Friday, November 21, 2014

Arsenal To Beat United And Kick Start Their Season

It's not been a great season so far for Arsenal and they need some sort of catalyst to kick start it for them. Of course injuries haven't helped and the under investment in defensive positions in last summer's transfer window didn't exactly help either. The team just haven't clicked on the pitch for any reasonable stretch of games and they need to put a run of good results together to boost confidence and make inroads on the team's above them.

Their return of 17 points from 11 games isn't good enough for a team who claimed to have title ambitions before the season started. They're already 12 points behind the leaders Chelsea, but the good news is they're ahead of Liverpool, United, Everton and of course Spurs. If they finish the season ahead of those four teams they should at least be able to claim the "trophy" of a top four finish. 

Arsenal have had real problems playing the better teams in the last few seasons and their recent record against United is far from impressive. United were a pale shadow of their former selves last season and yet Arsenal failed to take more than one point off them or even score a goal against them. If they can raise their game enough to finally get the upper hand on United it would surely be the tonic the team need just ahead of the busiest month of the season.

It's good to see Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud back in the squad again after their injuries and Mikel Arteta is available again too after his most recent injury. I would be surprised if any of them played from the start although I think Arteta is a better fit for the team than Mathieu Flamini if he's up to starting. The other two are great options to have on the bench and will add some real quality to the squad at a time when it is much needed.

The star player for Arsenal so far this season has been Alexis Sanchez and he has to play from the start despite his long journey back from South America after the international break. His value to the team at the moment is almost incalculable and the sight of him in the starting team has to be as much of a boost to the players as it is to the fans. He's the best player in the Premier League at the moment and the most likely player to win the game for either team.

With the current injury situation the team isn't going to be too different to the one which lost away to Swansea the last time out. The players will have to give an awful lot more if they're going to beat United and they could all take a leaf out of Alexis's book. The energy and commitment he shows should be an inspiration to his team mates and hopefully that will prove to be the case against United.

Of course United have had injury problems of their own and have also been far from impressive so far this season. They have failed to win any of their five away games so far and have looked just as vulnerable as Arsenal in defence. Hopefully the difference between the teams will come in Arsenal's midfield where they have more quality available even if Mesut Ozil is out until the new year.

While United have some genuine attacking quality in the likes of Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Angel di Maria they haven't exactly gelled this season and it's difficult to see how they can get any real value from the loan deal for Radamel Falcao. They have had very little return from him so far and I would be surprised to see him start against Arsenal.

It should be an intriguing and interesting game as both teams look to impose their own style on the game. I'd prefer to see Arsenal sit a little deeper and try to hit a slow and vulnerable United defence on the break with the pace of Alexis, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck. So often in the past ex Arsenal players have come back to haunt us maybe it's time for some payback through United old boy Welbeck.

He has shown a real eye for goal on international duty this season while most of his Arsenal goals came in the game against Galatasaray. They played exactly the way which suits Welbeck's game and I'd love to see United push up and leave space behind their defence too. It would be great to see Welbeck run through one on one with the keeper and finish in the Thierry Henry style like he did against Galatasaray.

United will have their own ex Arsenal player on show and nothing would make me happier than seeing van Persie's face as he is being hauled off with United a few goals down. The Arsenal fans will let him know exactly how they feel about him from first minute to last and he deserves all the abuse they give him as long as it's not overtly offensive. He will never be a legend at United and he wasn't one at Arsenal either and his career is quickly fading towards it's end.

It's a game both teams really need to win and neither of them can afford to lose. I have no doubt Arsenal are good enough to win the game, but I just don't know if they will show that quality. I can only hope they do and get a couple of monkeys off their backs at the one time by winning and winning convincingly. 

Regular readers will know I always predict an Arsenal win and this game is no different, but I genuinely think they can and will do it. I know the team have already let us down so many times this season with sub standard performances, but they need to make a stand to point the way forward and I think this will be the game where they do it. If they don't it won't stop me supporting them of course, but another little part inside of me will die yet again.

