Saturday, 10 December 2016

Arsenal v Stoke City Preview

After an emphatic 4-1 victory in Basel on Tuesday night it's back to the more mundane events of the Premier League for Arsenal when Stoke City come calling to the Emirates. With nasty November out of the way Arsenal kicked into a different gear last Saturday with a 5-1 win at West Ham and they followed it with the impressive win on Tuesday night. An added bonus to that win was the failure of PSG to win at home to Ludogorets which meant Arsenal topped their qualifying group for the first time in 10 years.

The reward for a group winner is a supposedly easier draw in the last 16, but with Real Madrid and Bayern Munich failing to win their groups that might not be the case. They are two of the six teams Arsenal can play in the next round and the other four are Benfica, Bayer Leverkusen, Porto and Sevilla. While winning the group was a great and unexpected achievement it most certainly won't be easy to make the quarter finals. 

With Santi Cazorla out for a while it looks like Granit Xhaka might just be in for an extended run in the team. He brings different qualities to the team, but I think he has to be the best option as long as he can control his urge to kick anybody who goes past him. There's plenty to choose from to play alongside him, but I have a feeling we might see Aaron Ramsey get a bit of a run in the team.

The games are coming thick and fast with three league games in the next week and Arsene Wenger is going to have to utilise his full squad. Both Kieran Gibbs and Lucas Perez grabbed their chance to impress with both hands on Tuesday night and Alex Iwobi didn't do too badly either. We could see Hector Bellerin back very soon while Danny Welbeck and Per Mertesacker are well on the road to recovery too. If we're lucky very soon we might only be missing out Spanish magician and that squad depth could be a real bonus.

I would imagine there will be a few changes from Tuesday night with Petr Cech, Nacho Monreal and Shkodran Mustafi coming back into the defence. If he's fit I still think Bellerin will sit this one out and Gabriel Paulista hasn't done too badly at all at right back. Our defensive record isn't particularly impressive at home so far, but we have got the best defensive record away from home.

I think Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will come back into the team too which would see the same team play as the one which beat West Ham. It was great to see that we could make six changes in midweek without affecting the performance level, but crucial to that for me was the players who weren't rotated. We can keep our performance level at that height when we keep Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Laurent Koscielny and maybe even Xhaka in the team and others are moved in and out around them. The problem could be an injury or fatigue to any of those players and how we might cope without them over a very busy festive period.

For today though we play a Stoke team who started the season badly, but have only lost once in their last nine league games. They have being keeping plenty of clean sheets too even if they don't score too many goals and their confidence will be quite high. They have a pretty horrific record at the Emirates though and it's up to us to insure that record continues.

I saw the highlights of their victory at home to Burnley last week and they rode their luck before going on to win 2-0. If we can impose our fast passing and quick moving game on them I think we will get some joy and head to Goodison Park and then the Etihad Stadium hot on the heels of Chelsea. It promises to be a very busy week and we need to start it by taking the three points on offer today.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Arsenal: Show Them The Money

With things going so well for Arsenal at the moment it was only a matter of time before someone threw a spanner in the works. The absence of Santi Cazorla for the next few months is what I thought might be their biggest problem, but I just might have been wrong on that count. It looks like Granit Xhaka will get more time with Cazorla out and he might not be the same type of player, but the signs so far are the team are functioning pretty well with him in it.

However, a bigger problem might just have reared it's ugly head with the press full of stories of other clubs making a move for one or both of our star performers. Both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil are right up there among the very best players in the Premier League and almost any team in the world would be happy to see them at their club. They both have contracts until the end of next season and there's a real urgency for the club to tie them down to new deals as soon as possible.

It's impossible to estimate how much it would cost to replace both of those players in the current market, but it's a sum Arsenal would most definitely shy away from paying. Added to that there would be the problem of finding players of their calibre available and the wages players at that level would expect. The cost of letting either or both of them leave the club would be huge and it would put the club back to where it was a few years ago.

The move to the Emirates Stadium meant Arsenal had to penny pinch for far too long and we have been told that era is now firmly behind us. If the club are going to make us fans believe that then the extension of both of their contracts is surely the best way of doing so. As good as some of our other players are those two are superstars of the game and the envy of every other Premier League club.

