Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Arsenal's Champions League Trip To Anderlecht Previewed

It's hard to figure out where Arsenal's season is going, but already it looks like the FA Cup is their only realistic hope of a trophy. With Chelsea already 11 points ahead of them after only eight games it seems like the Premier League is already beyond them. They're back in Champions League action tonight away to Anderlecht and it's very hard to see them having enough to win the competition.

Qualification from their group should be well within their grasp though and they can almost assure themselves of that with back to back wins over Anderlecht. Arsenal lost their opening game away to Borussia Dortmund, but came back in fine style to win their last game 4-1 at home to Galatasary. That win leaves them in a strong position going into these two games against Anderlect with Galatasary having to play Dortmund twice.

Ideally for Arsenal Galatasary will take a point off Dortmund in those two games and Arsenal will hopefully take all six points off Anderlecht. That would leave Arsenal guaranteed a place in the knock out stages and fighting for top spot in the group with Dortmund. A home win over Dortmund would leave Arsenal needing to win their last game away to Galatasary to win the group, but all of that could be just pie in the sky.

If the performance against Hull on Saturday is anything to go by the two games against Anderlecht are going to be a real struggle. I didn't see the game on Saturday due to other commitments and didn't feel qualified to write about it after only seeing the Match of the Day highlights. I try to be as positive as I can about Arsenal as regular readers will know, but it seems the only positives from the game were the point we managed to salvage and the fact that we have Alexis Sanchez. 

When the transfer window closed it was obvious to one and all that Arsenal had not brought in the defensive midfielder and central defender (or two) which the squad needed to try to compete at the very top. Quite how Thomas Vermaelen was allowed to leave without being replaced is almost beyond me and it's a damning indictment of the club's inability to identify their targets and follow through on them. I know there was some real hope early in the window when Alexis arrived along with Mathieu Debuchy and Calum Chambers, but that early impetus was not built open until Danny Welbeck arrived in the dying minutes of the window and he was only brought in because of the injury to Olivier Giroud.

For me the defence is really missing Bacary Sagna and his ability to play in any defensive position as well as his defensive abilities. I know there was little they could do about Sagna leaving and the injury to Debuchy was unfortunate, but players like Sagna are very difficult to replace. The defence was short of a centre back last season and instead of buying another one Arsenal actually sold one and brought in Chambers who is a young right back with the potential to play in the centre of defence. He has made huge strides already and looks like he will be a stalwart for years to come, but they're asking an awful lot of a young and inexperienced player. Chambers' inexperience has caught him out a few times which led to his five yellow cards so early in the season and his suspension for the Hull game.

At the same time Carl Jenkinson has made his way into the West Ham team on his loan spell from Arsenal and I find it a little hard to fathom out why he was loaned out with such a shortage of defenders at the club. He could certainly have been used against Hull although Hector Bellerin did quite well in his Premier League debut at right back. With only six defenders listed on the club site surely the current situation could have been foreseen and Jenkinson kept at the club for the good of Arsenal.

The latest casualty for Arsenal is David Ospina and his injury couldn't have come at a worse time with Wojciech Szczesny suspended for tonight. Szczesny's red card was incredibly foolish considering Arsenal were 4-0 up at the time and his decision making is still not all it should be. It looks like he will have no competition for the next few months with Ospina's injury and complacency has been his biggest enemy in the past. Young Emiliano Martinez will wear the gloves tonight with even younger Ryan Huddart as the reserve goalkeeper.

At least Chambers will be available to boost the defence, but it doesn't look like Laurent Koscielny will return from his injury. It will be a straight choice between Chambers and Nacho Monreal to play in central defence alongside Per Mertesacker with Chambers to replace Bellerin if he doesn't replace Monreal. With so much change so often in the defence it's very hard to have any cohesion which has been a real hindrance. Let's hope that whatever combination is chosen tonight can find some cohesion and put in a resolute performance.

In midfield it looks like Jack Wilshere will recover from the knock he took on Saturday and will take his place in the team. He has to learn to control his frustration and his temper too and he could well have been sent off for the foul which led to his injury against Hull. He only got a yellow card for that foul, but the way he has been reacting at times this season could well lead to a red card very soon.

