Saturday, September 20, 2014

Arsenal To Vanquish The Villains

After a very disappointing midweek result and performance in the Champions League Arsenal get back to Premier League action today with a trip to Aston Villa. Four games in Arsenal are still unbeaten like Villa, but Villa have 10 points compared to Arsenal's six as Arsenal have drawn three of their games. It will be their third away league game of the season and Arsenal had a very good away record last season against the teams who finished below them. The less said about how they performed away to the a Premier League's top teams the better though.

Villa have been impressive so far this season and have only conceded one goal in their opening four games, but they have only scored four. They set themselves up to defend in depth and hit the opposition on the break and it has worked very well so far. They used that same tactic in the opening day victory away to Arsenal last season and I expect them to do so again despite being the home team. It's a tactic which worked well for them when they won away to Liverpool last week, but it's one which requires a lot of defensive discipline.

I have no doubt Villa will try to get in Arsenal's faces and close them down all over the pitch. It's a tactic which has worked for other teams against Arsenal and the Arsenal players and Arsene Wenger need to find a way to combat it. For me the best way to get past a team putting so much pressure on you is to use the ball very quickly and make sure your passing is spot on and you're not caught in possession. Arsenal have the players who are capable of doing just that and they will have to work hard if they are going to do so.

In team news Calum Chambers is fit to return after his bout of tonsillitis and I would imagine he will come in for Hector Bellerin at right back. I don't expect there to be any other changes in the defence as there are no other defenders available with Nacho Monreal out in the short team and Mathieu Debuchy for a fair bit longer. David Ospina has declared himself fit and ready to go in goal and must think a chance could be coming his way with Wojciech Szczesny suffering a few lapses recently. I think Ospina will play in the Capital One Cup against Southampton to see how he fares for the first time in English football.

After the midweek display there has to be questions about some of the other players though and a few of those on the sidelines will feel they should get a chance. I would love to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain get a start and I think he showed enough when he came on against Dortmund to suggest he will give it his all. I can't understand how Chamberlain has continually been left on the bench this season and I think he has an awful lot to offer the team.

I'm not so sure how well the players are adapting to the current formation and it certainly isn't offering the defensive stability the manager wants from it. I think Arsenal have to play their best players in their best positions and that means playing Mesut Ozil as the midfield playmaker. If Chamberlain is on one side and Alexis Sanchez on the other with Danny Welbeck through the middle I think there will be loads of attacking flair in the team.

Where that leaves Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere is another thing, but every player can't play every game. I'm not exactly advocating dropping the pair of them, but I would like to see how Ozil can do with those attacking players around him. If he is chosen there it would not be a bad idea to play Flamini behind him and maybe even Arteta too, but I think Ramsey or Wilshere could play in that role also. Where that would leave Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky is another matter altogether, but it's a squad game and there will be plenty of chances for everybody throughout the season. 

It does look like Arsenal have too many similar players in midfield who are all vying for one or two places in the team. This has led to players playing out of position and I think the team needs to find some balance. The best way to find that balance is through bringing the players the squad needs in during the transfer window, but that's closed until January. 

I've heard quite a few experts telling us that Villa are a good bet to beat Arsenal and they certainly are on the face of it. When it comes to the crunch though Arsenal have much better players and it's a matter of arranging those players in the right way and getting the best out of them. It's up to the manager to do that, but there is also a lot of emphasis on the players to give their all to the cause.

I'm hoping to see a reaction from the players after Tuesday night's disappointing performance and for them to give Villa a very hard afternoon. Welbeck is due his first goal after coming so close in the first two games and I fancy him to get on the scoresheet. I love watching Sanchez play and even though some of his passing leaves a bit to be desired his work rate and commitment is second to none and he makes things happen. 

I thought the team were getting going against City last week with a good attacking display even if the defending wasn't the greatest. They never really clicked in August and it's getting to a stage where they need to get their own game going if something is going to happen this season. It was a false dawn judging by Tuesday night, but the players have a chance to make amends and get back on track today.

