tactics and pre-match preparation were all wrong and/or inadequate. More than anything else, a few comeback wins over mid-table dreck does not and has never indicated this fabled mental strength he loves to go on and on about. Our resistance, such as it was, lasted exactly 11 minutes. Even when we were given a gift for the equalizer (more on that in a second), we fell to pieces at the first inkling of adversity - that being when Laurent Koscielny hobbled off injured in the 47th minute.

By way of contrast, look at what Benfica did yesterday. Keep in mind that this is a club with almost no competition in their domestic league - even Porto and Sporting are desperately out of sorts this season - and who have just sold several key players within the last two transfer windows. They are mostly kids who will in turn be sold in the next few windows (Ederson, Andrija Zivkovic, Victor Lindelof, etc) or cast-offs from other places (Kostas Mitrogolou, Jonas, Raul Jimenez). You would be forgiven for thinking that they could just take their beating, shrug their shoulders and then go back to tonking whatever Pacos de Ferreria is.

But, man, they fought like absolute demons for every second of every minute of that game. As poorly as Dortmund played, they couldn't be faulted in the effort stakes, either. It was a real, proper, blood-and-thunder European tie and to be honest with you, I was wracked with jealousy watching it. Goddamn, imagine an Arsenal team with as much talent as we have fighting even 1/10th as hard as the Eagles did yesterday. We'd fucking rip teams apart...good teams, too.

One other contrast: Barcelona played just about as poorly as we did today, and they're about ready to fire their coach - maybe into the sun, with a rocket. As much as I loathe that club with every fiber of my being, they are doing what any sane, rational club would in that case. Take the game, analyze it, determine that it's not good enough, and take tangible steps towards correcting it...or, hell, at least *trying* to correct it.

Here's the thing, and this the last I'll say of this, I swear. It is absolutely possible to simultaneously believe that Arsene Wenger is a legend of the club, one of the best managers of all time, and that we're lucky to have had him......and ALSO that his time is up, the sport has passed him by, and we have been crying out for a change for at least the last 4-5 years. He's clung on far, far, far too long and I'm sorry that it's gotten to this point.

At this stage, I hope we can somehow win the FA Cup again to send him out on a high note, and then have him ride off into the sunset. He's always been a stubborn man and for the most part, that quality has served us exceptionally well. But, Father Time is undefeated, and this is quickly turning into a 10-8 round.


2. Now, let's talk about the referee for a second. By my reckoning he only got one major decision wrong, but it was a doozy. It wasn't any of the handball decisions that Munich were screaming about - there were three that I remember and each one was unintentional ball-to-hand stuff. No, the one he got hilariously wrong was the penalty he awarded to us. I don't know in what universe that's a foul - it's two players both trying to play the ball at the same time. Munich were absolutely incandescent at the call, and rightfully so. I'd have burst a blood vessel in my brain if that had gone the other way.

That's the frustrating thing. We were given a gift from the heavens to make it 1-1 in Munich in the last 16 of the Champions League. So many times, something like that is the catalyst to go on and even win it from there, or at least give it a right old go.

Us? It's just a brief intermezzo before we went back to our ongoing production of The Comedy of Errors.




3. Oh, one last thing about that. Alexis, mate, we love you but maybe you shouldn't take the penalties anymore. The goal was so Alexis, though. He missed the penalty (it was another utterly dreadful one, too), missed the easy follow-up chance, then belts a seeing-eye goal through about 8 guys + the best goalkeeper on the planet from an impossible angle.

This match was brutal to watch, but that bit was fun.


4. Before we go on, let's take a moment to show some love to David Ospina. What a performance that man put on today - in my eyes, he's literally the only Arsenal player except perhaps Alexis who can even remotely hold their head up high in the aftermath.

He made some unbelievable saves today, and that was with a defense made up of tissue paper and an old, rusty "Keep Out" sign. He was at fault for none of their goals, and did not deserve to have five hung on him.

Whatever your stance in the Cech vs. Ospina debate, at this point whoever plays is the one truly being punished.


5. So, yeah...defending, amirite? Normally you only see that much incompetent flailing in the box on prom night.

Before Koscielny's injury, we were a defensive shitshow barely clinging on in the face of a powerful Bayern attack. After Koscielny's injury, we were a disorganized rabble. Complete headless chicken stuff. Keystone bloody Kops.



A couple of points here. First, it's tempting to place all of the blame on our center halves, especially when Shkrodan Mustafi had an appalling match and Gabriel is simply an appalling footballer. But, defending is a team activity though, and we were beaten badly in other areas of the pitch.

If you have the stomach to go back and watch those goals again, look for two things in particular: 1) How easy it is to get crosses in against us, and 2) How little resistance there is in the midfield in the 5-10 seconds before a goal is scored.

Yes, both center-halves not named Koscielny were abysmal on the day, but it's not like they got much in the way of support. The worst offender, in my humble opinion, is Francis "You have one fucking job, mate" Coquelin. The Twitter machine tells me that Mesut Ozil won more tackles today than our alleged defensive midfielder, and it doesn't surprise me.

Credit to Twitter user @Flaminiesta for this one.



I don't remember which of the goals it was specifically, but on one of them Coquelin could have taken a foul at any point in the lead-up to it. That aside, he was simply a passenger for the entire time he was on the pitch. He contributed less than nothing. We'd honestly have been better off playing with ten men.


6. The weird thing about that though is that I do think that Coquelin is a good footballer on his day. This comes back to the fact that we are parsecs away from getting the maximum out of the players that we have, and we've gotten to the point where the manager has his favorites...to the point where you can't pry them out of the starting XI with a crowbar.

What more does Coquelin have to do to get a seat on the bench? For that matter, what does Alex Iwobi have to do to join him? Look, I like Iwobi a lot. The kid is a solid talent and I can envision him being an important part of the club for the next decade. But, what has he done over the last 7-8 matches to earn his seemingly automatic place in the team? Has Danny Welbeck had a recurrence of his injury?

