Thursday, 14 March 2019

Arsenal v Rennes Preview

After a fairly disastrous night in Rennes last Thursday Arsenal bounced back on Sunday with a 2-0 win against United to move them back to fourth in the Premier League. If they neeeded a confidence boost after that defeat they couldn’t have asked for a better result and it moved them within a point of third placed Spurs too. A top four finish is a very real possibility now providing we can sort out an abysmal run of away results.

We have only won twice in our last 11 away games in all competitions and those wins were against Blackpool and Huddersfield. We should have won away to Spurs a couple of weeks ago though and except for some very poor refereeing and a last minute penalty miss we would have won too. I thought we were pretty much in control of the game away to Rennes last week too until the Sokratis Papastathopoulos red card, but our utter inability to cope when playing with a man down cost us dearly.

The players have the chance to redeem themselves tonight though and it would be quite the redemption with a two goal lead for Rennes to overturn. It’s certainly far from impossible and I’d say our chances are a little less than 50/50, but we have given ourselves an uphill struggle. If we’re going to do it we’re going to have to put in a performance similar to the one against United on Sunday.

I know United had their chances in that game and we rode our luck a few times, but you couldn’t question the attitude and commitment of the players for one moment in the game. Unai Emery made a bold team selection and it paid off for him even if we had a little help from David de Gea and the woodwork. He might need to be just as bold tonight because we need to have enough attacking intent to cause them real problems.

Of course we opened them up at ease in the first leg and we really should have been more than one goal ahead by the time Sokratis got his marching orders. I’m not denying how easily they opened us up when we were down to 10 men, but their defensive abilities offer us real hope for tonight. Hopefully the penalty Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored against United can be the catalyst for him to find some form in front of goal again.

His finishing has been below par recently and I know strikers miss chances all the time, but everything about his game is off at the moment. Thankfully Alexandre Lacazette’s suspension was reduced and he can play tonight and I would be very surprised if the manager didn’t play both of our main strikers. They work well together and Lacazette is on a great run of contributing at least a goal or assist in successive games for quite a while now.

If Mesut Ozil gets the nod again he’s the man who can open them up and make the chances for those two as well as getting our wide players in behind them. Speaking of which I wonder if the manager will use three central defenders again and let the wing backs get forward. We create quite a lot of our chances from pull backs when our wide players get behind the opposition and Sead Kolasinac is probably our best player at getting into that position.

If he does use that formation it would probably mean Shkodran Mustafi filling in for the suspended Sokratis and regular readers will know how that makes me feel. He’s an accident waiting to happen in almost every game he plays, but we would have little other choice with that formation tonight. If we play two central defenders and Nacho Monreal gets the nod over Mustafi it would also be a clear message of how the manager rates Mustafi I suppose.

Anyway here’s hoping we can come up with another good performance and result tonight and our home form in the league would suggest it’s certainly well within our capabilities. We have won 13 of our 16 home games in the league this season with only City winning more and we’re currently on a nine game winning streak. In five of our last six home games we would have done enough to either put Rennes out or bring the game to extra time and we need more of the same tonight. I can’t say I’m overly confident of us going through, but I have a nagging feeling we’re not quite done with the Europa League yet this season.

That’s it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Predictions For Premier League Gameweek 31

It’s that time of the week again when I attempt to predict the outcomes of the upcoming Premier League games. I did reasonably well last week with two perfect predictions, four correct outcomes and four incorrect outcomes which moved me a little further up my predictions league table. Here’s a look at how the top five in that league stands with me four places and 85 points further back.

 1 (1) David96 2340
 2 (3) mbbeth
Malcolm Beth
 3 (2) whitgooner
frank merrick
 4 (4) stevew3ok 2200
 5 (10) micky b 2160

It’s an odd week for fantasy managers with only five games due to FA Cup commitments which could leave some struggling to field a full team. I’ll be using my “free hit” chip to make sure I have a full team to field and hopefully it will help me to make up some ground in what has been a poor season for me so far. There is a school of thought that the free hit should be kept for a double game week later in the season, but I’m not buying into that right now.

Saturday March 16

Bournemouth v Newcastle United 

3pm GMT, Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth 

Bournemouth won 2-0 away to Huddersfield last week and they’re now only one point off the top half of the table. Only the top six have taken more points at home and only five teams have scored more goals on their own patch. Their win at Huddersfield was their first win in six games and they failed to score in three of those games, but four of them were away from home.

Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser will be very popular with fantasy managers this week while David Brooks, Charlie Daniels and Artur Boruc offer some value too.

Newcastle came back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at home to Everton lastbweek to keep themselves six points above the relegation zone. Only two teams have won less games away from home and they have only taken two points from their last six away games. They have taken 16 points from their last eight games though as five of those games were at home and only the bottom three teams have scored less goals.

Solomon Rondon is probably the Newcastle player for fantasy managers to consider this week while Issac Hayden could be a very reasonably priced option too.

I think this will be a very close game with Bournemouth probably winning by the odd goal.

Prediction: 2-1

Burnley v Leicester City

3pm GMT, Turf Moor, Burnley

Burnley led at Liverpool last week, but they ended up losing 4-2 and they’re now only two points above the bottom three. Only three other teams have taken less points at home and only Cardiff and Fulham have conceded more goals at home, but they have taken 10 points from their last five games at home. They have lost their last three games and they conceded nine goals in those games after going unbeaten in the previous eight games, but only Fulham have conceded more goals.

Both Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood are the Burnley players who should interest fantasy managers this week.

Leicester won 3-1 at home to Fulham last week to move back into the top half of the table. They have only taken one point from their last four away games and they conceded 10 goals in those games. They have won two of their last three games after losing five of the previous six and they’re still only six points off seventh place.

Jamie Vardy could be the striker to have for fantasy managers this week with James Maddison, Youri Tielemans and Harvey Barnes possibilities too.

I think this will be another close game and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it end all square.

Prediction: 2-2

West Ham United v Huddersfield Town

3pm GMT, London Stadium, London 

West Ham lost 2-0 away to Cardiff last week, but they held on to their place in the top half of the table. They have taken 11 points from their last five home games and will hope to extend their unbeaten home run to six games against Huddersfield. Their home form is keeping them in the top half of the table and it should move them even closer to the teams above them in this game.

West Ham’s defenders such as Declan Rice and Lukasz Fabianski are certainly worth considering for fantasy managers this week while Marco Arnautovic (if he plays) and Felipe Anderson might not do badly either.

Huddersfield lost 2-0 at home to Bournemouth last week and their relegation could be confirmed within their next couple of games. Only Fulham have taken less points away from home with no other team scoring less goals on the road and they have failed to score in their last five away games. They have only taken four points from their last 15 games with no other team scoring less goals.

Despite being one of only 10 teams playing this week it’s still hard to recommend Huddersfield players to fantasy managers, but Christopher Schindler might not be a bad reasonably priced back up defender.

I think West Ham should be good enough at home to beat the bottom club with at least two goals to spare.

Prediction: 2-0

Sunday March 17

Fulham v Liverpool 

2.15pm GMT, Craven Cottage, London 

Fulham lost 3-1 away to Leicester last week and relegation looks a certainty for them at this stage. Only Huddersfield and Palace have taken less points at home with only Cardiff conceding more goals on their own patch and their next home game is against City. They have lost their last six games and they conceded 15 goals in those games with no other team conceding more goals.

I can’t see any Fulham players to recommend to fantasy managers at the moment.

Liverpool came from behind to win 4-2 at home to Burnley last week and stay hot on the heels of City at the top of the table. Only Spurs have taken more points on the road with no other team conceding less goals on their travels, but they have only won once in their last five away games. They have only won five of their last 10 games, but no other team has conceded less goals and only City have scored more.

Liverpool’s players are at a premium for fantasy managers this week with three of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and any of their defenders or keeper must haves.

I can’t see anything other than a comprehensive win for Liverpool in this game.

Prediction: 0-3

Everton v Chelsea 

4.30pm GMT, Goodison Park, Liverpool 

Everton led 2-0 away to Newcastle last week, but they ended up losing 3-2 and they dropped into the bottom half of the table. They have only won once in their last eight home games after winning five of the first seven and they have conceded as many goals as they have scored at home. They have only won four of their last 16 games and they lost nine of them with their hopes of finishing seventh fading with each game.

Maybe Lucas Digne or Gylfi Sigurdsson might do well for fantasy managers this week, but I would be far from sure about it.

Chelsea got a last minute equaliser at home to Wolves last week, but that point leaves them in sixth place. They won their last away game after losing the previous three and conceding 12 goals in those three games. They have taken 10 points from their last five games even if those games did include a 6-0 defeat at City and they’re still in with a good chance of a top four finish.

