Ten Thoughts: West Bromwich Albion 3-1 Arsenal



Welp.

There was a time where I wouldn't miss a match at the pub for love or money. It even wasn't all that long ago! But, these days, a little older and dubiously wiser, I tend to stay home and have a lie-in if I see a storm coming. I mean, how predictable was this result? How predictable was the manner in which it happened?

Don't mistake that for anger, though. I said months ago that I have none left, and I mean it as much now as I did back then. What's the point? Nothing is going to change in the foreseeable future, The man who most needs to go is the one in charge of his own future, and all signs point to him having no inclination to do so.

There'll be a little twinge of regret and sadness when the season ends with no St. Totteringham's Day, when we finish outside of the top four for the first time in Arsene's tenure. It's such a goddamn shame that it's all gone this far. But, chickens do come home to roost eventually. Sunderland looks like they're finding that out this season, as did Newcastle and Aston Villa before them. Thankfully we're nowhere near that territory, but for a club of our resources, it's still an absolutely shocking systems failure.

Not to say that we have a divine right to finish above that other lot and/or to pratfall over ourselves in the Champions League every year. Both streaks were going to end one year, as all streaks do. I just wish we'd have let them go with a little more dignity.


1. I'm sure Twitter will be calm and reasoned today, eh?


2. So, a Tony Pulis team comes out in the exact formation and shape that Tony Pulis teams do, playing for the counter and off of set pieces exactly like every other team he's put out in the Premier League. Naturally, that means we start with the traditionally physicality-shy Theo Walcott on the right, and our best aerial threat in Olivier Giroud on the bench. Excellent.

Danny Welbeck tried, he worked hard, but he was utterly anonymous as the central striker. Sure, it wasn't much better when Giroud came on, but the game was largely gone at that point. As for Walcott, it was no surprise that he was the one who had come off for Ollie, having contributed nothing on the day.

I keep saying it, and will continue to do so - the squad is fine, the talent is there. The issue is on how little is being drawn out of them, and the continual mistakes in deployment and tactics.


3. There wasn't much to choose from in terms of good Arsenal performances, but I thought Granit Xhaka had a good game. He showed a much improved range of passing and he was the nerve center of what passed for our attack all day, that is, in the rare times when Alexis Sanchez wasn't trying to take on six defenders by himself.

Oh, and of course, Petr Cech was outstanding in the time he was on the field. He's been made a scapegoat for a lot of what's gone wrong this season, and really it's all my balls. He's still a top keeper, and he showed it today. I don't just mean the saves he made, as excellent as they were. When you're facing a counter-attacking side like WBA, the keeper needs to be decisive at coming off his line and sweeping up. You could see the difference in that arena when Cech went off injured.


4. Speaking of, let's get the keeper talk out of the way now. As mentioned, Cech had a good game, and perhaps things might have been different had he stayed on. The goal he conceded was completely not his fault - not one of his teammates deigned to do anything as Darren Fletcher stood on him, so he had to spend precious seconds trying to push him out of the way as the corner came in. Aaron Ramsey was abysmal in letting Craig Dawson rush by him, and an uncontested header from that close in is impossible for a keeper to stop.

I did feel bad for David Ospina when he came on. He had a brutally poor game, the second goal and the one where Hal Robson-Kanu should have rounded him to make it 3-1 before they did get their third both come to mind. He was indecisive and out of the rhythm of the match, but what else can be expected? So much of goalkeeping is mental, and to go from expecting to be on the bench to having to go right into the thick of it is a difficult adjustment to make. It's a little different in, say, ice hockey...where there is a culture of No. 2 keepers both starting about 20-30% of the matches and with them replacing the starter if they're having a bad night. In football? No way, it's not realistic to expect them to be at top mental readiness. They're human beings.

Beyond that, there's no real warm-up, you haven't had the chance to get a few touches, etc. If you're blaming Ospina for this shitshow today, you're massively missing the point.

Meanwhile, Ben Foster had a brilliant game in his own right, which ended up making a big difference. If he doesn't make that foot-save on Ramsey early in the match, it's 2-1 us and likely a much different game. He also swept up effectively and was confident in the air, essentially neutralizing Giroud from having any impression on the game.


5. That said, one of the other problems we have (in the long laundry list of them) is that we're a team of prefects - we're far too nice. Look at what the dark arts did for Brom today - Gareth McCauley's tackle on Alexis was shocking and in a sane world, he'd have walked for that. I have a hard time believing, especially with this being a Pulis team, that it wasn't a coordinated attack on the one guy who could potentially break down their massed ranks of defenders.

Alexis was never the same for the rest of the time he was on the pitch, and eventually had to come off for Alex Iwobi. Whereas the Cech thing was just one of those unfortunate things, I refuse to believe that the Alexis injury was the same.

Even with Cech, if I were in his shoes and I had Fletcher standing on me like that, I'd "accidentally" step on the back of his ankle. See if he does that shit again. I'm sorry, kids, things like this happen out there. When I played hockey and a guy would try and screen me on a power play, I'd whack the shit out of the back of his legs with my stick. They expect it, it's part of the game. Same thing here.

We're so goddamn easy to push around.


6. Alexis' goal was rather good though, huh? There weren't many bright spots today, but that was one of them.


7. The plane thing, though. My god. It honestly is becoming a trial being an Arsenal supporter and having to be on the same side as bellends like this. Isn't Arsenal Fan TV bad enough? Isn't Piers Morgan bad enough? Isn't the bin Laden family having once been season-ticket holders bad enough? (For the record, those are ranked from worst to least-worst).

We're a laughingstock now. The ever-so-hilarious 4th-place jokes were one thing - given that we haven't even finished there that often lately, you could shrug those off as nonsense from unoriginal nimrods.  But, there is no defense possible for this plane nonsense. It's stupid when other clubs do it, it's stupid when we do it.