Why was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out on the right? His only acceptable performances have been in the center, so why not play him there? Related - after the brain-dead dithering he did outside our penalty area that gifted Bayern their 5th goal, what do you want to bet that he plays against Sutton on Monday?

No accountability. No fear of losing their place. No drive. No heart. No determination. Somewhere, there is an alternate universe where Diego Simeone comes in next season and just drives a mighty goddamn wind through all of the myriad cobwebbed corners of our club.

I want to live in that universe. And I BADLY want to be a fly on the wall the first time he meets the team.


7. There was an old friend I haven't seen in ages at the pub today, and as we were talking I said this as a thought exercise for him - figured I'd share it here.

So, imagine you have a new girlfriend or something, someone who has no prior history with football or Arsenal in particular. Say she asks you "OK, so what do Arsenal do? How do they play?"

Could you answer that question? I don't mean the conventional wisdom "blah blah Arsenal play beautiful football blah blah". I mean, seriously, do we anymore? Best I can tell, our entire tactic these days is to get the ball to Alexis and hope he can heroball it in somehow.

It used to be that you could say that we held the ball for ages, passing it sideways until everyone involved died of boredom, but we don't even do that anymore. Go back and look at the possession stats over the last bunch of matches...Hull City had the ball for more than 50% of the match against us.

HULL BLOODY CITY.

We are completely directionless, wandering the desert and hoping the promised land will find us. The state of it.

Think back - how many times did we get the ball to Alexis over the halfway line, where he'd be surrounded by 4 or 5 defenders, no other yellow shirt in sight? If we had so many men back where our center forward had that little support, shouldn't we have, like, defended better then?


8. On the bright side, Philipp Lahm is suspended for the second leg. That'll help us in our quest for that 4-0 victory at the Emirates, right? Right?


9. It bears repeating: They scored in the 53rd, 56th and 64th minutes...or, put another way, we were out of the tie in less time than it takes to drop the average deuce (as apt a metaphor for this performance as there ever was, I think). When we collapse, we don't mess around...we do it for keeps.

Also: We were out-possessed 69-31%, and outshot 22-4. This was a comprehensive beatdown, in the style of the first Clubber Lang vs. Rocky Balboa fight.


10. However, I thoroughly reject the notion that we don't have the horses to compete with Bayern. The idea is absolutely ludicrous. Put it this way - the team that we put out today can be presented as follows:

GK: 75 caps (Colombia) - Copa America 3rd place
LB: 10 caps (England) - 2-time FA Cup winner
CB1: 42 caps (France) - European Championship runner-up, 2-time FA Cup winner
CB2: 15 caps (Germany) - World Cup champion
RB: 3 caps (Spain) - FA Cup winner
DM (allegedly):  Uncapped - FA Cup winner
CM: 48 caps (Switzerland) - 2-time Swiss league champ, U-17 World Cup winner, U-21 Euros winner
AML: 8 caps (Nigeria)
AMC: 83 caps (Germany) - World Cup winner, World Cup 3rd Place, U-21 Euros winner, La Liga winner, 2-time FA Cup winner, Copa del Rey winner, DFB-Pokal winner
AMR: 24 caps (England) - 2-time FA Cup winner
CF: 106 caps (Chile) - 2-time Copa America winner, La Liga winner, Copa del Rey winner, UEFA Super Cup winner, FIFA Club World Cup winner, Argentine league winner, 2-time Chilean league winner

Literally everyone we put out there today (other than our alleged defensive midfielder - quelle bloody surprise - was a senior international. Everyone other than Alex Iwobi has won a trophy in their career. It's not like we put out an XI that would be turned over by Lincoln City here.

Again - it's not the players. The players are fine. It's the system. It's the lack of accountability. It's the lack of leadership.

All I know is that on the basis of this performance, there has to be at least one person in Sutton rubbing their chin today and thinking "Hmm, I wonder." At this point, so am I.


Man of the Match:  Thiago Alcantara

Preview by Numbers: Bayern Munich v. Arsenal, Champions League Round of 16, First Leg


Allianz Arena, Munich
Wednesday, February 15
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 GMT
  • Match Officials from Serbia
    • Referee: Milorad Mažić
    • Assistants: Milovan Ristić and Dalibor Djurdjević
    • 4th Official: Nemanja Petrović
    • Additional Assistants: Danilo Grujić and Nenad Djokić
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 3 Arsenal wins, 5 Bayern wins, 2 draws
  • Arsenal's Group Result: Won Group A over Paris Saint-Germain
  • Bayern Munich's Group Result: Second in Group D to Atlético Madrid
  • Arsenal's European Form: D-W-W-W-D-W
  • Bayern Munich's European Form: W-L-W-W-L-W
Which one was this?
"It is difficult to swallow a defeat like that. ... We have a good opportunity to turn it around in the second game. The goals we conceded were difficult to imagine in a Champions League game." --Arsène Wenger, Porto 2 - 1 Arsenal, 2010.

"It was of those nights you never forget. It is our worst night in Europe, we were punished and deservedly so. We were very poor offensively and defensively. We were beaten everywhere. There was not one moment in the 90 minutes we were really in the game." --Arsène Wenger, Milan 4 - 0 Arsenal, 2012.

"We played against a good team who took advantage of every opportunity they created in the first half. We had quite a good start for five minutes. You could see we were a a bit nervous, but Bayern was fully confident and we paid for it." --Arsène Wenger, Arsenal 1 - 3 Bayern, 2013.

"I just feel frustrated. It was a great football game until half-time and it was no game at all after half-time. And on a European night that's really frustrating because the game delivered what it promised at the start, but it was not the same game in the second half." --Arsène Wenger, Arsenal 0 - 2 Bayern, 2014.

"On our side, I believe that we missed the chances and we were a bit suicidal defensively. We were not at the level defensively and we were a bit unlucky as well because the first goal is deflected. On the second and the third goal we were suicidal." --Arsène Wenger, Arsenal 1 - 3 Monaco, 2015.

"Of course I’m disappointed because we put a lot of energy into this game. I felt that we lost at the moment that we looked more capable of winning the game, and we also lost it in a way which we could not afford to give them." --Arsène Wenger, Arsenal 0 - 2 Barcelona, 2016.