Despite their struggles away from home Eden Hazard and Caesar Azpilicueta still look like the Chelsea players to have for fantasy managers this week.

I think this will be a close game which could go either way with a draw probably the most likely outcome.

Prediction: 1-1

That’s it for this week.

See you next week.

Friday, 8 March 2019

A Bad Night For Arsenal In Rennes

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Arsenal staying in the Europa League as long as their chances of finishing in the top four are in the balance. It offers a route to the Champions League for next season and we have already spent two seasons away from Europe’s top table. There’s the financial rewards to consider too and of course players will be more inclined to sign for a team who can offer Champions League football.

Unai Emery only made four changes from the team which were more than a little unlucky to only draw away to Spurs last Saturday with Petr Cech, Lucas Torreira, Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang coming into the team. I thought he would have made more changes with the hugely important game against United coming up on Sunday, but the team selection showed his intent in this competition. It was certainly a strong enough side to do enough on the night to get a result and that’s exactly how things started off at least.

Alex Iwobi scored very early on when what was really a cross evaded everybody and went in at the far post. It was the start Arsenal wanted and they continued to make chances as the half progressed, but unfortunately Torreira, Aubameyang and Shkodran Mustafi didn’t take those chances before the game turned hugely in Rennes favour. I’m very fond of Sokratis Papastathopoulos and I thought both of his yellow cards were harsh, but he needed to be more careful after getting the first one.

I thought the second yellow was more of a fifty fifty between him and the Rennes player with their player then falling at just the right time to fool the referee. With Arsenal down to 10 men they had to consolidate and hold out until halftime, but they conceded from the resulting free kick. The first attempt was blocked, but when it came out to the taker again he blasted it through the remanents of the Arsenal wall to bring Rennes level. The Arsenal players in the wall didn’t cover themselves in glory as they shirked to avoid the nasty ball hitting them and Cech didn’t stand a chance in the Arsenal goal.

The tide had turned in Rennes favour, but at least we struggled through to half time in the hope the manager could give the players the instructions they needed to get out of the game with their chances of reaching the last eight intact. Bizarrely he didn’t make any substitutions though as he moved Henrikh Mkhitaryan to right back with Mustafi moving to the centre of the defence. I thought he would have taken Ozil off as he looked for a stout defensive performance from the 10 players he had left.

I’m a big fan of Ozil, but a backs to the wall defensive performance is not the ideal scenario for him. I can only assume the manager wanted to keep him on to try to keep possession and maybe help to nick another away goal. It almost worked a couple of times, but the chances Arsenal created in the second half were far outweighed by those created by Rennes. It didn’t take them too long to take the lead when a cross deflected off Nacho Monreal and looped over Cech with more than half an hour still to play.

Matteo Guendouzi had replaced Alex Iwobi before that goal, but it was a substitution which really didn’t work. He was caught in possession too often and I’ll discuss the part he played in their third goal shortly. He talked about always giving 150% before the game, but his lack of experience was there for all to see. I still think he’s going to be a great player, but he still has an awful lot to learn.

Sead Kolasinac and Aaron Ramsey came on for Ozil and Aubameyang and it looked like Arsenal would get away with a one goal defeat despite Rennes making some good chances. Granit Xhaka really should have been sent off too after making a ridiculous challenge when he was already on a yellow card, but we were on the good side of a bad refereeing decision for a change recently. With the game almost over Arsenal did what we seem to do best and pressed the self destruct button once again.

We pushed players forward for a throw in far in their half and when we lost possession we were caught awfully out of position. As Rennes broke with five on four Ramsey sprinted past Guendouzi to try to make up the difference, but he couldn’t get there in time to stop a free header at the far post putting Rennes 3-1 up. Ramsey made about 20 yards on Guendouzi in the space of 80 yards and Guendouzi certainly didn’t give “150%” when it was needed most.

The manager and the team completely failed to deal with going down to 10 men and his decisions were strange to say the least. It’s difficult when you look back at Arsenal teams who knew how to play with 10 men and actually went on to win games. The lack of leadership on the pitch and bench last night was not a pretty sight.

We’re still not quite out of the competition though, but we will have to be an awful lot better next Thursday night if we’re going to progress. We have another huge game before that on Sunday and many people are saying this will be the defining week of our season. Defeat against United on Sunday will certainly be a blow, but it won’t end our top four chances as long as we can bounce back and play well in our final eight league games.