I mean, look. I can just about get it if it's a traditionally big club that has been mismanaged in the Newcastle style to a place well below their station. But, for fuck's sake, even as bad as it is with us we're still doing better than most clubs out there. Yes, the manager needs to go - that is beyond any kind of reasonable debate at this point. But, it's also probably not going to happen, so why the negative energy? Read a book. Go outside. Choose life. You'll thank me for it, I promise.


8. Well, at least we don't have to play Bayern Munich again this season.


9. The most Arsenal thing about this game, to me, is the third goal. We allow Dawson to waltz in uncontested to open the scoring, but that is just garden-variety awful set-piece defending. No, what makes it *Arsenal* set-piece defending is that we allowed the EXACT same thing to happen for the third. Seriously, it was like a real-life instant replay of the opener. Our capacity to learn nothing, even in the immediacy of a single game itself, is truly astonishing. It's a hell of an accomplishment, in its own way.


10. Only 11 more of these to go, and then we can enjoy our summers. We'll get through this together, I promise. The other bright side is if we can keep most of this team together and get a new manager in, I really like our chances in the Europa League, you guys.



Man of the Match:  Craig Dawson





Preview by Numbers: West Bromwich Albion v. Arsenal


The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
Saturday, March 18
8:30 a.m. EDT, 12:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Neil Swarbrick
    • Assistants: Scott Ledger and Constantine Hatzidakis
    • 4th Official: Kevin Friend
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 1 - 0 West Brom
  • This Match, Last Year: West Brom 2 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 70 Arsenal wins, 37 West Brom wins, 31 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-L-L-W-L
  • West Brom's League Form: D-W-D-W-L-L
And so, we enter the final phase of the season. Arsenal will play at least 13 more matches this season, 14 if they defeat Manchester City at Wembley in the FA Cup Semi-Final. They still have a dozen league fixtures on the docket, but the European portion of this campaign is over and, hopefully, buried like it's radioactive or something.

The movement of domestic fixtures won't ease their fixture congestion, however. Their matches against Southampton and Leicester City have not yet been rescheduled and their FA Cup Semi-Final will mean movement of the scheduled fixture against Sunderland that weekend as well.

With their league campaign coming squarely into focus, Arsenal have to start taking maximum points from their games against mid-table and lower opposition (and, ideally, all of them, but let's not get greedy.) There's an international break on the horizon before Arsenal host Manchester City on April 2. This is Arsenal's only match between now and then and it comes against a West Brom side that might not have much motivation, as they sit comfortably mid-table.

Arsenal lost at the Hawthorns last season, a sign of worse to come. They cannot afford to drop points there this time around, lest their fifth place standing in the table become permanent.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Elneny (ankle,) Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Gibbs (knock,) Ospina (groin,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring)

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain left last week's FA Cup tie against Lincoln City on 27 minutes with a hamstring problem, one which leaves him a doubt for this week's trip to West Brom, rather than out entirely.

Danny Welbeck missed out last weekend through illness and David Ospina missed out through a groin tweak; it sounds like both of them are available again, but Kieran Gibbs is a doubt, as he's carrying a knock of some sort.

Mohamed Elneny is back in training again after his ankle had been in a boot, but I would guess that he'll be too short of fitness for this match.

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

West Brom Squad News

Out: None
Doubts: Phillips (knock)

Not much to say here; Matt Phillips is a 50/50 doubt with a knock and everyone else in West Brom's squad is available.

Tony Pulis's actual player selection, however, leaves a little more to be discussed. Last weekend, the Baggies went to Goodison Park with the opportunity to gain some ground on Everton, who are directly ahead of them in the table. For the match, Pulis made three changes to the side that had lost to Crystal Palace the week prior, dropping James Morrison, Chris Bunt, and Salomon Rondón in exchange for Claudio Yacob, James McClean, and Hal Robson-Kanu. It didn't work, as Albion lost 3-0.

As such, all three could find their way back into Pulis's XI for this match.

Predicted XI: Foster, Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Nyom, Fletcher, Livermore, Brunt, Chadli, Morrison, Rondón.

Current Form

If you exclude cup ties against non-league clubs, then Arsenal have only one win (over Hull City) in their last six matches, having lost the other five against Bayern twice, Watford, Chelsea, and Liverpool. Then again, you can't fault Arsenal for having been drawn against Sutton and Lincoln in the FA Cup and they won those matches, so what else do you want them to do?

Even still, cup ties have forced the postponement of two of Arsenal's league fixtures, against Southampton and Leicester, meaning the Gunners have played one or two fewer league games than the clubs around them. As such, they are fifth in the table, five points back of fourth place Liverpool, but with two games in hand. Win them, and Arsenal are fourth again. They have a single game in hand on Spurs and City as well, but they are six points back of those clubs. Keep in mind that Arsenal will still play both of them, however.

Meanwhile, did you know West Brom are in eighth? Would you believe they've also been in eighth since New Year's? You might have known this because the Baggies were in seventh when they went to the Emirates on Boxing Day. Then again, for a lot of people, all of the mid-table clubs kinda blend together after a while. If you're not in the title race and you're not in danger of relegation, then who knows where you are in the table? It's like, Premier League limbo.

West Brom have 40 points, meaning they are seven points back of Everton for seventh and four points clear of Stoke, who are in ninth. So you can see why they've been in eighth for over two months. The Baggies recently lost their chance at gaining ground on the Toffees, as they lost 3-0 at Goodison Park at the weekend. West Brom are winless against the seven clubs ahead of them in the table, only picking up a point against Spurs at the Hawthorns in October. Arsenal will hope that stat maintains itself this weekend.

Match Facts

Arsenal huffed and puffed and eventually found a winner against West Brom in the reverse fixture at the Emirates on Boxing Day. Coming into the match, Arsenal had lost consecutive league fixtures against Everton and Manchester City, so they desperately needed all three points. Still, they found it hard to break down a well-drilled West Brom defense that, for obvious reasons, came to the Emirates to stifle. Olivier Giroud, making his first league start of the season, nodded a Mesut Özil cross past Ben Foster in the 86th minute to give the Gunners a very difficult three points. Ben Foster made 10 saves in the loss.