Arsenal have not won a Round of 16 tie since overcoming the 2-1 deficit to Porto in 2010. They have won once in the first leg since 2009.

There's a lot of negative history here, but it only takes 90 minutes to change that.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Pérez (hamstring,) Ramsey (calf,) Debuchy (match fitness,) Cazorla (Achilles)

Here is a tall man at an airport.
Granit Xhaka returns from his four match domestic suspension (not that that would have kept him out of this European fixture anyway,) and was on the flight to Germany, though whether Arsène Wenger throws the Swiss international straight back into the side in a fixture of this magnitude remains to be seen. Aaron Ramsey is still out with a calf injury picked up against Watford, but Mohamed Elneny is available again after the Africa Cup of Nations.

Lucas Pérez did not make the trip, as he is out with a hamstring injury picked up in training. Danny Welbeck and Per Mertesacker, both injured throughout the fall, have been added to Arsenal's Champions League roster after being left out through the group stage. The exceedingly tall German made the flight, but will not be very likely to make an appearance.

There have been calls from various corners of the Internet to drop Mesut Özil from this match, as he's been struggling lately, but if you don't start your most creative midfielder in a knockout round Champions League tie, you are certifiably insane, dip in form notwithstanding.

David Ospina will start in goal, that's been confirmed. Olivier Giroud has a history of scoring against Manuel Neuer, but I wouldn't start him here.

Predicted XI: Ospina, Bellerín, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Elneny, Welbeck, Walcott, Özil, Alexis.

Bayern Munich Squad News

Out: Ribéry (thigh,) Boateng (chest)

Here is Boateng in training not being hurt.
Franck Ribéry has missed the last two weeks with a thigh injury he picked up in training and, while he could make an appearance on the bench, manager Carlo Ancelotti has said he is not likely to be risked. It's not like Bayern Munich have a lack of options in attack.

Jérôme Boateng has been out since late December with a chest injury, though that largely coincided nicely with Germany's winter break. Boateng needed surgery to repair a damaged tendon. Javi Martínez has deputized in his place, pairing with Mats Hummels in the center of defense.

Boateng, who is likely unavailable anyway, and Philipp Lahm are both one booking away from an accumulation ban.

Predicted XI: Neuer, Lahm, Martínez, Hummels, Alaba, Alcántara, Alonso, Vidal, Robben, Müller, Lewandowski.

Current Form

Bayern left it late, but also got a match winning goal from
a Chilean at the weekend.
Arsenal and Bayern both won 2-0 at the weekend against relegation fodder, though Bayern left it later than Arsenal. The Gunners, of course, beat Hull City 2-0, with Alexis Sánchez scoring both, the first with his hand and the second with a crappy penalty. Bayern didn't score their first until the 90th minute when Arturo Vidal finally put one past Ingolstadt. Substitute Arjen Robben added a second two minutes later.

That might be the only real comparison you can make between the form of these sides since December. Bayern have not lost across all competitions since they lost at Rostov on Champions League matchday five; the German winter break helps with that a little bit, of course, but it's still 10 wins and a draw in their run.

At home, their form is even better; they have not lost at the Allianz all year and have won 15 straight Champions League home games. Only three teams have gotten a draw at the Allianz this season: Köln, Hoffenheim, and Schalke. Only three teams have beaten Bayern at all: both Rostov and Atlético Madrid in Europe and Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. The losses to Dortmund and Rostov were in consecutive fixtures; again, they have not lost since.

Over the same period of time as Bayern's current 11-match unbeaten run, Arsenal have a record of 11 wins, a draw, and five losses.

Match Facts

Arsenal did beat Bayern last year.
Seriously.
This is a picture from it.
I'm not kidding, look it up.
This will be the fourth time in the last five years that Arsenal have been drawn against Bayern Munich at some stage in the competition; it is the third time that meeting is coming in the Round of 16, though it is the first time Arsenal are the higher seed. In the six recent matches, Arsenal have won twice, lost three, and drawn once.

In the 2013 Round of 16, Arsenal spotted Bayern a 2-0 lead at the Emirates in the first leg, with Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller notching goals. Lukas Podolski pulled a goal back, but Mario Mandžukić's goal in the 77th minute gave Bayern a critical third away goal. Arsenal snatched a 2-0 win at the Allianz in the return leg, with Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny scoring goals, but the Gunners were eliminated 3-3 on away goals.

In the 2014 Round of 16, Arsenal won an early penalty, but Mesut Özil's spot kick was saved by Manuel Neuer. Later in the first half, Wojciech Szczęsny was sent off, but David Alaba hit the post with the ensuing penalty. Like the year before, however, Kroos and Müller scored to give Bayern a 2-0 win. The return leg was less dramatic than in the previous year, as Özil injured his hamstring early on and played hurt for the rest of the first half (this was the impetus for Neil Ashton famously saying he was "nicking a living.") Bastian Schweinsteiger put Bayern up 3-0 on aggregate with a goal in 55th minute. Podolski again pulled one back, this two minutes later, but it was only enough to earn Arsenal a draw on the night. Bayern could've won the match outright late, but Łukasz Fabiański saved a Müller penalty in injury time.

In last year's group stage, Arsenal lost their opening two matches, but then stunned Bayern 2-0 at the Emirates, with Olivier Giroud and Mesut Özil scoring in the 77th and 94th minutes, respectively. Bayern roared back in the next meeting, taking a 3-0 halftime lead, en route to a 5-1 victory in which Giroud was Arsenal's only goal scorer.

Giroud does have a knack of scoring against Neuer; after those two group stage goals, Giroud added another in a friendly against Germany in November of 2015, making him the only player to score goals in three consecutive matches against the German goalkeeper. That streak was snapped at the Euros.

In their two previous trips to Munich before all of these recent ones, Arsenal lost on both occasions: 1-0 in 2001 and 3-1 in 2005.