The money available to United, City and Chelsea means they can pay what they like for any player and none of us believe "financial fair play" will ever do anything about it. Arsenal captured both players as their stars were waining and they have flourished at the club to the extent that they are both hot properties again. If we are going to prove we are true contenders and can mix it with the best we have to keep them both at the club.

I have no doubt their wages will have to increase by an amount that would make us average Joes rich beyond our dreams, but if that's what it takes I don't see what choice the club has. Arsene Wenger's contract is up at the end of this season and failure to keep those two players at the club would surely mean the end of his reign. It would be impossible to go back to the role of also-rans and look to extend his contract while telling us he is building for the future. For me that future is now and we have built towards it for far too long and it's time all of that building came to fruition.

I'm not saying we are going to win the league or the Champions League, but we have our best realistic chances of doing so in a very long time with the current squad. Sure it could do with an addition or two and lack of the best squad didn't mean we didn't challenge in other seasons in that time, but we now have the squad to sustain a challenge and that could make the difference. There's still plenty to be ironed out in the team, but I haven't seen hope or belief like this in a long time.

Failure to extend both of their contracts would ruin all of that and knock us back so far it could be difficult to recover from. How do you sell the club to prospective new players when you have let those two players leave and they will have to be sold next summer if they don't extend their contracts. Anyone who argues that we should sell them at the height of their value and that there would be virtually no resale value for them at the end of their next contract needs to think about what they are saying. I know playing for Arsenal has put them where they are now, but we cannot expect them to demand less than players of a similar value.

It's going to be a nervy time for us fans as we await news on both of their contracts and the sooner the better it's sorted. If the club can tie them down quickly we can get back to the far more important business of playing football and trying to win trophies. We're second in the league, through to the last 16 of the Champions League as a seeded team and the FA Cup starts for us in a few weeks. They are three trophies we need to fight to the bitter end to try to win and what better way than by tying two players who are right up there with the very best in the league down to new contracts even if we have to break our "wage structure". It's been broken before and it will probably be broken again and in my opinion it's worth breaking for Alexis and Ozil.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Predictions For Premier League Gameweek 15

It's that time of the week again when I attempt to predict the outcomes of the upcoming Premier League games. I did well enough last week thanks to three perfect outcomes with two correct outcomes and five incorrect. I'm still on top of my predictions league as you can see from the table below even if my lead did slip a little.

NameBadgesThis WeekPTS
 1 (1)  Michael Sheehy 5+50880
 2 (3)  Wayne Hubbard +75700
 3 (3)  Karl-Yngve Lund 2+70695
 4 (2)  Rutland Gooner 3+10655
 5 (5) sensisoccerworld 10460

Saturday December 10

Watford v Everton

12.30pm GMT, Vicarage Road, Watford 

Watford lost 3-1 away to West Brom last week and dropped into the bottom half of the table as a result. They have won as many games as they have lost at home and only five other teams have conceded more goals at home. They have lost three of their last four games and conceded 11 goals in the process, but six of those goals were in one game against Liverpool.

Troy Deeney has been the most consistent Watford player for fantasy managers so far.

Everton left it late last week, but they got a point at home to United thanks to a last minute penalty. They have lost four of their seven away games and have only scored seven goals in those games. They have only won once in their last nine games and have only scored twice in the last four.

I just can't see any Everton players doing the business for fantasy managers at the moment.

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

Prediction: 1-1

Arsenal v Stoke City

3pm GMT, Emirates Stadium, London

Arsenal put five past West Ham last week away from home to move up to second in the table. They have taken 14 points from their seven home games with only Chelsea and Liverpool scoring more goals at home. They are unbeaten since the opening day, but they haven't kept a clean sheet in their last five.

Alexis Sanchez is on fire at the moment and is a must have for fantasy managers while Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and the Arsenal defenders haven't done too badly either. 

Stoke beat Burnley 2-0 last week and that victory moved them into the top half of the table. They have only won twice in their seven away games, but only five other teams have a better defensive record on the road. They have only lost once in their last nine games and have won five of their last seven with four clean sheets in those seven games.

Stoke's defenders have done well recently for fantasy managers, but they could suffer in this game.

I think Stoke will do their best to make things tough for Arsenal, but the home team should prevail.

Prediction: 3-1

Burnley v Bournemouth 

3pm GMT, Turf Moor, Burnley

Burnley lost 2-0 away to Stoke last week, but they're a very different team at home. They have taken 13 of their 14 points at home and scored 11 of their 12 goals on their home patch too. They have lost their last three games and conceded eight goals in the process and they could do with getting something from this game.