In this corresponding fixture last season, Arsenal lost 2-1; it was their first loss against the Baggies in 10 games. Mikel Arteta came on for the injured Francis Coquelin on 14 minutes and Arsenal struck first through Olivier Giroud after 28 minutes. West Brom equalized from a set piece just seven minutes later, then led through an Arteta own goal five minutes after that. To add injury to insult, Arteta was removed on 49 minutes, and then to add insult to injury to insult, Santi Cazorla skied a late penalty that would've stolen Arsenal a point.

Arsenal have not always been successful at the Hawthorns since West Brom's most recent promotion back in 2010. The Gunners have four wins in seven trips to West Brom since then, though one of the wins was in a League Cup penalty shootout. Last year's match was Arsenal's first loss at the Hawthorns since 2005.

The Referee

The referee is Lancashire-based Neil Swarbrick. Arsenal have only seen Swarbrick once so far this season and, in a bit of a quirk, it was for the reverse fixture on Boxing Day. Even stranger, Arsenal didn't have Swarbrick at all last season, so you'd have to go back to December 28, 2014 to find the last time, before Boxing Day, that Arsenal had him as their referee; that was a 2-1 win at West Ham.

Arsenal have never lost a match with Swarbrick in charge; they have now won six of them and drawn one, so maybe we should be hoping to see him more often? The draw was a 0-0 at Everton in April of 2013; I remember this match distinctly because it was a midweek fixture while I was on vacation in Montreal. I recall he had completely lost control of the match.


West Brom have not had Swarbrick since the Boxing Day match either, but had him twice this season before that. Both were one goal losses to clubs from Liverpool. They lost 2-1 at home to Everton in August and 2-1 at Anfield in October.

Around the League
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Watford; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Everton v. Hull City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Chelsea; Bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Burnley; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Leicester City; Olympic Stadium, London
  • Saturday (late): Bournemouth v. Swansea City; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Sunday (early): Middlesbrough v. Manchester United; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Sunday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Southampton; White Hart Lane, London
  • Sunday (late): Manchester City v. Liverpool; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
--
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a public park. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for beautiful trees and breathtaking vistas.

Ten Thoughts: Arsenal 5-0 Lincoln City


Photo: BPI/Shutterstock


A quick bit of housekeeping before we begin in earnest: I was mercy-spared the Bayern Munich debacle (the second one, since they're plural) as I was on the tarmac at LAX for roughly a million hours that day. I'll tell you, I've never been happier to be stuck on an airplane. Even today, in the wake of a hopefully ship-righting win in the FA Cup, it's sad to see the boss *still* wittering on about how the referee killed that game. No, my friend, playing ten forwards with a man down (our best defender no less) against one of the 2-3 best clubs in the world is what killed us. My god.

Anyway, that said...on to today's action.


1. I said it in the Sutton United match report, and I'll say it again - there's no real way to win here if you're in our shoes. Win by a comprehensive scoreline, and you've only beaten up on a fifth-division club. Win by a labored struggle (like the Sutton match), and you get raked over the coals from all corners. Lose, and the name of that opponent is a by-word for catastrophic failure decades later (cough cough Wrexham cough cough).

This was a slightly different animal from the Sutton match, in the sense that while Lincoln are demonstrably better at their level than our previous non-league opponents, the comforts of home made this feel far more like a regular match. Our lot turning up to Gander Green Lane, on the other hand, felt like they had beamed down to an alien planet. Here, it's just another team of plucky triers sticking 10 men behind the ball and trying to pick us off on set pieces - hell, this could have been the visit of West Brom or Hull.

To their credit, Lincoln are well-drilled and it's not hard to see why they're top of the table in the Conference National. That big lad Rhead up top probably bulldozes defenses down there in the Romelu Lukaku style. The keeper (more on him in a bit) also is probably playing at least one division below his ability on this evidence. There's some talent there. But, this ended up being one of those instances where the gulf in fitness and class was far too difficult for them to live with over 90 minutes. Had we had to play this at Sincil Bank? I don't know, maybe it might have been a different story.


2. Speaking of, I wonder what all the Petr Cech haters have to say about the fact that he royally bailed us out today. At 0-0, with the atmosphere around the club as toxic as it is, imagine if we had gone 0-1 down to this lot. Seriously, mull that possibility over in your mind. The Lincoln manager rightly told the press afterwards that "in the Conference, that goes in". At the end of the day, our goalkeeper came up with a top-class save at the exact moment that we needed it the most. Anything else is just uneducated white noise.


3. But, man, that first 45 minutes were absolutely brutal. I don't think it's a massive stretch to say that had we played even Championship-level opposition, we might be having a far less fun conversation. The Imps were compact, they snapped into tackles and generally made life difficult for us, as most would have assumed going in.

Still, at times it was astonishing to see us lumping long balls up towards Olivier Giroud, or hoicking crosses into the penalty area like it's not the same shit their defenders deal with on a weekly basis. We literally could not have made it easier for them during the first half. I couldn't understand why we didn't razzle-dazzle them with the very same neat little passing triangles that players down in their division are incapable of attempting. Sure, we have to mix it up more against better opposition, but this is the one time where we should have broken out the party pieces far earlier than we did.


4. To the boss' credit though, we did exactly that in the second half. Whereas the first stanza was a dirge of sterile domination (75-25% possession but sweet eff-all done with it), the second was a 45-minute exhibition of just how hard it is for a club like Lincoln to live with the small-but-significant margins between divisions one and five.

After a while, the Imps had to resort to kicking lumps out of anything in red that moved, and even that eventually failed them as they tired out and started futilely chasing shadows. To my mind, a massive contributing factor was the forced introduction of Mesut Ozil into the fray after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain went off injured.