I don't expect to see the team I suggested playing, but I do expect to see the players give their all and go for the win. With games against Sours and Chelsea coming up in the next two weeks Arsenal need to find some form and bringing Villa crashing back to earth would be a nice way to do that. I'm going for a narrow Arsenal victory and I'm hoping for a good team performance to set them up nicely for the challenges ahead.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Friday, September 19, 2014

In Defence of Mesut Ozil

With thoughts of Tuesday night's debacle in Dortmund firmly behind them (that's the story I'm sticking to) Arsenal head to Aston Villa in the Premier League tomorrow afternoon. It's not going to be an easy task for seventh placed Arsenal going to the team in second place and four points above them after four games. Both teams are unbeaten so far, but Villa have won there of their four games while Arsenal have drawn three of theirs.

Arsene Wenger surely has a few decisions to make with his team selection after both Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey were again far from their best. With those two players operating at their pinnacle Arsenal pose an attacking threat to any team, but neither of them have really clicked so far this season. Ramsey has managed three goals in seven games, but his overall game had not yet reached the heights of last season. 

On the other hand Ozil came back into the squad late after winning the World Cup with Germany. He didn't have a proper pre season and has constantly been played away from his favoured play makers role. I can't understand how the boss can have one of the best play makers in the world and decide to play him wide left and/or wide right.

He's come in for a lot of stick from some Arsenal fans and plenty of so called experts in the media too. It's hard to know what to make of it all but his lack of pre season didn't help and I'm sure the injury he picked up against Leicester didn't either. I'm not going to rush to judgement on a player of his undoubted talent after a few games where he hasn't impressed as much as I would hope. 

I will say I think he has been deployed in a wide role to accommodate others who have played in a more central role. For me it's a pretty simple scenario where the boss shows his faith in him and plays him in his best position while building a team around him. I don't know how others feel, but I can't wait to see him spearheading the midfield and playing passes for Theo Walcott.

For the moment though Walcott is injured and there are other players who would benefit from his range of passing. What's wrong with playing Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain and Alexis Sanchez in wide roles and Danny Welbeck through the middle with Ozil supplying the ammunition. It's a mouth watering prospect and one which could really work from an offensive point of view.

Maybe the problem is the club don't have the players to play a system which would suit Ozil and he is losing out as a result. Arsenal have a lot of creative and skilful players in central midfield roles and it's not easy to accommodate all of them in the team together. Both Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky have missed out recently and so has Chamberlain if you consider him to be a contender in that role.

The financial results released by the club today show there was plenty of money available to invest in the squad in the summer and some players did come in. The real shame is that a strong and aggressive central midfielder to play behind Ozil and in front of the defence wasn't identified and purchased. I find it very hard to imagine Ozil agreed to join Arsenal to be deployed as a wide player just so the team can have as many nippy players as possible in it. Surely it makes sense to build a team around your best player and being in other players to get the best out of him. 

There will be plenty of games for all of the squad to play at different times this season and for those who would like to play in Ozil's favoured role to get a shot at it too. I know he hasn't adjusted fully to the rigours of English football and he looks like he needs to possibly build his physique to cope. It also seems he holds on to the ball too long at times, but he has a great eye for a pass and sometimes the other players aren't making the required runs. I am confident Ozil will come through and prove his quality, but he has to be given the opportunity to do so where he is at his very best.

This started off as a preview of the Arsenal game against Villa and has ended up as a defence of Mesut Ozil which means I'll have to start all over again with my preview. I'll put that out a little later on but for now that's your lot.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Predictions For Premier League Gameweek Five

It's that time of the week when I attempt to predict the outcomes of the upcoming Premier League games. I didn't do too badly last week with with six correct outcomes and four incorrect which saw me move up to second place in my predictions league. It's not too late to join my predictions league and you can do so here with the code FD20D-AVD after you have made your predictions. Here's a look at how that league stands at the moment.

PositionPlayer NamePTSTWBB
Up 1 (2)goonerdhanesh235+1250
Up 2 (3)Michael Sheehy155+700
Up 3 (4)Daytona125+450
Down 3 (1)sensisoccerworld12500
Up 5 (10)Abu K70+850
Up 5 (7)sodobo70+600

Saturday September 20

Queens Park Rangers v Stoke City

12.45pm BST, Loftus Road, London

QPR were abject in their 4-0 defeat at United last week and have only scored one goal in their four games so far. Luckily for them that goal was enough to get them three points at home to Sunderland and it looks like their best chance of getting points is in those home games. If they are to stay up they will have to do better than the two 4-0 away defeats they have to their name already. 

I can't see any QPR players worth considering for fantasy managers.