The Referee

No caption necessary.
The match officials are from Serbia; the referee is Milorad Mažić. Arsenal have had Mažić twice in the past, winning 2-0 over Napoli at the Emirates in the 2013 group stage and drawing 0-0 at Beşiktaş in Istanbul in the first leg of the 2014 playoff (which Arsenal eventually won by winning 1-0 at the Emirates.) Mažić has never worked a Bayern Munich match.

That said, he's been involved with their players in other ways. Mažić worked the 2014 World Cup group stage match between Germany and Portugal in which he sent off Pepe for a headbutt on Thomas Müller.

In 2015, Mažić worked a Champions League quarterfinal between Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid in which he issued five bookings; in two cases, those yellows caused players to be suspended through accumulation for the second leg. Mario Suárez, one of the players suspended, said afterward, "they can't use a Serbian referee for these types of games." Suárez had to apologize later and clarify that he meant referees from only the top European domestic leagues should work late-round Champions League ties, which is also stupid.

In July of 2015, the Egyptian FA hired Mažić to referee the country's biggest derby, between Cairo sides Al Ahly and Zamalek; the match had to be played at a neutral venue in Alexandria behind closed doors.

Around Europe
  • Tuesday: Paris Saint-Germain 4 - 0 Barcelona
  • Tuesday: Benfica 1 - 0 Borussia Dortmund
  • Wednesday: Real Madrid v. Napoli; Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, Madrid
  • Next Tuesday: Bayer Leverkusen v. Atlético Madrid; BayArena, Leverkusen
  • Next Tuesday: Manchester City v. Monaco; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Next Wednesday: Sevilla v. Leicester City; Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium, Seville
  • Next Wednesday: Porto v. Juventus; Estádio do Dragão, Porto
--
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is also bad at overcoming first leg deficits. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat if you have any advice.

Ten Thoughts: Arsenal 2-0 Hull City

If any of this comes off as incoherent or incomplete, well, please grade me on a curve today.



As it turned out, I tried to stay up, fell asleep at 7, and was bailed out by my backup 12:30 alarm. I did manage to avoid spoilers, though!


1. Let's be real, here. A lot of people are going to say "Well, it's just Hull". This is silly. The Tigers have been on a roll since Marco Silva pitched up sticks there, and frankly they tore us apart at times. Given our struggles of late, and their new arrivals playing well for the new manager (new broom syndrome in full effect), this is a win I'll take all day, and you should too.

The thing is, I don't think we played all that badly...at least not through the first two-thirds of the field. Hull never got that many clear chances on goal, and despite a more even possession distribution than you may have expected, there were good performances in our midfield as well.


2. The final third, though...aye yai yai. Honestly, a lot of this is down to the ongoing disappearance of Mesut Ozil...again. I don't say that to pile on, or to intimate anything stupid like he should be sold or anything like that. He is and remains a superlative player, but even the best go through patches like this. Believe it or not, it can simultaneously be true that he's one of the best in the world at what he does, and also that he's playing like absolute butt at present.

That said, there were some encouraging flashes at certain points, though. There was one flying scissor-volley thing that few others would even try (Kevin Kilbane was the color commentator on NBCSN, and he hilariously tried to say that Ozil should have done better there - mate, I SAW your career, you couldn't have done that with a stepladder and two weeks' notice...the "Zinedine Kilbane" thing was ironic, you know. Prannet).

Also. there were instances where you could tell that he had picked out the right pass, but it just wasn't coming off for him. I photoshopped him onto the milk carton last week for my own amusement, but he'll get back to his old self soon, I'm sure. Bayern at midweek would be a brilliant time to do it, brotha.


3. The elephant in the room here, of course, is that this was a match of two handball decisions. Our first goal came off of a madcap scramble in the penalty area, the second or third of those in the first half alone. We continued to have guys holding on to the ball too long, looking for the perfect pass, looking for the perfect shot, etc.

As far as good news/bad news goes, the positive is that Alexis Sanchez showed his predatory instincts once again. He's reverted to some of his worst tendencies in this bad run of ours - the annoying heroball "I'll take you all on!" routine, dropping several postal codes backwards to look for the ball, thus taking away our central attacking outlet, etc.

However, all of that is counter-balanced by the intelligence and instincts he has when the ball is in the opposing penalty area. When the ball bounced back into the center there, strikers of lesser skill-sets may not have been in the right spot to take advantage.

It was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay intentional handling, though.


Photo: Getty Images


4. Alexis had a good game in the final reckoning, but Lazar Markovic was the best player on the pitch. Kieran Gibbs came in for Nacho Monreal, though on that evidence I don't think either one of them would have been able to live with the Serbian in that kind of mood.

Real talk, we're lucky that Oumar Niasse is either shit, hopelessly match-unfit, or little-of-both-columns. Markovic toasted Laurent Koscielny down the wing at one point in the first half, and his cutback across the area was inch-perfect. Niasse couldn't get on the end of it, though, or that was 1-0 to the other lot.

The way things have gone in the last week, it'd have been a MUCH different game if Hull took the lead there, I think.


5. Petr Cech didn't have all that much to do otherwise, though, as mentioned. There was one save in the first half that was pretty good, albeit one that you would expect your goalkeeper to make. Still, his positioning was on point and he did his job. Other than that, he did have some confident claims on crosses, and Hull weren't much danger on set pieces.

It's almost like he's a pretty good keeper still, and y'all need to take a seat.


6. I wonder how much more dangerous they would have been if Gibbs had been sent off in the second half, however. He fouled Markovic when he was the last defender, and letter of the law, he should have been red-carded.

Remember this game the next time someone tries to tell you that we never get the benefit of referee mistakes - over a long season, it does tend to balance out. Swings and roundabouts, and all that.


7. The other thing I wonder is if we would have been a bit more fluent if certain players had been given a chance today. It could be the sleep deprivation, but I don't remember a single thing that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain did today. Our other Alex, Iwobi, was energetic and direct but lacking a bit in the end product stakes.

I give the Twitterati a lot of crap here at this parish (and well-deserved at that), but the calls for Welbeck-Ozil-Lucas supporting Alexis were intriguing to me. Iwobi is a talent but I'm not sure he's doing enough to reasonably stay in the team right now.