Here's the thing: For the most part, many of our players are basically top-shelf, souped-up versions of what they see every week against Dover or Braintree Town. I'm not saying that Aaron Ramsey or Kieran Gibbs or Olivier Giroud are fifth-division caliber - far from it. What I mean is that they aren't pulling Leo Messi rabbits out of their hats, they're simply faster and stronger and just that little bit more technically-sound, with that little bit faster and sharper of a footballing brain to go with it. But, Ozil? Alexis Sanchez? They are the kind of superlative talents that can do things that a Conference National player has never seen before, or could even comprehend at a fundamental level. Consider the difference between a chess grandmaster and the guy who holds their own against the hustlers in Union Square, and you'll get what I'm talking about.

Have another look at Alexis' thunderbastard of a goal, and find me someone in Lincoln's division that can do that outside of a wet dream. Go on, I'll wait.


5. Despite the near-miss of us nearly conceding in the first half, the real story here is that we might have won by double digits had it not been for the heroics of Paul Farman in the Lincoln goal. Any time there is a mismatch of this extent, the underdog's custodian will always have to perform miracles if his side is to have any chance of getting a result, and this was no different. There were shades of "here we go again" syndrome when he clawed Theo Walcott's brilliantly-taken volley onto the post and away to safety. Bloody hell, that was a Premier League-class save.

That's the one that stuck with me, but there were others as well. On another day, if they had a bit more rub of the green, those saves might have been far more consequential than they proved to be on this occasion. He was desperately unlucky on some of the goals, too. The first one from Walcott took two separate deflections on its way in, the third was a bit of an unlucky own-goal, the fifth was literally walked into the net (hope Arsene had a spare set of pants after that one) after his defense gave up in a cloud of fatigue and despair.

All I'm saying is that if I'm a club in League One or thereabouts, and I don't already have a top-class keeper for that environment, I'm on the horn to Lincoln as soon as the transfer window opens.


6. So, really now, what DOES Lucas Perez have to do to get a start? And, whatever it is, is it legal in the United Kingdom? Also, what does it say about our backup options at right back that Hector Bellerin played yet again today, against a fifth-division team?


7. Here's a fun stat for you - very quietly, Walcott is now at 5 goals in the competition this season, one below the leader. Who is that, you may ask? Turns out that it's Adam Morgan, from non-league side Curzon Ashton.




8. After the rest of the quarterfinal matches play out, one of Chelsea or Manchester United will be gone. However, the winner will be joined by us, Manchester City, and very likely our nearest and dearest. The non-league laff riot is over now, kids. Naturally, we have to put everything we have into winning this competition, as it's the only one left on the table for us.

You ask me, though? We're probably screwed no matter who we play, unless some serious improvement happens across the board.


9. Now that our FA Cup commitments are done and dusted for a month and change, it's back to the business of trying to salvage a top-four position in the league. Again.

Manchester City looms on April 2, but other than that, we have a run of extremely winnable fixtures in the near future. West Brom (away), West Ham (home), Crystal Palace (away), Middlesbrough (away), Sunderland (home). I'm not saying that 15 points is the minimum acceptable out of that...but it we don't get at least 10, I suspect that we're going to seriously find ourselves in deeper and murkier waters than we have any right being in.

The Twitter Brigade can go on and on all they want about how we have to spend the GDP of Earth to improve this squad, but frankly that is lunacy. This collection of players should be more than surplus to top-four requirements. It's about time that a certain someone started to get more out of them, and that's all there is to it.

I can take us losing away to Man City and away to the nearest and dearest is always a crapshoot at best, but the other matches above? We. Are. Better. Than. Them. It's time we started acting like it and carrying ourselves with the swagger that goes along with that.


10. This isn't Arsenal-related, but if you are one of those celebrating the Cheatalona-PSG result as some kind of magical joyous comeback that's brilliant for the sport, then you know what? You are seriously part of the problem. We've been done by referees enough times over the years in the Champions League (especially against Cheatalona) where it should rankle you as a Gooner that it continues to happen, and for that club's benefit. I can't conceive of the mindset it takes to watch that match and come to any other conclusion other than that money changed hands.

UEFA is the worst, and Cheatalona is the worst club in the world. IN. THE. WORLD.



Man of the Match: Paul Farman

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Lincoln City, FA Cup Sixth Round


Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, March 11
12:30 p.m. EST, 17:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Anthony Taylor
    • Assistants: Ian Hussin and Richard West
    • 4th Official: Stuart Attwell
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 13 Arsenal wins, 6 Lincoln City wins, 7 draws
  • All-Time in FA Cup: First meeting
  • Arsenal's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Preston North End, 2-1
    • Fourth Round: Beat Southampton, 5-0
    • Fifth Round: Beat Sutton United, 2-0
  • Lincoln City's Path Here
    • Fourth Qualifying Round: Drew Guiseley, 0-0; won replay, 2-1
    • First Round: Beat Altrincham, 2-1
    • Second Round: Beat Oldham Athletic, 3-2
    • Third Round: Drew Ipswich Town, 2-2; won replay, 1-0
    • Fourth Round: Beat Brighton & Hove Albion, 3-1
    • Fifth Round: Beat Burnley, 1-0
  • Arsenal's Premier League Form: W-W-L-L-W-L
  • Lincoln City's Conference Form: W-W-W-D-D-W
I've been writing for this blog for over six years now and it's never felt like this before. I've always been a proponent of the mindset of "if you can't find the humor in it, it's just sad." And right now, well, things are just kind of sad.

So, Arsenal lose a two-legged tie 10-2 on aggregate and the most damning fact of the matter, to me, is that I just didn't care anymore. We're all just exhausted of this.

And there's still a dozen games left in the Premier League season! Arsenal may be 16 points back of top spot, but they're only six points back of second place, so we're in for a long and grueling marathon to qualify for Champions League next year. It's far too early to be throwing in the towel and yet there's this unmistakable malaise surrounding the team right now.

It's not really the best time to be facing Conference National leading Lincoln City in a cup tie. Arsenal, like they were against Sutton, are damned if they do and damned if they don't. How much confidence can you take from a 7-0 thumping of a fifth tier side? And anything less than that is even worse.