I've being toying with the idea of introducing a bit of sparkle to my blog recently and I'm going to give it a go with the help of some others. I have to give special thanks  to the people at who produced the infographic below with their own breakdown of the game, the teams and some key stats plus match odds of course. Check them out if you get a chance it's well worth it.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Predictions For Premier League Gameweek 12

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 so well last time with one perfect result, one correct outcome and eight incorrect. I probably couldn't have got eight games wrong if I had tried, but that's how difficult it is to predict games in the Premier League. My lead at the top of my predictions league has been cut, but I'm happy enough to be sitting on top of that league and you can see the leaders below, 

PositionPlayer NamePTSTWBB
NC 1 (1)Michael Sheehy705+2020
NC 2 (2)goonerdhanesh580+7020
NC 3 (3)Wayne Hubbard395-520
NC 4 (4)sodobo370+500
NC 5 (5)Rutland Gooner305+505
Up 6 (7)Daytona265+300

Saturday November 22

Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion3pm GMT, Stamford Bridge, London

Chelsea sit astride the Premier League with their main competitors falling further drift by the week and the league already looks like theirs to lose. They have won all of their home games so far with only Southampton scoring more at home and only Southampton conceding less at home too. The strength of their squad gives them a real advantage, but it will be interesting to see how they cope if they get injuries to key players.

Cesc Fabrgas and Diego Costa are the must have Chelsea players for fantasy managers and they are ably supported by Eden Hazard and all of Chelsea's defenders.

West Brom had being going well until they were beaten 2-0 at home by Newcastle in their last game. They have done well to get seven points from their five away games considering they have only scored three goals in those games. They will have their work cut out to get anything out of this game although only Southampton have conceded less goals away from home.

Saido Berahino looks like the only West Brom player to consider for fantasy managers.

I can't see anything other than a Chelsea win in this game.

Prediction: 3-0

Everton v West Ham United

3pm GMT, Goodison Park, Liverpool

Everton have just about climbed into the top half of the table after recovering from their poor start to the season. They have only won once in their five home games though and they have the worst defensive record at home too. They have kept clean sheets in their last two home games and their defence has certainly been better in recent weeks.

Leighton Baines continues to impress for fantasy managers while Seamus Coleman is worth considering too now that he's back from injury.

West Ham are unbeaten in their last five league games and they're in the top four too. They have only lost one of their five away games with only Chelsea and City scoring more goals away from home. They are playing better football this season and look like they will be a handful for any team.

Diafra Sakho had been the best fantasy choice in the West Ham team so far with Stewart Downing doing very well too and Andy Carroll might be worth considering too now that he has returned.

I think this will be a very close game and Everton will probably just edge it.

Prediction: 2-1

Leicester City v Sunderland3pm GMT, King Power Stadium, Leicester

Leicester are on a terrible run of results and have dropped into the relegation zone after taking only one point in their last six games. They have lost their last four games in a row and failed to score in all of them too. Their only home victory was the 5-3 win against United and only West Brom and Everton have conceded more goals at home.

I can't see any Leicester players to excite fantasy managers at the moment.

Sunderland have turned things around after their awful 8-0 defeat at Southampton and have taken four points from their last two games. They have only lost two of their five away games and haven't conceded the most goals away from home despite that result at Southampton. They're three points clear of the bottom three and have every chance of increasing that gap in this game.

Despite their recent upturn it's still difficult to see any Sunderland players who might perform consistently for fantasy managers.

I have a feeling Sunderland will continue their revival by taking the three points in this game.

Prediction: 1-2

Manchester City v Swansea City

3pm GMT, Etihad Stadium, Manchester

City have only won once in their last three league games and find themselves eight points behind Chelsea after only 11 games. Their home form is improving though and they have now won three of their five home games with only Chelsea and Southampton conceding less goals at home. They have struggled to find their form of last season, but the fixture list is smiling on them for the next couple of months more or less.

With David Silva injured Sergio Aguero is the outstanding City player for fantasy managers and has made himself a must have player in recent weeks.

Swansea did really well to come from behind and win at home to Arsenal in their last game. They have only won once in five away games though, but only Southampton and West Brom have conceded less goals away from home. Their season has gone well so far and seven points in their last three games has seen them move up to fifth in the table.

Gylfi Sigurdsson remains by far the best fantasy choice in the Swansea team with Wilfried Bony looking good in recent weeks too.

Despite their recent problems I still think City will have more than enough at home to win this game.

Prediction: 3-1

Newcastle United v Queens Park Rangers

3pm GMT, St James Park, Newcastle 

Newcastle have bounced back in recent weeks and have won their last four league games in a row. They have kept clean sheets in three of those games and climbed to eighth place in the table to ease the pressure on Alan Pardew. They have only lost one of their five home games and will relish the chance to keep their great run going at home to one of the bottom three.

Ayoze Perez has scored three in his last three games for Newcastle and is a possibility for fantasy managers while Paul Dummett has done well defensively and is available at a good price too.