8. That said, how about Theo showing a little fire there, eh? It's not surprising that the fans immediately started chanting his name - for me, I've been DYING to see any tangible evidence that these guys are going to fight to accomplish something this season. You may see some dipshit pundit or two call his outburst "petulant" or some such nonsense, but you can safely write that off as a garbage take.

Personally, I loved it. I don't think he contributed much in the actual run of play, but I'll take that in exchange for the jolt he gave the team when he got into Harry Maguire's face. More of this, please.


9. Getting back to the handball issue, I'll admit that in real time I thought that it was never a penalty in a million years. People always forget that the rule is "intentional handling", meaning both intent has to be there and the hand/arm has to be in an unnatural position. Even on the first replay, I thought that Sam Clucas was desperately unlucky.

The second replay, however, showed how good the call was (for the record, it looked to me like it was the AR who spotted it). Watch it again, and Clucas subtly sticks his elbow out. While it looked to me like an involuntary reaction more than anything else, that still counts as intent as far as the Law is written, and thus it was a penalty.


Photo: The Sun (Yes, I know, I'm sorry...I'm going to run my anti-virus now to fumigate my laptop)

As far as the penalty itself goes, I like what Eldin Jakupovic did in the Hull goal. He stayed in the middle and decided to react to the shot rather than pick a side. Alexis is the type to Paneka it more often than not, so it was a smart play. And, while the Chilean didn't do that, his kick was utterly horrid. Seriously, it was one of the worst penalties I've seen in a while - thankfully for us, Jakupovic matched him shit for shit there, and let it go through him. That was a leg/foot save all day, but he awkwardly dived and missed it.

You don't often blame a goalkeeper for a penalty, but on this occasion he was at fault.


10. That's about all I have to say about that, so I'll use this as a shout-out for the Austin Gooners down there in good old Texas. Your shirt was lucky today, ladies and gents.




Man of the Match: Lazar Markovic

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Hull City


Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, February 11
7:30 a.m. EST, 12:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mark Clattenburg
    • Assistants: Jake Collin and Adrian Holmes
    • 4th Official: Roger East
  • Reverse Fixture: Hull City 1 - 4 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Time: Arsenal 2 - 2 Hull City (October 18, 2014)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 17 Arsenal wins, 3 Hull City wins, 5 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-D-W-W-L-L
  • Hull City's League Form: D-L-W-L-D-W
Listen, I know I promised this would be funny if Arsenal lost at Stamford Bridge, but that tone doesn't feel quite right yet. The circumstances still feel more dire than comical at this point.

On the other hand, I discovered that Marvel's Website lets you create your own comics, so please allow new TalkSPORT pundit Iron Man to tell you why he thinks Hector Bellerín should've played on:



Fuck you, Iron Man.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Ramsey (calf,) Debuchy (match fitness,) Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Bellerín (having his head smashed,) Elneny (Africa Cup)
Suspended: Xhaka (fourth of four, serious foul play / second red card)

This guy's back, which is good, because Arsenal currently
have negative three players who play his position.
Mohamed Elneny has returned from the Africa Cup of Nations and could be available for selection; Elneny scored to put Egypt up 1-0 in the final, but Cameroon came from behind to win 2-1. Granit Xhaka will serve the fourth match of his four match ban, meaning he will be available domestically against Sutton United in next weekend's FA Cup tie; he would have been available in Europe for Arsenal's trip to Munich on Wednesday, anyway.

With Aaron Ramsey out two more weeks at the least, Arsenal will need Elneny to slip in sooner rather than later, which might be easier said than done, since he did pick up a calf injury while on international duty. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has performed well in the central role over the last few weeks, but in my opinion, Francis Coquelin has been struggling since his return from injury.

Arsenal have a lot of interchangeable options up top: Lucas Pérez was mysteriously not available in the 18-man squad at Stamford Bridge last week, which was explained as an ankle problem. There has not been any further mention of Pérez since that explanation, which leads me to believe he's available again. So, who starts along with Mesut Özil in the forward quartet among Pérez, Alexis Sánchez, Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck, and Alex Iwobi?

Elsewhere, despite errors in previous games, I would be stunned if Petr Čech were dropped. I would also be surprised if Hector Belleriín were fit to play, but the team doctors have more information than I do.

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

Hull City Squad News

Out: Henrikson (shoulder,) Odubajo (knee,) Davies (thigh,) Hernández (thigh,) Luer (knee,) Keane (knee,) Mason (head)
Doubts: Lenihan (knee,) Elmohamady (Africa Cup,) Dawson (calf)

Deadline day loanee Andrea Ranocchia was forced into
action immediately and ended up BBC's Man of the Match.
Like Elneny, Egyptian midfielder Ahmed Elmohamady is returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, meaning his inclusion in Marco Silva's XI is a doubt.

There are a number of long-term injuries in the Hull City squad, so let's go through this slowly, shall we? Obviously, there is no timetable yet for the return of Ryan Mason after he suffered a fractured skull at Chelsea, in what is apparently a very dangerous end of that pitch. On the backline, captain Michael Dawson picked up a calf injury during warm-ups last week and is expected to miss a few weeks; Andrea Ranocchia, on loan from Inter, will deputize. Curtis Davies is out for another eight weeks with a thigh injury, while Moses Odubajo, with a fractured patella, will be back in late April or early May. There's no timetable that I can see for Brian Lenihan, who had knee surgery.

In the midfield, in addition to Mason's injury, Markus Henrikson is out with a separated shoulder. He's close to having full movement in the joint again, and should return in March. Up top, Will Keane and Greg Luer as both out long-term with knee injuries. Lazar Marković is available again; he was ineligible to play last week against Liverpool, his parent club.

Uruguayan striker Abel Hernández has a slight tear in his hamstring which will keep him out for three to four weeks. Senegalese forward Oumar Niasse, on loan from Everton, came off the bench to replace him last week and scored.