Stoke undid their good work of the previous week by losing at home to Leicester last week in a game they dominated. They have taken all four of their points so far this season away from home which is unusual for a team who don't always travel too well. They're still having problems scoring goals though and need to improve their goals per game ratio if they're going to finish as high as they managed last season.

Ryan Shawcross and Erik Pieters look like reasonable choices for fantasy managers.

I think Stoke should be good enough to go to a poor QPR team and take the three points

Prediction: 0-1

Aston Villa v Arsenal

3pm BST, Villa Park, Birmingham 

Villa have had a great start to the season with 10 points from their four games and only one goal conceded in those games. They have only scored four goals in those games though and their current second place is built on that defensive strength. They set themselves up to play on the break and will think that's an ideal way to play against Arsenal.

All of the Villa defenders look good at the moment along with Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor.

Arsenal are unbeaten in the league but they have only one once in their four games. They have conceded from the first shot on target against them in each of those games and just cannot seen to put teams away when they are on top. They had a very good away record last season and need to rediscover that form this season. 

Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sanchez are both looking very good at the moment and running up plenty of fantasy points.

Villa will make things very difficult for Arsenal, but I think Arsenal are good enough to win the game.

Prediction: 1-2

Burnley v Sunderland

3pm BST, Turf Moor, Burnley

Burnley have only taken two points in their opening four games, but they have only conceded one goal in the last three games. Their problem is scoring goals and they have only managed one so far which came in the first half of their first game. Despite their strength and organisation at the back they're not going to stay up if they can't win games.

The Burnley defenders such as Michael Duff and Tom Heaton have done very well so far at a good price for fantasy managers.

Sunderland haven't won a game yet, but they have at least managed to draw three of their four games. They haven't kept a clean sheet either, but they will fancy their chances of shutting Burnley out in this game. They need a win to get their season going and climb the table and this game offers a very good chane to do just that.

Seb Larsson has been the most impressive Sunderland player so far this season.

I think this is going to be a very close game and will probably end in a draw.

Prediction: 0-0

Newcastle United v Hull City

3pm BST, St. Jame's Park, Newcastle 

Newcastle find themselves at the foot of the table on goal difference after conceding seven goals in their last two games. The manner of their 4-0 defeat away to Southampton last week was very worrying for their fans who are becoming very restless. The pressure on Alan Pardew is mounting and he won't be in the job much longer if they don't climb the table quickly.

I can't see any Newcastle players to recommend to fantasy managers at the moment.

Hull played very well in a good game against West Ham on Monday night which ended in a 2-2 draw. They have only won once in their opening four games, but they have only lost once too and find themselves sitting in mid table. They did struggle on the road last season, but their only win so far was away from home and they will fancy their chances against a struggling Newcastle team.

Allan McGregor again looks like the Hull player most likely to do the business for fantasy managers this season.

I think Hull will give Newcastle a tough time but the game might just end in a draw.

Prediction: 1-1

Swansea City v Southampton 

3pm BST, Liberty Stadium, Swansea

Swansea lost their 100% record when they lost 4-2 away to Chelsea last week, but they played quite well in a good game. They have won both of their home games so far without conceding a goal and will prove a handful for any team on their own ground. They struggled last season with midweek European games, but they will have no such worries this season.

Gylfi Sigurdsson, Nathan Dyer plus most of the Swansea defenders are pretty good fantasy bets now that they have Chelsea out of the way.

Southampton lost their opening game away to Liverpool despite playing well, but they have taken seven points in their three games since then. They have only conceded one goal in those three games and scored seven with the team showing few signs of missing the players who left in the transfer window. Ronald Koeman has brought in some good players of his own and seems to have the team playing every bit as well as they did last season.

I recommended Graziano Pelle last week and he did very well to show he is a good choice for fantasy managers along with their defenders.

This could be a very good game and I think it might end with the spoils shared.

Prediction: 1-1

West Ham United v Liverpool

5.30pm BST, Upton Park, London

West Ham got a point at Hull on Monday night and played quite well too. They have fared better away from home so far and have lost both of their home games. The will surely look to put Liverpool under pressure after Liverpool had to play a European game in midweek.

Stewart Downing has been the best fantasy performer in the West Ham team so far and Mauro Zarate hasn't looked too bad either.