I would be surprised if both Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta didn't come back into the team and they will hopefully help Arsenal to control the game. There's plenty of goals in this Arsenal team and they need to start punishing teams more when they are on top. Alexis got the team out of a hole on Saturday and I expect more of the same from him tonight.

There are many fans who doubt Arteta and I do think Arsenal should have signed a top class player to play in his position in the summer. He is still their best option in that position though with Mathieu Flamini making costly mistakes game after game at the moment when he plays. I know he was fouled in the build up to Hull's first goal in Saturday, but he could still have prevented the goal if he kept playing instead of appealing to the referee. He wasn't the only Arsenal player to stop playing and it's something you don't expect to see professional footballers doing. From a very young age players are told to play the whistle, but some Arsenal players certainly didn't do so for that goal. 

We're 13 games into the season and we're still waiting for Arsenal to click into gear. They've only won four of those 13 games in all competitions and it's getting to the stage where the fans are losing belief and it looks like some of the players are too. It's time for them to go out and dominate the opposition and show exactly what they have to offer to Arsenal.

From what I've seen of Anderlecht so far they're not a bad side, but an Arsenal team firing on all cylinders should be able to beat them even with their current injury problems. If they go out with the right attitude and commitment I expect them to do so, but the question is will they manage to show that attitude and commitment. They faded awfully after Hull equalised on Saturday and even more so when Hull went ahead and could only muster any real fight in the dying minutes. That fight has to be evident from first to last minute tonight and if it is I fully expect Arsenal to win.

Hopefully they can come through the game without more injuries and with three points ahead of their trip to Sunderland on Saturday. They have to start playing well and winning games in the league and a trip to a team who lost 8-0 last weekend must surely give them the chance to do so. I'll preview that game closer to it, but for the moment the Anderlecht game is the crucial one and it's one Arsenal must win. I would normally say I'm not too concerned about how they win, but I think they have to put in a really good performance to kick start the rest of the season and I'm hoping they do so along with taking the three points.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Arsenal v Hull City Preview

After a two week international break it's back to real football for Arsenal and a Premier League game at home to Hull City. With only 10 points and two wins in their first seven games they need to put a good run together and move up the table. They have a run of games coming up which are winnable and Arsenal have to be ruthless and win those games.

In those first seven games Arsenal have only lost once and that was in their last outing away to Chelsea, but their four draws are what have them languishing in mid table and nine points behind Chelsea. For me Arsenal haven't been ruthless enough when they were on top and should have at least four points more at this stage. There is no doubt they should have won at home to Spurs and let a lead slip late on at home to City too.

The biggest problem defensively has been the amount of goals conceded from set pieces and it's something which has to be corrected on the training ground. It won't be easy to work on the defending at the moment though with so much change in that department due to injury and suspension. Who would have thought in the summer that Arsenal would be facing a Premier League game with Hector Bellerin at right back and Nacho Monreal at centre back. The inactivity in certain parts of the squad in the summer transfer market is now being shown up as the mistake we all thought it would be.

Needs must though and Bellerin has been drafted in with Mathieu Debuchey injured and Callum Chambers suspended. Chambers would have been the next choice at centre back too with Laurent Koscielny sidelined but he has already run up five yellow cards this season. It's an awful lot to ask of young Bellerin to play him when he isn't even listed as a first team player on the club site and Monreal is no centre back either.

There's better news in midfield as it looks like Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky will be fit to play, but Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil are both definitely out. Ramsey should be back fairly soon but it looks like Ozil is out for a couple of months at least. With all of that in mind I expect to see a midfield trio of Arteta, Jack Wilshere and probably Santi Cazorla too. It should mean both Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini will be on the bench if they're required at some stage.

The attacking trio will have it's problems too, but it does look like Danny Welbeck will be fit to lead the line at least. I don't think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has got as much game time as he has deserved recently, but I would be very surprised if he didn't play from the start. The participation of Alexis Sanchez must be in doubt though after he played the full 90 minutes for Chile on Wednesday night. With the time difference in South America he wouldn't have finished playing until the early hours of Thursday and then he had to make his way back to London afterwards.