Predicted XI: Jakupović, Robertson, Ranocchia, Maguire, Elabdellaoui, Huddlestone, N'Diaye, Clucas, Grosicki, Marković, Niasse.

Current Form

Clap Your Hands Say Hull.
The managerial position at Hull City has been a bit of a saga this season, after Steve Bruce resigned over the summer. Mike Phelan was named caretaker manager, then was promoted to full manager on October 13, then he was sacked on January 3. Hull then signed Marco Silva as head coach and since that date, the Tigers have won more points in the league than Arsenal, seven to six.

After their 3-1 loss at West Brom which saw Phelan sacked, Hull have two wins, a draw, and a loss in Premier League games. They lost to Manchester United in the League Cup semifinals (but won the home leg) and lost to Fulham in the FA Cup (which isn't the worst result in the world for a club fighting relegation.) Arsenal, over the same time period, have advanced in the FA Cup, but have two wins and two losses in the league.

It's the second time this season that Arsenal have lost consecutive league games, with both of these strings coming in a nine-match span. That long unbeaten run between August and late November seems like such a distant memory now. As I mentioned back in December, it's very rare for Arsenal to lose three straight; they have not lost three straight in the league in five years.

It's worth mentioning here that Hull manager Marco Silva earned a surprise win at the Emirates last season, when he managed Olympiacos. The Greek side won 3-2 on Champions League group matchday two last September.

Match Facts

This goal would've given Alexis a hat trick in the reverse
fixture, if he had not missed an earlier penalty.
Arsenal won the reverse fixture 4-1 in September. Alexis Sánchez opened the scoring on 17 minutes and looked to double the lead just before halftime when Jake Livermore was sent off while conceding a penalty. Alexis, however, missed the spot kick. Theo Walcott doubled Arsenal's lead on 55 minutes, but Robert Snodgrass pulled a goal back from the penalty spot on 79 minutes. With a nervy finish looming, Alexis smashed an insurance goal into the roof of the net four minutes later, then Granit Xhaka scored from the fucking moon in injury time and now everyone keeps yelling for him to shoot from distance even though that's stupid.

Hull City have taken a draw from the Emirates on two of their last three trips. Last year, Eldin Jakupović made 11 saves in an FA Cup tie that ended 0-0; Arsenal won the replay comfortably. Arsenal did beat Hull in an FA Cup tie at the Emirates in 2015, winning 2-0. However, that came two and a half months after Hull earned a 2-2 draw in the league fixture in London; Arsenal had led 1-0, but needed a Danny Welbeck goal in the 90th to take a point.

Hull's surprise 2-1 win at the Emirates in September of 2008 is the Tigers' only win against Arsenal in the modern era. Hull's other two wins against Arsenal came in 1908 and 1915; that 1915 win was Hull's most recent clean sheet against the Gunners until February's 0-0 draw.

The Referee

I have a new game called "Referee Signal or Macarena?"
The referee is Tyne & Wear-based Mark Clattenburg. I used to think Clatts was one of the best referees remaining in England (I mean, there's a reason he worked the FA Cup, Champions League, and European Championship finals last season.) However, Arsenal have won just one of their last six with Clattenburg in the middle.

There's two sides to this story, though. With the exception of some annoying results against Tottenham, Arsenal historically had Clattenburg for some very enjoyable wins: 3-0 at Manchester City and 3-1 over Chelsea in the fall of 2010 come to mind as the basis of that sentiment. He worked two of Arsenal's FA Cup ties in the run up to their 2014 trophy win.

Things started to turn last year. Arsenal lost 2-1 at the Hawthorns with Clatts in the middle, though he did give Arsenal a controversial late penalty, which Santi Cazorla proceeded to miss. Then, he worked a home loss to Chelsea last year, in which he sent off Per Mertesacker (correctly, mind you.) He worked Arsenal's 2-0 win over Everton at Goodison Park last year as well. Then this year, he worked the 0-0 at Leicester, in which he denied the Foxes an injury time penalty. He worked the North London derby back in November as well, which was a pretty garbage 1-1 draw.

But in that match, he handed Tottenham a penalty early in the second half that changed the game and it's worth noting that that was the first time, in 38 matches, that Clattenburg had ever given a penalty against Arsenal. But his decisions in the second half of Arsenal's 2-1 loss at Everton in December officially brought me to the point where I couldn't defend him the same way I used to. Everton scored their winner in the 86th minute after a weak free kick was given, then Arsenal were denied an obvious penalty in injury time. Then again, you could argue that Arsenal got the tactics all wrong in that game, too. I talk about trends with officials all the time, but they're still one man among 22 players on the pitch.

Hull City have only won five of their 17 matches all-time with Clattenburg in the middle and it's two wins from 12 in the Premier League. He's only worked one Tigers match this year, a 3-1 loss at West Bromwich Albion on January 2. The two Premier League wins, by the way, were 2-1 over Wigan in 2009 and 2-0 over Crystal Palace in 2015. Only one of their five wins with Clattenburg came away from home; that was the aforementioned Palace game.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Manchester United v. Watford; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Saturday: Middlesbrough v. Everton; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Crystal Palace; Bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Southampton; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. West Bromwich Albion; Olympic Stadium, London
  • Saturday (late): Liverpool v. Tottenham Hotspur; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Sunday (early): Burnley v. Chelsea; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Sunday (late): Swansea City v. Leicester City; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Monday (night): Bournemouth v. Manchester City; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
--
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is covered in snow. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to turn him into a snowman. Don't forget the pipe!

Ten Thoughts: Chelsea 3-1 Arsenal

So, are you glad you woke up to watch that? I sure am!  (*SARCASM KLAXON*)

In honor of the team's second-half performance, this will be shoddy, done with minimal effort and will be second-best to anything else you read about the game. That said:


1. Call it sour grapes if you want, but I would dearly love to hear the explanation from Stevie Wonder and his dipshit AR as to how that wasn't a foul for Chelsea's first goal. Poor old Hector Bellerin is lying there concussed on the floor with cartoon tweetie-birds circling around his head, and it doesn't occur to anyone that perhaps there was some foul play involved. Okay. This is why I'm a huge proponent of these guys having to face the media after matches.