Liverpool have lost two of their four league games and ae struggling without the departed Luis Suarez and injured Daniel Sturridge. They brought in a lot of players in the summer and they are certainly a few problems gelling them together. They can't afford to take too long to do so though or they will fall even further behind the pace setters.

Raheem Sterling looks like the Liverpool player most likely to succeed for fantasy managers at the moment while Steven Gerrard always does well.

This won't be an easy game for Liverpool, but I think they will win it by the odd goal. 

Prediction: 1–2

Sunday September 21 

Leicester City v Manchester United

1.30pm BST, King Power Stadium, Leicester

Leicester got a very good win away to Stoke last week and the only game they have lost so far was away to Chelsea. They have adapted the best so far of the three promoted clubs and are a good bet to avoid the drop. They haven't won a home game yet though with two draws to their name and it won't be easy for them to get that win in this game.

Leonardo Ulloa has been the best performer for Leicester with three goals in their four games.

United finally got their first win under their new manager last week with a fairly easy stroll at home to QPR. They haven't done too well with a relatively easy start to the season and this will be a tough test for them. With the array of talent they have they must to be favourites to win and their performance will be a pointer towards how they are progressing under Luis van Gaal.

It looks like Wayne Rooney, Angel Di Maria and Robin van Persie could be the United players to have, but then there's Juan Mata, Radamel Falcao (when he gets a game) and their defenders to consider too.

Leicester have been impressive so far, but I think they could struggle against free spending United.

Prediction: 1-3

Tottenham Hotspur v West Bromwich Albion

1.30pm BST, White Hart Lane, London

Spurs have been up and down with seven points in their first four games and had a long journey back from Belgrade on Thursday night. They tend to do well against the Premier League's lesser clubs and West Brom certainly fit into that category this season. After resting most of their first choice players on Thursday Spurs should have plenty to throw at West Brom.

Nasir Chadli is in fine form at the moment while Christian Eriksen and Emmanuel Adebayor have to be considered too along with their defenders against the league's lesser sides.

West Brom don't look in good shape and could find themselves in for another difficult afternoon. They are having problems scoring goals and their defence isn't doing too well either. It looks like a long battle against relegation for them and it's one they might not win.

I don't think there are any West Brom players for fantasy managers to get excited about.

I can't see anything other than a Spurs victory in this game.

Prediction: 2-0

Everton v Crystal Palace

4pm BST, Goodison Park, Liverpool

Everton got their first win of the season away to West Brom last week and will fancy their chances at home to another struggling club. They played a strong team against Wolfsburg on Thursday night and could find themselves a little fatigued. They have conceded eight goals in their two home games, but Palace won't be as formidable as Chelsea or Arsenal.

Steven Naismith has had a good start to the season for Everton while Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas, Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines are all good long term prospects.

Palace are one of five sides who haven't registered a league win yet with just two points from their first four games. They just about managed to keep a clean sheet at home to Burnley last week, but couldn't find the net themselves. They will have to be at their very best to have any chance of getting something from this game and even then it might not be enough.

Jason Puncheon has looked pretty good for Palace so far with the obvious exception of the red card he picked up against Arsenal.

Everton got their first league win last week and they should make it two in a row in this game.

Prediction: 3-1

Manchester City v Chelsea

4pm BST, Etihad Stadium, Manchester

City could only get a point at Arsenal last week and find themselves five points behind Chelsea after only four games. They haven't won in their last three games including the Champions League defeat on Wednesday night and they need to get something from this game. A defeat would be a huge blow to them and it would leave them eight points behind Chelsea after only five games.

Sergio Aguero is looking good at the moment and David Silva is always a good bet for fantasy managers.

Chelsea have won all four of their league games so far and been very impressive going forward in each of those games. They haven't been as strong at the back as usual after letting in six goals in those games, but the 15 goals they have scored have more than made up for it. Last season they parked the bus in big away games and the question is will they do it again this season.

Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas are must haves for fantasy managers while Eden Hazard and Branislav Ivanovic look pretty good too.

I think this has the makings of a very good game and a draw is probably the most likely outcome.

Prediction: 2-2

That's it for this week.

See you next week.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Arsenal Lucky To Lose By Only Two Goals in Dortmund

Arsenal went to Borussia Dortmund last night for their first game in the group stages of this season's Champions League. It's been a happy hunting ground for them in recent seasons with a win there last season and a draw two seasons before that. Anything other than a defeat would have been a good result in what was surely going to be the toughest game in the group for them.