I hope Alexis is up to playing because Arsenal need their best players available to them against a Hull team who will be no pushovers as they proved in the FA Cup final last May. If Alexis is on the bench I suspect Rosicky will come in with Cazorla possibly switching to a wide role or there is always the possibility of Abou Diaby making a rare appearance. I doubt if Diaby will play but the injury situation could possibly see him come off the bench at some stage I suppose. There's always the possibility of Lukas Podolski or Joel Campbell playing too but Arsene Wenger has been tentative about using either of them and I suspect they might both be on the bench again. 

Hull have looked better in attack this season than they did last season, but their defence hasn't looked as solid to me. They gave Arsenal an almighty scare in that Cup final in May before Arsenal eventually got going and won the game in extra time. I have no doubt Hull will be looking for a little bit of payback for that day and will be ready to take advantage of any weaknesses Arsenal might show.

It was their strength at set pieces which gave them their early two goal lead and that was against an Arsenal team who were defending set pieces a lot better than they are this season. I expect them to put the ball right into the danger zone from set pieces at every single opportunity and Arsenal will have to be strong to resist them. Arsenal should have a much greater share of possession though and they will need to make that possession count.

With a midweek Champions League trip to Anderlecht, which Arsenal have to win, to come the team need to find some flow to their game. They looked promising before the Chelsea game, but all the old failings of last season showed up in that game again. At least they weren't embarrassed by Chelsea this time and it wasn't the type of performance they have to bounce back from. The inability to open the Chelsea defence up was my biggest worry from the game, but Hull are not Chelsea.

I want to see Arsenal on the front foot from the first minute to the last and putting the Hull players under pressure throughout. If they can put enough pressure on them the chances will come and hopefully they can take a few of them to win the game. Anything other than a win is unthinkable at home to a team Arsenal are far better than even with their current injury problems.

What they can't afford is to lose any more players to injury ahead of Anderlecht on Wednesday night. Surely the catalogue of injuries has to end somewhere and hopefully it will be good news on that front from here on in. 

I'm plumping for an Arsenal win by a couple of goals and I think Cazorla could be the player to inspire that victory. He hasn't played as often as he might have liked this season, but I think he has looked very good when he has played and will hopefully want to lay down a marker now that he has a chance to do so

Hopefully Arsenal won't concede the first goal as they have done in their three home league matches so far, but even if they do they have form in coming from behind against Hull. A little bit of that cup final spirit would go a long way to securing the precious three points on offer.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Predictions For Premier League Gameweek Eight

It's that time of the week again when I attempt to predict the outcomes of the upcoming Premier League games. I didn't do too well last time out but I was helped by two perfect scorelines and managed to stay on top of my predictions league. It's not too late to join that league and you can do so here with the code FD20D-AVD after you have made your predictionsHere's a look at how my predictions league stands.

PositionPlayer NamePTSTWBB
NC 1 (1)Michael Sheehy335+755
NC 2 (2)goonerdhanesh280+805
Up 3 (6)sodobo230+1305
Down 4 (3)Daytona220+305

Saturday October 18

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur 

12.45pm BST, Etihad Stadium, Manchester 

City have only won once in their three home games and have only scored four goals in those three games. Their home form won them the league last season and surely that form is going to improve very soon. They are the second highest scorers after Chelsea though and the chances are they will put a few past Spurs.

David Silva and Sergio Aguero are the City players to have for fantasy managers at the moment.

Spurs haven't been beaten away from home yet and only Southampton have conceded less goals than them in the opening seven games. They suffered badly against the top teams last season though and the ease with which Liverpool won away to them suggests that could be the same this season. If they're going to try to challenge for a top four spot this is the type of game they need to get something from or at least put up a good show in.

Nacer Chadli continues to excel for Spurs and has to be a serious consideration for fantasy managers.

I think City will beat Spurs with their usual few goals to spare over them.