Out biggest problem could be our away form as we’ll probably need to win four of our remaining five away games. We have only won twice in our last 11 away games in all competitions and those games were against League One side Blackpool and Premier League also-rans Huddersfield. I thought we had turned the corner against Spurs last Saturday, but last night proved me wrong once Sokratis got his marching orders.

As a football fan hope always springs eternal and I still think we can overcome Rennes on Thursday night. They are not great in defence and we can put them out as long as we can keep our defensive discipline while putting in a strong attacking performance. Our home form suggests it’s still quite possible, but that home form is about to face a huge test against a rejuvenated United on Sunday who just cannot stop winning games away from home.

That’s it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Arsenal’s Trip To Rennes Previewed

With the battle for a top four place in the Premier League in full flow Arsenal have the distraction of the Europa League knock out stages to contend with this evening. While the Premier League might seem so much more important at the moment they still have to give their all in the Europa League considering the rewards available in it. As well as a Champions League spot for next season for the winner there is also quite a wad of money to be made from the competition.

If I’m not mistaken Arsenal made close to €40 million from reaching the Europa League semi finals last season and winning the competition would increase that prize. They also played seven home games in the competition last season and a conservative estimate for match day income from those games would probably be another €25 to €30 million. While the Champions League offers more filthy lucre the amount available from the Europa League can’t be ignored either.

Of course they have bagged some of that money already with four games behind them and the return leg to come next week, but the further you go in the competition the greater the rewards become. The importance of the extra income from European football can’t be overstated as it adds greatly to the transfer kitty. While it might not be the most glamorous competition winning the Europa League could bring in somewhere north of €75 million from all sources and that would certainly buy a very good player or two.

Anyway to the game and Arsenal’s chances against a team who had no fixture last weekend so they could rest ahead of this game while we had to play a hard fought local derby. I can’t say I know an awful lot about Rennes, but this is a very big game for them and a chance to take the scalp of the sixth richest club in the world. They’re currently slap bang in the middle of their domestic league with almost as many defeats as wins this season.

We have another huge game on Sunday against a United team who got an unbelievably lucky penalty decision to put them through to the last eight of the Champions League last night. We lost at home to them in the cup already this season and it’s hard to believe Unai Emery won’t have one eye on that game with his team selection this evening. United have a lot of injury problems building up at the moment, but they have coped with them pretty well so far.

I think the manager has to go with Pierre-Emireck Aubameyang up front with Alexandre Lacazette suspended for both legs which should see Lacazette start on Sunday. In midfield Lucas Torreira will surely start in both legs as he has a three game domestic ban to serve. We could see the return from injury of Ainsley Maitland-Niles in defence with Petr Cech playing in goal.

There could be some more rotation from Saturday too and the manager might well be tempted to play the same team against United as the one that started against Spurs. With the exception of the Shkodran Mustafi mistake for the penalty (which was offside anyway) the team were very disciplined against Spurs and I think he’ll look for more of the same against United. That will surely influence his team selection tonight with those who missed out on Saturday quite possibly starting today.

We could well see both Mesut Ozil and Sead Kolasinac come into the team and there’s even a possibility the player we signed on loan in January could get his first start. I’m still not sure why we brought Denis Suarez in, but we took one of the few players available I suppose and I remain to be convinced that it wasn’t a massive waste of time. Even with those six or seven changes we would have a fairly strong team and one which would belie our supposed lack of squad depth.

With three players on the long term injury list we could still draft in Aubameyang, Ozil, Torreira, Kolasinac, Maitland-Niles, Cech and Suarez which would only leave only four of the team that should have got more than a point against Spurs having to play. Those four will probably be Mustafi in the centre of defence with either Laurent Koscielny or Sokratis Papastathopoulos getting a much needed rest, one of Matteo Guendouzi or Granit Xhaka in midfield and one of Alex Iwobi or Henrikh Mkhitaryan in midfield/attack. It’s a strong enough team to go there and get the win or failing that to at least leave us in with a very good chance ahead of the return leg next week.

Our chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League are still a lot easier through the Premier League, but the Europa League cannot be ignored as a back up plan as well as a chance of some actual silverware. After the United game we finish the league with eight games which are all well within our capabilities of winning and I have no doubt a good return from those games will give us a real chance of finishing in the top four. For the moment though it’s all systems go on the reserve plan against Rennes this evening.

That’s it for today.

See you tomorrow.