Look, all I'm saying is that the last time I saw a flying forearm that good, Tito Santana won the WWF Intercontinental Title.



2. The thing is, even at halftime I thought we were reasonably at the races, and desperately unlucky that we were down 1-0. Alex Iwobi was dangerous in particular, and there were moments where we were swarming all over them. It's weird to say it now, but I'd argue that we were fairly decent in the first half.

Now, normally teams get a boost after halftime, when there's a moment to adjust to in-game events and a chance to remind the team what they're playing for. I don't know what was or wasn't said in that room during the interval, but this was not a club prepared for the second half. It was astonishing.


3. Sidebar: Has anyone seen this man?



If found, please return to:

Mr. A. Wenger c/o Arsenal Football Club
Emirates Stadium
Hornsey Road
London N7 7AJ
United Kingdom


4. It will get lost in the shuffle somewhat in the midst of our horrendous defensive play, but we did have some chances. Thibaut Courtois wasn't massively troubled over the 90 minutes, but I do half-remember one classy full-extension diving save (if you're looking for specifics, you'll have to look elsewhere - I'm on two hours' sleep and crabby AF). The one thing I remember Ozil doing was holding onto the ball way too long, then taking a slow-dribbler shot on goal that Courtois could have saved in a chaise lounge. Oh, and Shkrodan Mustafi missed a wide-open header on the back post.

So yeah, we were appalling on defense, but the finishing was no great shakes either.


5. Speaking of - I present to you "Francis Coquelin on Chelsea's Second Goal - A Short Film".



Bloody hell, you had ONE JOB, mate. Any defensive midfielder should know enough to take the yellow card there. Literally anyone. I mean, Laurent Koscielny didn't cover himself in glory in that passage of play either, but Coquelin failed at the only reason he's anywhere near our first team.


6. Since we're savaging individual players, it's worth mentioning that this was Petr Cech's worst performance for us by astronomical units. Leaving the UFC stylings of Marcos Alonso aside, Cech probably should have had a strong enough hand to tip that over the bar in the first place. Or, if you find that uncharitable, he recovered and got back up to his feet on that at roughly the pace of glacial erosion.

The second one wasn't his fault per se, but he didn't make himself all that big on it, either. That's goalkeeper union nitpicking, but still.

The third one, though. Woof. If you told me a week ago that we'd get the high-water mark for goalkeeping comedy this season, my first reaction would have been: "Oh god, what did Claudio Bravo do this time?" Someone on a forum I post at remarked that it looked like he had just given up, and I'm inclined to agree. The whole team wasn't ready to play in that half, and the ultra-casual pass that led to the goal is indicative of that.


7. Of course it had to be Cesc Fabregas who got that gift from Cech, too. Because, well, fuck our lives.


8. The comedic stylings weren't over there, though. Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck damn near collided with each other in the penalty area during injury time, and hell, I almost wish it had happened. All we needed was "Yakety Sax" and an underwear chase scene, and that second half would have been a top-notch episode of the Benny Hill Show.




9. Ollie's goal was nice, though. Funny how we picked it back up once there wasn't a milligram of pressure. This team really is tissue-paper soft.


10. Basically, this:





Man of the Match: Eden Hazard

Preview by Numbers: Chelsea v. Arsenal


Stamford Bridge, London
Saturday, February 4
7:30 a.m. EST, 12:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Martin Atkinson
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and Steve Child
    • 4th Official: Stuart Attwell
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 3 - 0 Chelsea
  • This Match, Last Year: Chelsea 2 - 0 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 73 Arsenal wins, 61 Chelsea wins, 54 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-D-W-W-L
  • Chelsea's League Form: W-W-L-W-W-D
Long-time readers of this blog will know that this piece is at its funniest when Arsenal are total garbage. Unfortunately, we're not there yet. Lose this one, though, and I'm going to have to find another level for next week's Hull City preview.

Arsenal were in a similar position at this time last year, as they chased first place Leicester City in the table and faced them in early-to-mid February. Arsenal even had the same referee for that match as they will for this one, Martin Atkinson. Atkinson, of course, gave Leicester a dodgy penalty, then made up for it with a soft second half red card and Danny Welbeck nabbed a late, dramatic winner. Then, Arsenal went on to ruin all of that momentum by losing a million times.

If Arsenal win this game, they won't suddenly become title favorites; they'll still be six points out, but that's manageable in February, if they can somehow stop playing like utter garbage (see: first half against Watford, first half against Preston, second half against Manchester City, most of the game at Bournemouth...) If Arsenal lose this game, then the gap is 12 points, and in my preview of the Bournemouth match, I said, "nine points is doable over 19 matches, but if that number climbs into double digits, then that's a hell of an ask." It's four games later and Arsenal have gained no ground.

Six points over 14 matches is still doable, nine is questionable, and 12 is a bridge too far.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Ramsey (calf,) Elneny (Africa Cup,) Debuchy (match fitness,) Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee)
Suspended: Xhaka (third of four, serious foul play / second red card)

We're really in the depths of it here with the holding midfield situation, which I'll get to in a second, but I have a request first. Please, for the love of God, Arsenal cannot start Olivier Giroud as a central forward in this game. The Frenchman has been excellent at times this season and has already won a ton of points for the club, but this is not the type of match in which he is historically successful as a target man. At the same time, look at the second half against Watford, in which Arsenal finally remembered how to play in midfield, then never had anybody in the box to win a ball in the final third. This is why Giroud is often best left as an impact sub.

As for the midfield, Watford's best player on Tuesday, Aaron Ramsey, pulled out with an injured calf early on, after deflecting in their first goal and meandering back on defense for their second. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came in and hurt his knee during the second half, though he completed a limpy 90 minutes. The Ox is expected to be available for tomorrow, while Aaron Ramsey will not. Mohamed Elneny did not feature for Egypt in their Africa Cup semifinal win over Burkina Faso on Wednesday, as he's nursing an injury of his own. He is a doubt for the final. Granit Xhaka remains suspended. Santi Cazorla remains hurt. Jack Wilshere remains on loan. Not a lot of options here; Francis Coquelin is dealing with a hamstring problem himself.