So, let's get a win under our belts and then focus on our trip to the Hawthorns next week when the time comes. There's still some time to save some of this thing.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Elneny (ankle,) Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Iwobi (illness,) Welbeck (illness)

Danny Welbeck was slated to start against Bayern Munich on Tuesday, but was pulled out of the XI after warm-ups due to illness. He's still a doubt for this one and Arsène Wenger mentioned in his presser yesterday that Alex Iwobi is a doubt for the same reason. Mesut Özil, of course, missed the trip to Liverpool and only made the bench on Tuesday with the same bug. Wenger said "he still felt not too well after the game [on Tuesday]."

He added that "everyone else should be available," though that presumably does not include Mohamed Elneny, who is out until April with an ankle injury, and Santi Cazorla, whose season is expected to be over.

David Ospina should retain his place as cup keeper between the poles, but anything could go for the 10 outfield players. Well, not anything, I guess, Arsenal are limited by the number of players they have on their roster, which means there is a finite number of player combinations that could start this match.

Lincoln City Squad News

Out: None, apparently

So, I went to the excellent website Who Scored to find their team news section for Lincoln City and was met with essentially nothing. All it really suggests is that Lincoln would have no reason to change their XI from the squad that got them to this point and they have no players missing through injury.

((dusts off hands with accomplishment))

Current Form

I know this may seem hard to believe, but there was a point in time, earlier this season, when Arsenal went unbeaten for 19 games across all competitions. They won nine of their next 13 after that. In their most recent seven matches, however, they have lost five and won twice: against Hull City and against Sutton United. Five losses since they beat Southampton 5-0 in the fourth round of the FA Cup: Bayern twice, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Watford, by a combined score of 18-5. They have scored at least once in each of the last 19 matches, though, if you want something positive to look at.

Meanwhile, it's been a fantastic season for Lincoln City. After finishing mid-table last season, 13th in Conference National League, they are top of that table at the moment, six points clear of Forest Green Rovers. Only the top spot in the Conference promotes to League Two automatically. In addition to their league and FA Cup exploits, Lincoln City have also advanced to the semi-final of the FA Trophy (think of it as the League Cup for non-league teams,) where they will face York City over two legs. In total, Lincoln City have only lost six matches all season, all of them league matches (obviously, since they remain in both cups...)

Match Facts

Arsenal have faced Lincoln City a total of 26 times throughout history, though all of those matches were played in the Second Division between 1893 and 1915, sooooooo... not exactly a lot of relevance to this particular fixture. Arsenal have never lost a home game to Lincoln, so, they've got that going for them.

I can't really pull out a fun statistic like "the last time Arsenal faced a non-League club" here, either, since that happened in the last round...

So, here are some facts about the city of Lincoln: it's one of 51 locations with city status in England. That also means there's a cathedral, which is "a famous example of English Gothic architecture." Lincoln is situated in a gap in the Lincoln Cliff, which means the city is split into two zones, known locally as "uphill" and "downhill." While the distinction has been diluted, there was once a class divide between the two zones, with the "uphill" portion being more affluent than the "downhill," since the religious and military elite occupied the hilltop from the time of the Norman conquest.

The Referee

The referee is Cheshire-based Anthony Taylor, who is dishonest to his federation. That, of course, was what Arsène Wenger said to Mr. Taylor, the fourth official, as he was being sent off the touchline by Jonathan Moss in the dramatic 2-1 Arsenal win over Burnley.

Taylor has not taken charge of an Arsenal match yet this season (I suppose the same goes for Lincoln City!) Last year, Arsenal had a record of three wins and a draw with Taylor in the middle, including the 3-0 win over Manchester United at the Emirates, the 1-0 win over Newcastle at home, the 4-0 win over Watford, and the 2-2 draw at Manchester City in May.

In fact, in 17 total matches all-time, Arsenal have only lost twice with Taylor in the middle, but you'll almost certainly remember the 3-1 opening day loss to Aston Villa in 2013 as one of them. Taylor did not work another Arsenal game that season; the other loss came when the Gunners spotted Stoke City a 3-0 lead in December of 2014, cut the deficit to 3-2, and then Calum Chambers was sent off a little harshly for a second yellow card after a shoulder charge on the halfway line.

The only instance of a Lincoln City match I can find for Anthony Taylor was a League Two match on January 25, 2011, when they beat Cheltenham Town, 2-1.

Around the Sixth Round
  • Saturday (early): Middlesbrough v. Manchester City; Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
  • Sunday (early): Tottenham Hotspur v. Millwall; White Hart Lane, London
  • Monday (night): Chelsea v. Manchester United; Stamford Bridge, London
Around the League
  • Wednesday: Manchester City 0 - 0 Stoke City
  • Saturday: Bournemouth v. West Ham United; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Saturday: Everton v. West Bromwich Albion; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Hull City v. Swansea City; KCOM Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Sunday (late): Liverpool v. Burnley; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Out of Action: Crystal Palace, Leicester City, Southampton, Sunderland, and Watford
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John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a submarine. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, where he can only see you through a periscope. But, not Periscope the app, like a real periscope...

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


Emirates Stadium, London
Tuesday, March 7
2:45 p.m. EST, 19:45 BST

  • Match Officials from Greece
    • Referee: Tasos Sidiropoulos
    • Assistants: Damianos Efthimiadis and Polychronis Kostaras
    • 4th Official: Lazaros Dimitriadis
    • Additional Assistants: Charalambos Kalogeropoulos and Alexandros Aretopoulos
  • First Leg: Bayern 5 - 1 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 3 Arsenal wins, 6 Bayern wins, 2 draws
  • Arsenal's European Form: W-W-W-D-W-L
  • Bayern's European Form: L-W-W-L-W-W
And so, we stare into the abyss. Usually, at the annual point where our season goes to shit, it's possible to look on the bright side of things and find some humor in the absurdity. This time around, however, it honestly feels like we've all snapped a little bit.

Arsenal are fifth in the Premier League now with more than just one foot out of Europe. There's an FA Cup quarterfinal against a Conference side on the horizon, but the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham, and both Manchester clubs remain in the bracket at well.