Prediction: 3-0

Arsenal v Hull City

3pm BST, Emirates Stadium, London

Arsenal lost for the first time in the league against Chelsea in their last game, but they have only won twice in their first seven games. Their injury problems are mounting almost daily and they need to put a good run together to try to get somewhere near the pacesetters. Their next few games are all very winnable, but they need to put teams away when they are on top or they will continue to draw too many games this season.

Danny Welbeck and Akexis Sanchez look like the best fantasy choices in the Arsenal team with so many others out injured.

Hull have found goals easier to come by this season, but they have also conceded more than they did last season. They ran Arsenal ever so close in the FA Cup final only to lose out in extra time and could see this as a chance for some pay back. Their attacking options are certainly better than last season, but that defence could have a tough time in this game.

Mohamed Diame and Nikica Jelavic are the two Hull players looking good for fantasy managers at the moment.

If Arsenal are to make a move up the table this is a game they have to win and I think they will do so.

Prediction: 3-1

Burnley v West Ham

3pm BST, Turf Moor, Burnley

Burnley managed to climb off the bottom of the table on goal difference, but they still haven't won a game. At least they managed to score for the first time in six games in their last game and they're not an easy team to beat at home. They have kept clean sheets in their last two home games but have failed to score in both of them too and they're the lowest scorers in the league.

Burnley's defenders did well in their early games and aren't a bad bet for a cheap alternative for fantasy managers.

West Ham struggled to score goals last season but they have managed 12 in their first seven games this season with only four other teams scoring more. Their three wins have seen them move up to seventh place and a win in this game would see them climb even higher. They have to be favourites to win and will feel they can do just that against a team struggling to find it's feet at this level.

Stewart Downing has been the outstanding fantasy choice in the West Ham team so far with Diafra Sakho doing very well in recent weeks too.

I think West Ham will be able to break through the Burnley defence and that should be enough to get them the three points.

Prediction: 0-2

Crystal Palace v Chelsea

3pm BST, Selhurst Park, London

Palace were beaten by Hull in their last game and it was their first defeat since Neil Warnock returned to take the reins. They say you should never go back to a club to manage them for a second time, but Warnock will disprove that theory if Palace stay up. They weren't an easy team to beat at home last season, but they will have to be at their very best to get anything out of this game.For me Jason Puncheon is the best fantasy choice in the Palace team with Mile Jedinak possibly worth considering too.

Chelsea have won six of their opening seven games and drawn the other one and it seems the title is theirs for the taking. They have a very strong squad with strength in depth in every position and they're by far the top scorers so far. A trip across London to Palace should be a game in which they're more than capable of continuing their winning ways.

Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas are still the Chelsea players to have for fantasy managers with Eden Hazard and all of their defenders ably supporting them.

I think Chelsea will be too strong for Palace and will win by a couple of goals at least.

Prediction: 0-2

Everton v Aston Villa

3pm BST, Goodison Park, Liverpool

Everton have only won once in their first seven games and find themselves only one place above the relegation zone. They haven't won at home yet and have the worst defensive record at home and overall too. With midweek European football to contend with they need to put some wins under their belt before their season ends prematurely.

Steven Naismith has been the best fantasy performer for Everton so far, but Leighton Baines and Romelu Lukaku are better long term prospects.

Villa have had a tough run of games recently after a very good start to their season. They won't be thrilled to be paying a visit to Everton but it shouldn't be as difficult as their last four games. Their biggest problem so far has been scoring goals with only Burnley scoring less than them.

Villa's defenders started the season well and might not be a bad bet again after this week.

I think this will be a very close game, but Everton might just edge it by the odd goal.

Prediction: 2-1

Newcastle United v Leicester City

3pm BST, St. Jame's Park, Newcastle 

Newcastle are still looking for their first win, but at least the return of Papiss Cisse from injury has seen them manage a few goals in their last few games. They're still on an awful run since the turn of the year and St. James Park is not the fortress it used to be. If they're going to beat the drop they will need to take an awful lot more points at home.

If he's fully fit Cisse looks like he might have regained the form he showed when he first joined Newcastle.