Hopefully Hector Bellerín is fit and ready to go at right back, because Gabriel, while serviceable, leaves a ton to be desired at the position. In fact, all of the back four has been struggling a bit lately, likely in large part due to the lack of shielding they're getting from the midfield. Bellerín is still struggling as he comes back from an ankle injury and was rested on Tuesday.

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

Chelsea Squad News

Out: None
Doubts: David Luiz (knee)

Because life is cruel, Antonio Conte has basically no injury concerns going into this match. David Luiz has a slight knee problem, but then again, he played 90 minutes and scored Chelsea's goal on Tuesday. So that means Conte has a full list of available players from which to select his XI.

Conte has been playing a 3-4-3, with César Azpilicueta, David Luiz, and Gary Cahill as the three center backs, Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso on the wings, and N'Golo Kanté and Nemanja Matić in the center of the midfield. Diego Costa starts up top, Eden Hazard starts on one side of the forward trio, and the other forward is the only question mark, whether it be Pedro or Willian.

There's not much else to say here. This is a strong XI, made stronger by the fact that they have incredible depth and no fixture congestion. We're looking at a potential second consecutive season in which the Premier League title winner was not playing in Europe at all and that worked to their advantage.

Predicted XI: Courtois, Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill, Kanté, Matić, Moses, Alonso, Pedro, Hazard, Costa.

Current Form

Interestingly, if you look at the league form section at the top of the preview, which lists the last six league results in order, you will see that Arsenal and Chelsea have picked up the same number of points: 13 out of a possible 18. Both are through to the fifth round of the FA Cup as well, meaning Arsenal and Chelsea have matched each other exactly since Christmas (and since Chelsea's 13-game winning streak was snapped.)

Of course, when you're nine points out of first, matching the league leaders is not what you want to be doing or... you know, you'll finish nine points out of first. Since Arsenal will pick up playing in Europe again in the coming weeks, an obligation Chelsea does not have, this remains Arsenal's last decent shot at making up ground in one fell swoop.

Of note for this particular match is that Chelsea have won eight straight Premier League games at Stamford Bridge. To make that seem even more daunting, they've kept a clean sheet in six of them.

Match Facts

We can start with some good news here, as Arsenal won the the reverse fixture 3-0 at the Emirates in September. It feels so long ago. Arsenal jumped 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.

In this match last year, Mike Dean and Diego Costa happened, as Chelsea won 2-0. Arsenal finished the match on nine men after Gabriel was sent off in the first for a kick-out at Diego Costa and Santi Cazorla picked up a second yellow 11 minutes from time. Kurt Zouma scored from a set piece on 53 minutes and a Calum Chambers own goal twisted the knife in injury time. Of course, Diego Costa should have been the one to be sent off for head-butting Laurent Koscielny in the first place, which would have changed the tenor of the entire match. The FA rescinded Gabriel's red card and slapped Costa with a three-match ban after the fact, but that doesn't rescue the three points, now does it?

Arsenal have not won at Stamford Bridge since that time John Terry fell down, which was October 29, 2011, a 5-3 Arsenal win. Chelsea have scored at least twice in seven consecutive games against Arsenal at the Bridge. Arsenal have only scored twice in those seven matches; one of them was the aforementioned 2011 win, the other was in January of 2013, in which Theo Walcott scored a second half consolation goal as Chelsea won 2-1. That match is mentioned again below...

The Referee

The referee is West Yorkshire-based Martin Atkinson. This is the fifth time Atkinson will take charge of an Arsenal-Chelsea match; Chelsea have won all four of the previous meetings. Someone tried to take me to task on Twitter with this statistic, trying to imply that I blamed him solely and not the players for those results, but that's a far too simplistic way of reading into a statistic like this, especially since Arsenal have a reputation of not showing up against Chelsea anyway.

So, let's go back through those four games, shall we? The first time Atkinson took charge of an Arsenal-Chelsea match, it was the 2009 FA Cup Semi-Final, in which Theo Walcott's opening goal was cancelled out by Florent Malouda and Didier Drogba scored a late winner. Not much to criticize in Atkinson's performance there; Arsenal basically beat themselves on the day.

The other three matches were all league fixtures. Chelsea won 2-1 at the Emirates in September of 2012 as the Blues scored twice from set pieces. You could really point to Vito Mannone being the goalkeeper as more of a reason Chelsea won that one as he was outplayed by Petr Čech at the other end.

Atkinson worked the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge that January, also won 2-1 by Chelsea (as mentioned in Match Facts above,) but made some critical decisions in Chelsea's favor in that one: Francis Coquelin was blatantly fouled in the build-up to Chelsea's first goal and the second was a penalty where there had been minimal to no-contact. Both of those are essentially paraphrasings from Sean's recap of that match, rather than any sort of revisionist history.

The third was a 2-0 Chelsea win at the Bridge in 2014, which you may recall from being the time Arsène Wenger shoved José Mourinho. Sean's recap this time called Atkinson "a joke," though noted that both sides got away with tons.

Arsenal have seen Atkinson twice so far this season, once for their 4-1 win over Sunderland (in which he gave the Black Cats a penalty to make it 1-1 before Arsenal pulled away) and again for their 2-1 loss at Manchester City (in which both of City's goals were offside, but to be fair, Arsenal didn't deserve to win it either.)

Chelsea have two wins and a loss with Atkinson so far this season, losing 2-1 to Liverpool at home and beating Manchester United 4-0 and Tottenham Hotspur 2-0.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Sunderland; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Everton v. Bournemouth; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Hull City v. Liverpool; KCOM Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Saturday: Southampton v. West Ham United; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Watford v. Burnley; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Stoke City; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday (late): Tottenham Hotspur v. Middlesbrough; White Hart Lane, London
  • Sunday (early): Manchester City v. Swansea City; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Sunday (late): Leicester City v. Manchester United; King Power Stadium, Leicester
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John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a type of spice. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for bad cooking recipes.