So, where do we go from here? I don't know... candy store?

Arsenal Team News

Out: Özil (illness,) Elneny (ankle,) Cazorla (Achilles)

If there are any positives to be taken right now, it's that there's not a lot to talk about in terms of team news. Mesut Özil will not take part tonight, as he has had only one training session after missing most of last week through illness; he should be available at the weekend for the FA Cup tie.

The elephant in the room is, of course, the Alexis Sánchez situation. Arsène Wenger called the reports of a training ground bust-up "completely false," despite Alexis taking to Instagram to say that the fight was borne out of a desire to do well for the team and not any malice towards any individual. So, yeah, Wenger's peddling some fake news, I guess.

The big question is what kind of team you field for a home leg of a two-legged tie where you're already down four goals. Since Arsenal's only real shot at silverware looks to be the FA Cup again, yet their Premier League standing is also seriously precarious with regards to Champions League qualification, this seems like the kind of match where you blood some younger talent... then get criticized roundly for that. Personally, I'd rather Arsenal field a stronger line-up against Lincoln City than Bayern Munich, but that idea might not fly.

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

Bayern Team News

Out: None
Doubts: Sanches (knock,) Costa (knock,) Boateng (pectoral)
Suspended: Lahm (one match, accumulation)

Well, they don't have Phillip Lahm! That's... something! The only problem is, there's very little injury news elsewhere in the squad. Jérôme Boateng has not played since injuring a pectoral muscle in training back in December, though he is close to a return. Javí Martinez should continue to be paired with Mats Hummels in the center of defense.

Lahm's suspension means that Rafinha should start at right back, likely preferred over Joshua Kimmich, however the latter might start farther up the pitch, since Douglas Costa is carrying a knock. Costa was removed on 52 minutes from Bayern's 3-0 win over Cologne at the weekend. Renato Sanches is also a doubt; he has not played since Bayern's 8-0 win Hamburg on February 25.

Predicted XI: Neuer, Rafinha, Martinez, Hummels, Bernat, Alonso, Alcántara, Kimmich, Müller, Robben, Lewandowski.

Current Form

Arsenal's form is bad. Bayern's form is good. Any questions?

Okay, fine, I'll elaborate. On December 10, Arsenal beat Stoke City 3-1 at the Emirates. They had not lost a fixture, aside from a League Cup tie to Southampton, since the opening day of the season. The Gunners were second in the table, just three points back of a Chelsea side that had not lost since September (at the Emirates...)

Since December 10? 15 matches, six losses, a draw, and only five league wins. Now fifth in the table, 16 points back of Chelsea at the top of the table, six points back of second place Spurs with a game in hand. The ship needs to be righted now.

Meanwhile, Bayern Munich lost two straight towards the end of November and have not lost since: 16 matches, 14 wins, two draws. They did need a 96th minute penalty against Hertha Berlin to salvage a point back on February 18, but that's the closest they've gone to losing in months. They are seven points clear of Leipzig at the top of the Bundesliga table.

Match Facts

Only three teams in European history have ever overturned a four-goal first leg deficit to win a two-legged tie; none of the those instances occurred in the European Cup or Champions League. The most recent team to do it was Real Madrid in the 1985/86 UEFA Cup, who lost 5-1 in Germany to Borussia Mönchengladbach before winning the return leg 4-0. They left it a bit late, scoring the fourth in the 88th minute to go through on away goals.

The year before that, FK Partizan lost the first leg of a UEFA Cup tie to Queens Park Rangers 6-2, in a match that was played at Highbury according to UEFA's website. Back in Yugoslavia for the second leg, Partizan won 4-0 to go through on away goals. Partizan had their fourth on that night in the 63rd minute, meaning there was still plenty of time for both sides to find an aggregate winner.

The very first instance of a four-goal deficit being overturned in European competition came in the preliminary round of the 1961/62 Cup Winners' Cup, when Portuguese side Leixões overcame a 6-2 first-leg loss to Swiss side La Chaux-de-Fonds, winning the home leg 5-0 to claim the tie 7-6 on aggregate.

The biggest deficit overcome in the Champions League era, as you might know from all of the times Arsenal have trailed heavily after the first leg, is three goals. RC Deportivo La Coruña had lost 4-1 at AC Milan in the 2004 quarterfinals before winning 4-0 at home.

The Referee

The match officials are from Greece; the referee is Anastasios "Tasos" Sidiropoulos, which in Greek is Αναστάσιος Σιδηρόπουλος. This will be Σιδηρόπουλος's first match for both clubs.

Σιδηρόπουλος has worked 11 previous Champions League matches, including Manchester City's home loss to CSKA Moscow in 2014, Leicester's 3-0 win in Bruges earlier this season, and Borussia Mönchengladbach's 2-0 win at Celtic earlier this year as well.

The only other matches he's ever worked involving English or German sides were Tottenham's 1-0 Europa League group stage win over Qarabağ in Azerbaijan in 2015 and the German under-21's 5-0 loss to Portugal in the semi-finals of the 2015 Under-21 Euros; Bayern's Joshua Kimmich is the only player between these two clubs who was involved in that match.

Around Europe
  • Tuesday: Napoli v. Real Madrid; Stadio San Paolo, Naples
    • Real Madrid lead 3-1
  • Wednesday: Barcelona v. Paris Saint-Germain; Camp Nou, Barcelona
    • PSG lead 4-0
  • Wednesday: Borussia Dortmund v. Benfica; Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund
    • Benfica lead 1-0
  • Next Tuesday: Leicester City v. Sevilla; King Power Stadium, Leicester
    • Sevilla lead 2-1
  • Next Tuesday: Juventus v. Porto; Juventus Stadium, Turin
    • Juventus lead 2-0
  • Next Wednesday: Atlético Madrid v. Bayer Leverkusen; Vicente Calderón Stadium, Madrid
    • Atlético Madrid lead 4-2
  • Next Wednesday: Monaco v. Manchester City; Stade Louis II, Monaco
    • Manchester City lead 5-3
--
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is so very tired. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to hit the snooze button for him.