Leicester did so well in their early games against some of the best teams in the league, but looked a lot less impressive in their last two games against supposed lesser teams. They have struggled a little in defence with only four other teams conceding more goals so far. They need to find the spirit that stood them so well against teams like United, Arsenal and Chelsea to get back on track.

Leonardo Ulloa scored five goals in his first five games and is the best fantasy choice in the Leicester team even though he hasn't scored in the last two. 

I have a feeling Newcastle might just get their first win of the season in this game.

Prediction: 2-1

Southampton v Sunderland 

3pm BST, St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton 

Southampton have had a great start to the season and aren't missing the players who departed for supposedly greener pastures. The capture of Graziano Pelle seems to have been a master stroke from Ronald Koeman. They did lose in their last game away to Spurs, but they will expect to bounce back in this game.

Pelle looks like the Southampton player to have as he bangs in the goals on an almost weekly basis.

Sunderland got their first win in their last game after drawing five of their first six games. They haven't won away from home yet, but they are proving hard to beat. If they can score a few more goals they should be able to climb to mid table safety.

For me Vito Mannone is the best long term bet in the Sunderland team.

I think Southampton will be good enough at home to win this game.

Prediction: 2-1

Sunday October 19

Queens Park Rangers v Liverpool

1.30pm BST, Loftus Road, London 

QPR are rooted to the foot of the table and look destined to return to the championship to me. They have taken all of their points at home so far though and that might just give them some hope in this match. Only Burnley have scored less goals than them and only Everton have conceded more.

QPR players are better off avoided for fantasy managers if at all possible.

Liverpool haven't had the best start to their season, but they have a chance to take three precious points away to the bottom club. They have lost two of their three away games so far and have found the rigours of Champions League football difficult to cope with. They need to win this game before the daunting task of facing Real Madrid in midweek. 

Raheem Sterling still looks like the best fantasy bet in the Liverpool team with Steven Gerrard running him a close second.

Despite being far from the side they were last season Liverpool should still be more than good enough to win this game.

Prediction: 0-2

Stoke City v Swansea City

4pm BST, Britannia Stadium, Stoke

Stoke have lost two of their three home games and have only scored one goal at home so far. As usual they are finding goals hard to come by despite bringing in new attacking options in the summer. They should be good enough to stay up, but they won't finish higher than last season if they can't score more goals.

It's hard to pick any Stoke players for fantasy managers although Ryan Shawcross is probably the best of them as usual.

Swansea had a very good start to the season, but they haven't won in their last four games. They're always a hard team to beat and will give Stoke a lot of problems in this game. Their only away win so far was the impressive opening day victory away to United.

Gylfi Sigurdsson has been the outstanding player for Swansea so far with Nathan Dyer doing pretty well too.

This should be a very close game and a draw is the most likely scenario.

Prediction: 1-1

Monday October 20

West Bromwich Albion v Manchester United

8pm BST, The Hawthorns, Birmingham 

West Brom had a slow start to their season but successive wins against Spurs and Burnley were a big boost. They lost narrowly away to Liverpool in their last game and look to have found some confidence. They will have to be at their very best to get something from this game, but will feel they have a real chance of doing so. 

Saido Berahino blows hot and cold, but he's still the best fantasy bet in the West Brom team.

United still look far from an accomplished side in defence in particular, but they're up to fourth in the table. The fixture list has been kind to them so far, but their only convincing display was at home to the bottom club. United haven't won away from home yet and have some tough games coming up very soon after this game.

Angel Di Maria looks to be a must have player for fantasy managers with both Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao worth considering too while Wayne Rooney is suspended.

I think West Brom will make a real game of this and might just get a draw.

Prediction: 2-2

That's it for today.

See you next week.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Arsenal Lose 2-0 Away To Chelsea

Arsenal went to Chelsea yesterday knowing they had to do everything they could to avoid defeat and that a win would of course be ideal. Their away record against the top three last season was abysmal and their long injury list didn't help when it came to team selection. Arsene Wenger had never beaten Jose Mourinho in a competitive game either and all the signs pointed to a Chelsea win.