Arsene Wenger made three changes from the team which drew 2-2 at home to City on Saturday with Mikel Arteta, Kieran Gibbs and Hector Bellerin all coming into the team. Arteta was a straight replacement for Mathieu Flamini in the defensive role in midfield while Gibbs came in at left back for the injured Nacho Monreal. With Mathieu Debuchy out for an extended period his obvious replacement at right back was Calum Chambers, but a bout of tonsillitis kept him out of the starting team and handed a first team debut to Bellerin. 

If you check the stats on the official Arsenal site Bellerin is not a first team squad member and is no more than a promising 19 year old player. For the lack of defensive squad depth to be shown up already so early in the season is a scary thought, but it was something which almost every Arsenal fan could have seen coming. The defenders which the squad needed were not brought in during the transfer window and the team is now paying the price. 

To be honest though it probably wouldn't have made any difference as a defence is only as good as the cover in front of it and there was precious little help offered to the back four by the rest of the team. It seems every single fan wanted the boss to sign a defensive/holding midfielder during the window, but again nothing happened and the team is suffering as a result.

I'm not going to over analyse every moment of the game, but Dortmund dominated from start to finish and were unlucky to only win by two goals. They had more than enough chances to add more goals to their tally while Arsenal very rarely threatened at the other end. When Arsenal did make chances they all fell to Danny Welbeck and he was unable to put them away. He could do with a goal to get his Arsenal career up and running and hopefully that goal will come very soon.

Dortmund pushed forward from the start and their players closed the Arsenal players down all over the pitch. Arsenal were unable to cope with the pressure they were put under and were constantly caught in possession or passed to the opposition. They somehow rode their luck in the first half and looked to have made it to the break scoreless until Dortmund struck on the stroke of half time.

The team needed to be reorganised and sent out with a new message in the second half, but we were treated to more of the same. It took Dortmund only three minutes to add to their tally in the second half and the game was as good as over as a contest. Arsenal still continued to play in the same way as if there was some belief that their style of play would win through in the end.

On the hour mark the boss made a couple of changes and the players to be withdrawn were Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla coming on. I thought Chamberlain did quite well in comparison to the rest of the team and tried enough in that last half hour to deserve a start against Villa on Saturday. Cazorla on the other hand was invisible and it was almost impossible to tell he was out there.

Jack Wilshere was the only other midfielder to come out of the game with any credit, but even he was guilty of overplaying the ball and was caught in possession far too often. Both Ozil and Ramsey were far from their best yet again and they need to find some form very quickly for the sake of the team. If Arsenal are going to compete this season they need those two players to have far more influence when they play.

Despite the players playing so poorly a lot of the blame has to go to the tactics used on the night. Dortmund came out and played like they always play at home, but Arsenal didn't seem to have any solution to the problems posed to them. It's hard to come up with excuses for the tactics and they will only add more fuel to the fire of the "Wenger out" brigade. 

There are still five games left in the group for Arsenal and qualification is well within their grasp. The draw between Galatasary and Anderlecht last night was a good result for us and Arsenal need to win at home to Galatasary in their next game before the back to back games against Anderlecht. It's not going to be easy to win the group now, but a place in the last 16 has to be the first priority.

The most worrying aspect for me was the game was so much like the heavy defeats Arsenal suffered against Liverpool, Chelsea and City last season in the league. Arsenal got it all wrong in those games and last night's performance leaves me thinking they are going to suffer a similar fate a few times this season. How do you explain the complete ineptitude of the team four or five times in a season and the inability to learn anything from it. 

It's a worrying time to be an Arsenal fan and the season has started far too slowly for my liking. The team have only won two of their seven competitive games and have only scored eight goals in those games while conceding the same amount of goals. They need to find some form and very quickly too or their chances in the league will be gone before they ever even existed. 

Before last night there was a feeling among some fans that at least the team had not lost a game. That unbeaten record is gone now and the team face a tough trip to Villa on Saturday knowing a win is a must. They cannot afford to draw yet again, but this Villa team have found some ressielence and have only conceded one goal in their four league games so far. 

Things have to improve and they have to improve straight away. It's up to the manager to pick a team and the tactics which will get the team back on course and it's up to the players to give their all for the cause. Let's hope last night was the bad result they needed to spur them on to do their best and give their all from here on in.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.