Ten Thoughts: Liverpool 3-1 Arsenal



Hey folks - sorry this is a little later than usual, but I'm out in Los Angeles and decided that the beach at Santa Monica was a better way to spend the rest of my day than writing about this dreck. However, I have some time to kill while I wait for my phone to charge, so quickly, before I hit my hotel bar:


1. Arsene dropped Alexis Sanchez for a match of this magnitude because, well, of course he did. Your guess is as good as mine.

Look, I've said in this very parish a few times that I don't like how Alexis seems to dictate his own playing time, and I stand by that. But, my god, we looked lost at sea without him. I was watching the match with an Everton mate that lives out here now, and I said to him at one point: "I don't know what our tactic is. I don't know what we're supposed to be doing. I don't know what the bloody point of this is."

I stand by that, too.


2. Goals one and two were a same-old same-old defensive ricket that we've seen to have written the definitive how-to on at this point: Fullbacks caught central, leaving a man on the back post for an easy chance.

It was Hector on the first and Nacho on the second, but what's the difference, really? Sometimes it's been Andre Santos, others Carl Jenkinson or Calum Chambers, others Mathieu Debuchy or Kieran Gibbs. The personnel doesn't seem to matter, and it's been happening often enough where it's simply something that Arsene doesn't know how to coach out of this team at this point.

If we all can notice it out here, why does a well-remunerated football manager fail to spot it?


3. Speaking of Hector, that may have been his worst performance in an Arsenal shirt. At one point, Everton Mate turned to me, shook his head and said "He is having an absolute mare".

He wasn't wrong.

The only thing I can think of is that he must have forgotten that he wasn't in London, and that the guys in red weren't his mates. If you have an alternative theory for how he gave the ball away so often, I'd love to hear it. Dude is a hell of a talent, but he's not ALL the way there yet. And, there's no accountability because, honestly, who would we replace him with if we wanted to bench him for a game or two? Gabriel? Jenks? Debuchy? Do me a favor.


4. As for our Alexis replacement, Olivier Giroud tried but he was a bit off the pace all game long. He was hobbling a bit by the 20th minute or so, and I distinctly remember him taking some sort of pill a few minutes after that.

He's another where I am going to stop well short of calling for his head or anything silly like that. I rate him as a player. But, if he's that injured, shouldn't he have come off? Especially when it was an excuse to get our best player back on the field, when the experiment to drop him completely fell flat?


5. From this point on, anyone who calls Francis Coquelin a "defensive midfielder" should be beaten with a wet noodle.

Calling him a defensive midfielder is like calling the "Cash Me Ousside" girl a Rhodes Scholar. You *could* do it, but you'd be a bit of a muppet for doing so.

Like Bellerin, Coquelin gave the ball away at almost every opportunity. He also took a spectacularly stupid yellow card, and other than that? What is his purpose?


6. Also, if someone can tell me what a Granit Xhaka does, I'd be most appreciative. His yellow card was absolute refereeing incompetence (way to not send off Emre Can there, Mr. Brave English Referee), but other than that I barely remember that he played.


7. We do remember that Danny Welbeck played, though. While I honestly think Simon Mignolet should have done a bit better on that one, at least Welbz was in the thick of the action, actively trying to make something happen. The only other person you could say that about? Alexis, when he came on.


8. Insert thing about Arsene having no tactics, no plan, no anything here. I'm tired of writing it and you're tired of reading it.


9. Ummm...really struggling for 10 things here.


10. Kidding aside, I think we have to come to accept that top four is gone, and there almost surely will be no St. Totteringham's this year. You can point to Player A's performance here, or Player B's performance there, but it misses the point.

These are, on paper, top-class individual talents...just like we've had for years. We've had individual good results, just like we've had for years. We've had shit results against the best teams, just like we've had for years.

There's one common denominator here.

Again, you're sick of reading, I'm sick of writing...so I won't do the rant in full. But, real talk? This is all getting a bit fucking boring now. I am finding myself wishing the season would just end, and as a supporter for the vast majority of my life (I'm almost 40), that sucks.



Man of the Match: Gini Wijnaldum, I guess?

Preview by Numbers: Liverpool v. Arsenal


Anfield, Liverpool
Saturday, March 4
12:30 p.m. EST, 17:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Robert Madley
    • Assistants: Peter Kirkup and Marc Perry
    • 4th Official: Andre Marriner
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 3 - 4 Liverpool
  • This Match, Last Year: Liverpool 3 - 3 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 79 Arsenal wins, 84 Liverpool wins, 59 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-W-L-L-W
  • Liverpool's League Form: D-L-D-L-W-L
It feels like it's been an eternity since Arsenal has played, but that might be down to my own schedule: after Arsenal beat Hull on February 11, I was at work for the disaster in Munich, then went on vacation in Europe, where I missed the Sutton match aside from a ten-second portion I saw through the window of a pizzeria in Oslo. Then, with Southampton playing in the League Cup Final, Arsenal had last weekend off.

So, what better way to dive back into the action than a must-win road game at Anfield! Arsenal have a game in hand on many clubs, though both Manchester clubs also have that game in hand, but the Gunners still find themselves 13 points back of Chelsea at the top of the table. More distressingly, they're three points back of Tottenham for second and -6 compared to their rivals in goal difference.

This is the last truly big match for Arsenal until they host Manchester City in a month's time. They'll face Spurs and United in quick succession at the end of April and beginning of May. If they want an 836th consecutive season of Champions League football, they're going to have to start winning these games, even though historically Arsenal's trips to Anfield end drawn.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Elneny (ankle,) Debuchy (match fitness,) Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Özil (illness,) Ramsey (calf,) Koscielny (hamstring)

Arsenal's biggest injury problems lie in the center at the moment; Mesut Özil is going to be touch-and-go, having missed practices through illness during this week. Meanwhile, Mohamed Elneny posted a picture of his foot in a boot on Instagram, so that's not a good sign. His ankle injury will keep him out for three weeks. Santi Cazorla's season is likely over, truly a devastating situation for the 32-year-old Spaniard who has had three surgeries on his Achilles.