The Arsenal team showed only one change from the midweek win over Galatasaray with Jack Wilshere coming in to replace Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It meant Arsenal had a midfield trio of Mathieu Flamini, Santi Cazorla and Wilshere as they looked to counter Chelsea's power in that department. Chelsea had a distinct height advantage and I worried Arsenal would struggle from set pieces.

There wasn't an awful lot to the opening exchanges except for a collision between Alexis Sanchez and Thibaut Courtois when the Arsenal player tried to get to a through ball. Courtois was obviously hurt, but the Chelsea doctor gave him the all clear and he played on. It turned out to be the wrong decision as Peter Cech had to replace him with blood apparently coming out of his ears.

Soon afterwards the game had it's first big controversial moment when Gary Cahill lunged at Alexis on the sideline and the referee gave him a yellow card. He went straight over the ball with no intention of playing it and took the Arsenal player out for what should have been a red card. Chelsea got away very lightly and the two managers weren't exactly keeping their cool on the sidelines either. There was a bit of a pushing match and the referee had to have words with both of them.

Chelsea took advantage of their stroke of luck soon afterwards when Eden Hazard made a great run into the Arsenal box and was taken down for a penalty by Laurent Koscielny. The Arsenal player could easily have seen red as he was the last man back although it could be argued Hazard was going away from goal. Hazard got up himself to take the penalty and despatch it coolly into the corner of the net.

As far as Chelsea were concerned the game was over and they didn't commit many players forward after that as they looked to hold what they had. Mesut Ozil was having very little impact on the game at that stage, but neither was Cesc Fabregas as both teams cancelled each other out. That suited Chelsea perfectly, but it was of little use to an Arsenal team who needed to get back into the game.

Arsenal came out for the second half looking determined to make an impression with both Wilshere and Cazorla playing well. Chelsea are old hands at parking the bus and made sure they had enough players behind the ball at all times to frustrate Arsenal. As the half progressed they were always going to have to take a few risks to try to get back into the game and Chelsea waited for their chance.

The Arsenal substitutions were curious to say the least with first Cazorla and then Wilshere going off to be replaced by Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky. The team lost it's fluidity for me at that stage and looked even less likely to recover. I'm a huge fan of Ozil but he was well off his game and was too easily dispossessed and he was the one who should have been replaced. I didn't think Welbeck had the best game either, but there was very little space for him to operate in or opportunity for him to do anything at all.

With a little more than 10 minutes left Chelsea got the chance to finish the game off that they had waited off and Diego Costa made no mistake when he was played through by Fabregas. The Arsenal central defenders were caught square by a ball over the top from Fabregas and Wojciech Szczesny was lobbed easily as Costa advanced on him. It's a goal Arsenal wouldn't have conceded if they weren't try to get back into the game, but Koscielny and Per Mertesacker shouldn't have been caught out so easily either. 

To add to Arsenal's troubles Calum Chambers picked up his fifth yellow card of the season and will miss the next league game against Hull in two weeks time. There was some talk of him possibly seeing red too after a body check on Andre Schurle after he had already received his yellow card, but I thought it was a very soft foul never mind being a second yellow card. With Mathieu Debuchy injured it should mean Hector Bellerin making his first start in the Premier League.

The defeat leaves Arsenal nine points behind Chelsea after only seven games and with only two wins in those seven games. It hasn't been the easiest start for Arsenal, but worryingly they haven't won any of their four games against teams who finished in the top seven last season. It looks like lessons just haven't been learned and not only on the pitch but in the transfer market too.

Arsenal have a run of league games coming up which are by no means easy but they are all winnable and that's exactly what the team has to do. The top four is what their target has to be this season and that's not going to be easy if they can't beat the teams they are challenging for that top four spot. 

I know Welbeck didn't have the best game, but I dread to think what state the team would be in if Olivier Giroud had broken his leg a week later. It's all well and good to see the boss and Mourinho nearly coming to blows on the sideline, but maybe he could have shown his commitment to the club by getting the players that were so obviously needed in the summer. Without those players it's another season of not being good enough to win the league and yet another season's wait until Arsenal hopefully reach a level where they can truly compete again. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.