QPR have lost all five of their away games so far and have conceded more goals away from home than any other team. They have looked better in recent games though, but only Leicester have scored less goals on the road. If QPR are to have any chance of staying up they will have to start taking points away from home, but it won't be easy against an in form Newcastle team.

Charlie Austin is the only QPR player who looks capable of delivering points for fantasy managers.

I think Newcastle will continue their winning ways by a couple of goals in this game.

Prediction: 2-0

Stoke City v Burnley 

3pm GMT, Britannia Stadium, Stoke

Stoke are usually very strong at home, but they lost their first two home games this season. They bounced back to take seven points in their last three home games, but only Villla and Burnley have scored less goals at home. Stoke got a great boost by winning away to Sours in their last game and will be strong favourites to build on that at home to the bottom team.

There are no Stoke players who have really impressed for fantasy managers so far and it's not easy to see any who will.

Burnley got their first win of the season at home to Hull in their last match, but they're still at the foot of the table. They have only taken two points in their five away games and only Leicester have scored less goals away from home. Their first win was a huge plus for them, but it will still be an enormous task for them to stay up.

There are no Burnley players setting the world of fantasy football alight at the moment.

I think Stoke should be more than good enough to win this game by a couple of goals.

Prediction: 2-0

Arsenal v Manchester United

5.30pm GMT, Emirates Stadium, London

Arsenal are unbeaten at home but they have only won two of their five home games. They lost away to Swansea in their last game to drop to 12 points behind the leaders after only 11 games. They struggled against the better teams in the league last season and really need to win this game to prove they can mix it with the best. 

Alexis Sanchez is the outstanding player for fantasy managers at the moment while Danny Welbeck isn't doing too badly either.

United have only taken three points from their five away games and only the bottom two have less points on the road. Despite their problematic start to the season they are only two points outside the top four and have every chance of doing so. If they're going to push to finish in the top four a win away to Arsenal could be the ideal way to start.

Angel di Maria looks like the best fantasy choice in the United team to me while both Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie are worth considering too. 

This is a game both teams need to win and neither can afford to lose, but I think Arsenal might just edge it.

Prediction: 2-1

Sunday November 23

Crystal Palace v Liverpool

1.30pm GMT, Selhurst Park, London

Palace put up a good performance in their last game, but they lost narrowly away to United. They have only taken one point in their last five games and are only outside the relegation zone on goal difference. They have only won once in their five home games and only Villa and Burnley have scored less goals at home. 

Mile Jedinak is probably the best fantasy option in the Palace team although it's not a great idea to have Palace players in your team at the moment.

Liverpool will have bad memories of this game last season and will want to get some revenge for that night which ended their title hopes. They have lost three of their five away games and their prospects of a top four finish got another blow when Daniel Sturridge picked up another injury this week. This season looks like it could be full of disappointments for Liverpool unless they can change things quickly.

Raheem Stérling has been the best fantasy performer for Liverpool so far and is well worth considering for fantasy managers.

I think Palace will give Liveroool a rough ride and might just get a point out of this game.

Prediction: 1-1

Hull City v Tottenham Hotspur 

4pm GMT, KC Stadium, London 

Hull had a fairly bright start to their season, but they haven't scored in their last three games and have slid down the table. They have only won once in their five home games and need a good result and performance to steady the ship. After losing their last game to bottom club Burnley it won't be easy to beat a Spurs team with a good away record.

At the moment it's not too easy to see any Hull players who might make an impression for fantasy managers.

Spurs will be glad to be playing away from home where they have only lost once compared to four defeats at home. They have lost three of their last four games though and find themselves in the bottom half of the table. Like a lot of other teams they need a good result this weekend or questions will start to be asked about Mauricio Pochettino.

Nacer Chadli has been in fine form for Spurs and is still available at a very good price for fantasy managers.

I think this will be a close game and a draw is probably the most likely outcome.

Prediction: 1-1

Monday November 24

Aston Villa v Southampton 

8pm GMT, Villa Park, Birmingham

Villa had a great start to their season but they lost six games in a row before drawing their last game. They have only scored once in their last seven games and they're the lowest scorers in the league with just five goals in their 11 games. They have only won once at home and are the lowest scorers at home too.

I can't see any Villa players to recommend to fantasy managers.

Southampton have won eight of their last nine league games and are currently second in the table. They have won three of their five away games and have the best defensive record away from home too. They have only scored six goals away from home, but their defensive record this season has meant they don't to score too many to win.