There could be returns on the cards for the likes of Aaron Ramsey, who hurt his calf against Watford, and Laurent Koscielny, whose hamstring injury against Bayern Munich turned a 1-1 game into a 5-1 loss in the amount of time it takes to say "Gabriel is not a world-class defender."

We'll see if we get an appearance from Danny Welbeck, which would be more likely if Özil doesn't pass fit, because then Alex Iwobi will shift to the center while Welbeck will play a wing with Theo Walcott, with Alexis Sánchez starting up top. Then there's also Olivier Giroud and Lucas Pérez in contention as well. Can any of them play the holding role? Arsenal could really use a turn-around performance from Iwobi and Francis Coquelin if they want to keep their head above water in the top four race.

Predicted XI: Čech, Bellerín, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Xhaka, Coquelin, Iwobi, Walcott, Özil, Alexis.

Liverpool Squad News

Out: Ings (knee,) Ejaria (ankle,) Grujić (match fitness)
Doubts: Lovren (knee,) Henderson (ankle,) Sturridge (illness)

After Wolves knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup, Jürgen Klopp brought his side to Spain for a training camp during the weekend in which they did not have a fixture scheduled. From that trip, however, Daniel Sturridge left the camp through illness. He was not named in Liverpool's 18-man squad that lost to Leicester City on Monday, so he remains a doubt here.

There are also strong doubts over Dejan Lovren, out with a knee problem, and captain Jordan Henderson, who has an ankle injury. Klopp has said about his captain that "It looks like he will not be ready for Arsenal, but I'm not sure, we will see."

Marko Grujić is returning to training from a hamstring injury that has kept him out since November, but he's likely to be short of match fitness. Danny Ings's season is over with a knee injury and the young Oviemuno Ejaria is out with an ankle problem.

Predicted XI: Mignolet, Clyne, Matip, Lucas, Milner, Wijnaldum, Can, Lallana, Coutinho, Firmino, Mané.

Current Form

It's hard to talk about form for Arsenal because they haven't played an English side from outside of the Conference since February 11, though since then, they got obliterated by Bayern Munich, made difficult work of fifth tier Sutton United, then had 11 days off. So, uhhhh, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯?

Let's talk about a team whose form is worse, shall we? Liverpool were in second place after 19 matches, six points back of Chelsea for top spot. They had won four straight to end the 2016 calendar year and looked poised to challenges the Blues for the league title. Their form in 2017, across all competitions, is D-D-L-D-W-L-L-L-D-L-W-L. Two wins, four draws, six losses. The Reds crashed out of the League Cup to Southampton in the semifinals, lost in the FA Cup to Wolves at home, and have tumbled to fifth in the table. Their six point gap is now 14.

Their record against other top teams, however, is surprisingly stellar: in this time span, they've beaten Spurs and drew Manchester United and Chelsea. They just have lost to the likes of Swansea, Wolves, Southampton twice, Hull, and Leicester.

Match Facts

Liverpool traveled to the Emirates to open the season, conceded first, built a three-goal lead, then nearly allowed Arsenal to come all the way back. Arsenal were given a penalty in the first half, but Theo Walcott had his spot kick saved. Walcott did score moments later, but 32 minutes later, Liverpool were ahead 4-1. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain pulled one back a minute later and Calum Chambers made it 4-3 in the 75th, but Arsenal never found an equalizer.

Last year at Anfield, the sides played a slightly less bonkers 3-3 draw. The sides traded goals through the opening quarter of the match, as Firmino twice put Liverpool ahead, with Arsenal equalizing within four and six minutes, respectively, first through Aaron Ramsey and second through Olivier Giroud. Giroud had what should have been the winner in the 55th minute, but substitute Joe Allen scored in injury time to rescue a point for the Reds. It was the second consecutive season in which Arsenal conceded a late equalizer to draw at Anfield.

So, if you're keeping count at home, that's 13 goals between these two teams in their last two league fixtures.

Even with the opening day loss, Arsenal have only lost three of their last 19 competitive fixtures against Liverpool across all competitions. 11 of their last 23 meetings have ended drawn.

The Referee

The referee is West Yorkshire-based Robert Madley. Madley has earned a number of high profile appointments this season, which I would venture even includes his most recent match, Tuesday's top of the table Championship clash between Brighton and Newcastle. Madley gave Brighton a controversial penalty early in the match, but Newcastle scored twice late to undo that damage. As for some of Madley's other big matches this year, he worked Liverpool's trip to Tottenham in August and Spurs's trip to Old Trafford in December.

Arsenal have won both of their fixtures with Madley in the middle this season, though they left them both late; Madley worked the 2-1 win over Southampton in September, in which he gave the Gunners a late penalty, as well as the 2-1 FA Cup win at Preston, in which second half goals from Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud spared Arsenal's blushes. Liverpool's record with Madley this year is much worse: that aforementioned trip to White Hart Lane ended 1-1, but he also worked their dramatic 4-3 loss at Bournemouth in December.

All-time, Arsenal have a record of five wins, one loss, and one draw with Madley, though the draw was a League Cup tie at West Brom that ended in a penalty shootout win, so classify that however you like. The lone loss came to Swansea last March, a year ago yesterday. Madley has worked six Liverpool league matches and the Reds have only won one of them, but that was a 4-0 over rival Everton last April.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Manchester United v. Bournemouth; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. Hull City; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Middlesbrough; Bet365 Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Burnley; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday: Watford v. Southampton; Vicarage Road, Watford
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Crystal Palace; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Sunday (early): Tottenham Hotspur v. Everton; White Hart Lane, London
  • Sunday (late): Sunderland v. Manchester City; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Monday (night): West Ham United v. Chelsea; Olympic Stadium, London
--
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a science fiction novel. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for lasers and aliens.