Graziano Pelle has been in great form for Southampton while all of their defenders are worth considering for fantasy managers too.

I think Southampton will continue their winning ways in this game.

Prediction: 0-2

That's it for this week.

See you next week.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Arsenal Injury Update

With the season already a third over it seems like Arsenal have yet again been plagued by injuries to key players. Their form has suffered and they sit sixth in the Premier League with a top four finish as their only real prospect. They also find themselveslves second in their Champions League group and it looks like they will get the wrong end of the stick when they qualify from the group which is still almost certain. 

It's a little depressing in mid November that the FA Cup is their only realistic chance of a trophy but I can't see any other trophy coming their way which means the cup has to be treated very seriously come the third round in January. There is always that top four place to fight for too and Arsenal are only one point behind the team currently in fourth place. There are those who would have us believe a top four finish is like a trophy because of Champions League qualification, but it isn't and it never will be.

The injury situation at the club has been hampering the team's progress for a few years at least and it just doesn't seem to want to go away. I know there are other reasons why Arsenal have under performed, but it's hard to believe those injuries haven't Been a telling factor far too often. With a few very good players looking to return to action soon hopefully those injuries will abate and Arsene Wenger will have a full squad to choose from.

Theo Walcott picked up his injury in the FA Cup third round victory over Spurs last January and he hasn't started a game for Arsenal in almost 11 months since that day. He's been on the bench for the last few games and came on towards the end of the defeat to Swansea in a desperate attempt to save something from the game. It didn't work and we will have to wait a little longer to see what we have been missing for almost a year now. There is a chance Walcott will play for England against Scotland in their "friendly" game tonight, but I would be surprised if he started considering he hasn't started a game for Arsenal. 

Olivier Giroud has divided Arsenal fans since he joined with a case for and against his ability to play the game at the highest level. The boss was prepared to go into the season with him as the only real striker at the club and only went out and bought Danny Welbeck when Giroud injured himself against Everton. He had just scored a very good equaliser to help Arsenal to an unlikely draw after yet another below par performance from the team. 

His injury was a very unlucky one and amazingly he is back in full training ahead of schedule. I'm still not fully convinced by Welbeck or Giroud for that matter, but hopefully the competition they provide for each other can spur them both on to better things. They're both capable of scoring their fair share of goals and Giroud's return can only be a goodt thing for the team.

Laurent Koscielny is the rock on which Arsenal's defence is built when it is at it's best and his absence has been sorely felt by the team for the last month. He went off on international duty with France in September and they sent him back without kicking a ball telling Arsenal his tendinitis was so bad he couldn't play. I don't know how long Koscielny had been playing with the problem, but his national side certainly brought it to the fore and I would hope Arsenal weren't making the injury worse by playing him when he should have been sidelined.

It seems rest is the way forward for him and it won't be too long before he's back in the team, but this Saturday's game against United will come too soon for him. If Arsenal are going to get over their defensive problems it's vital to have Koscielny in the team and the sooner he returns the better.

At the start of the season Arsenal only had six defenders to speak of and Mathieu Debuchy was the first of them to pick up an injury. His ankle injury was a very unfortunate one and it has meant Calum Chambers has had to play more often than was anticipated. Chambers has done well in the main but he was badly exposed in the defeat against Swansea and he showed he still has a lot to learn.

I wasn't overly impressed when Arsenal signed Debuchy, but I thought he did very well and his performances eased the pain at the departure of Bacary Sagna. The chances are he won't be back until the new year, but he will hopefully help to make the defence a much stronger unit when he returns. Until then Chambers is going to need more help from the rest of the team at times than he got against Swansea. 

Mesut Ozil is Arsenal's record transfer purchase and one of the most expensive players ever in the Premier League. He's a proven star of the game who was a very important part of the German team which won the World Cup last summer. That victory meant he missed Arsenal's pre season and still hadn't fully found his feet when he picked up his injury against Chelsea.

Ozil has had plenty of criticism from all corners this season as his performances didn't meet the expectations of a player of his undoubted ability. Maybe the rest from his injury will be just what he needs and he can come back stronger to help Arsenal in the second half of the season. It looks like he won't be back until early in the new year and his return can't come quickly enough for me.

Arsenal signed David Ospina to vie with Wojciech Szczesny for the goalkeeper's shirt after a very good performance for Columbia at the World Cup. Unfortunately he came on after Szczesny was sent off against Galatasaray and his lack of a proper warm aggrevated an injury which put him out for three months. At the moment Szczesny needs some competition to improve his performances and it's a shame Ospina can't provide that competition.

What I have seen of him so far has been impressive and I think he has a good chance of making the goalkeeper's shirt his own if Szczesny's performances don't improve. It can't be easy for Szczesny playing behind a dodgy Arsenal defence at the moment, but he has to take his share of the blame for the team's defensive weaknesses. I have no doubt about his ability, but I think he can possibly be a little complacent when he has no real challenger for his place.

That's a pretty long list of players who could all make a very real difference to Arsenal's current performances. With all of them available there would be some incredible strength in depth and surely the ability for the boss to rotate the team and rest key players when they need to be rested. I haven't totally given up on the team turning the corner this season and playing some really good football and hopefully the return of those injured players will help them to do just that.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Arsenal FC - Mid Term Report

With another dreaded international break already dragging on it's time to look back at how Arsenal's season has gone so far. The team have played 18 games already and that's probably just about a third of the games they will play this season. 

It hasn't been the best season so far with only seven wins in those 18 games and the performances haven't been up to scratch either. Since the very start of the season Arsenal have struggled to overcome opponents and impose themselves upon games. They have been very vulnerable at the back and look likely to concede at almost any time in any game.

It all started off pretty well last summer with the arrivals of Alexis Sanchez, Mathieu Debuchey and Calum Chambers and it looked like Arsenal we're going to bring in the players they needed to build on their FA Cup victory of last season. As the summer progressed and players left or were allowed to leave it became increasingly obvious that Arsenal needed to strengthen at the back and in the defensive part of their midfield too. On transfer deadline day those players did not arrive and the squad faced into the season without enough class or cover in those positions. It was a failure to prepare correctly and the price is being paid for that failure at the moment.

It seems Arsenal are going out game after game and making the same mistakes and it's hard to believe they are putting in the work needed on the training ground. I have no doubt the players are working hard but I find it difficult to believe they are working on the tactics needed to make the team a better defensive unit with and without the ball. If the coaching staff aren't drilling the players in what they should be doing then that's most certainly a failure to do their homework correctly.

The Arsenal team is full of quality players who play for their countries though and each one of them must surely know what is expected of them when they play for club or country. The simple mistakes which occur time again are hard to fathom from players of their ability and it's hard to believe it's anything other than a lack of application and concentration at times. 

There are still so called experts who bellieve Arsenal should not have signed Alexis and should have saved their money for defensive signings. The club made plenty of money from the sale of players though as well as the knock on deals from Cesc Fabregas and Carlos Vela and there had to be enough money there to bring those players in too. It's hard to imagine where the team would be right now without Alexis as he has been truly magnificent for Arsenal. He is the best player in the Premier League at the moment and his application should be an example to every other Arsenal player.

There's still an awful lot to play for this season for Arsenal though and there's still the possibility of a trophy too. That trophy isn't going to come in the league unless Arsenal turn their form around immediately and go on a run to close the 12 point advantage Chelsea have over them after only 11 games. A top four place is still well within their grasp though, but surely that can't be the height of their ambitions yet again.

It still looks more than likely that they will progress from their Champions League group but it will be in second place which will of course mean a tougher draw in the last 16. Even with a good draw the team as it is surely can't progress past the quarter finals unless there is a huge change in how they play and some serious investment in January. There's plenty of money to be made from the Champions League, but I just can't see Arsenal being good enough to lift the trophy next May.

That would leave the FA Cup as the only route to silverware and it's a little worrying to admit that two months before Arsenal enter the competition at the third round stage. It would be great to see Arsenal retain the trophy they won last May, but it's hard to take that as their only route to success so early in the season. In truth though it was their only route once the transfer window closed and the squad didn't have the strength and balance needed to challenge with the best.

Of course there are plenty of players who can make a real difference to return from injury, but surely that has been the norm for too many seasons now. When Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud, Laurent Koscielny and Debuchy return it's hard to believe they won't be replaced by others in the treatment room. There's still the January transfer window to come too and just maybe the squad will get the strength it needs nice and early in that window. I won't be holding my breath though and the chances are any signings made will be just before the window closes

Overall it's been a very disappointing season so far with all of the old failings raising their ugly heads again for a host of reasons. A failure to prepare properly, do their homework properly and apply themselves properly has led to a very disappointing mid term report for the team. With the exception of star player Alexis that report has to read "can do better" for the entire squad up to this point. Hopefully when they come back from the international break the players can raise their game and get the team on track to a much better season.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.