Tom Heaton has done very well for fantasy managers so far and Burnley players do pretty well in their home games at least.

Bournemouth put in a brilliant performance to come from 3-1 down to win 4-3 at home to Liverpool last week. They have only won once in their seven away games and only two other teams have scored less goals away from home. They have won two of their last three games, but they have conceded six goals in their last two games.

Calum Wilson seems to be back on track and fantasy managers could do worse than having him in their team while their defenders continue to do well thanks to their attacking contributions despite the amount of goals they concede.

This isn't an easy game to call, but I have a feeling the spoils will be shared.

Prediction: 2-2

Hull City v Crystal Palace 

3pm GMT, KC Stadium, Hull

Hull lost 1-0 away to Boro last week and are looking more likely to be relegated as each week goes by. Only Swansea have a worse record at home than Hull and no other team has scored less goals at home. They have only taken five points from their last 12 games and haven't kept a clean sheet in those 12 games.

Despite how poor Hull have been Robert Snodgrass has still done well for fantasy managers and is certainly worth considering.

Palace got a convincing 3-0 win at home to Southampton last week to relieve the pressure on Alan Pardew. They have taken as many points away as they have at home, but only Leicester and Hull have conceded more goals on their travels. They had lost six in a row before last week's win and they kept their first clean sheet of the season last week too.

Christian Benteke has three goals in his last two games since I dropped him from my fantasy team and he could be worth considering for fantasy managers.

I think Palace will have enough in attack to get the better of a Hull team who look destined for the drop.

Prediction: 1–2

Swansea City v Sunderland 

3pm GMT, Liberty Stadium, Swansea

Swansea were well beaten away to Spurs last week and dropped back to the foot of the table as a result. They have only taken five points from their seven home games and no other team has conceded more goals at home. They have lost nine of their last 13 games and have conceded 16 goals in their last five games.

Despite Swansea's current league position Gylfi Sigurdsson is still a very good choice for fantasy managers.

Sunderland won at home to Leicester last week and they continue to climb the table, but they're still in the bottom three. They have only won once in their seven away games and only Burnley have scored less goals away from home. They have won three of their last four games, but they have only kept one clean sheet in their 14 games so far.

Jermain Defoe continues to do the business for fantasy managers and is definitely worth considering.

This is a real relegation six pointer and I think it might just go the way of Sunderland.

Prediction: 1-2

Leicester City v Manchester City

5.30pm GMT, King Power Stadium, Leicester 

Leicester lost again last week when they went down 2-1 away to Sunderland and they slipped even closer to the relegation zone. They have only lost one of their seven home games and it's only that home form that has kept them out of the relegation zone. They have only taken two points in their last five games and haven't kept a clean sheet in their last seven.

Riyad Mahrez is the Leicester player most likely to do well for fantasy managers and surely one of them must do that quite soon.

City lost at home to Chelsea last week and they had two players sent off in the process. They have won more away games than any other team and only Arsenal have scored more goals away from home. They have only won three of their last eight games and have only kept one clean sheet in their last nine.

With Sergio Aguero suspended for four games the City player most likely to impress is Kevin de Bruyne with Kelechi Iheanacho an outside bet.

I think City will be too good for Leicester even without Aguero and will win by a couple of goals.

Prediction: 1-3

Sunday December 11

Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion

12pm GMT, Stamford Bridge, London

Chelsea won away to City last week and increased their lead at the top of the table to three points. They have won more home games and scored more home goals than any other team while no other team has conceded less goals at home. They have won their last eight games and only conceded two goals in the process with only Spurs conceding less goals so far.

Diego Costa and Eden Hazard are the stand out Chelsea players for fantasy managers while their defenders have done really well as have Victor Moses and Nemanja Matic.

West Brom beat Watford last week and they're up to seventh in the table only one point behind United. They have only lost two of their seven away games and only two other teams have a better defensive record away from home. They have taken 10 points in their last four games, but it will be a tall order for them to get anything from this game.

Matt Phillips has looked very good for fantasy managers recently while Gareth McAuley and Ben Foster haven't done too badly either, but they might not do too well in this game.

I think Chelsea will continue their winning ways in this game and continue to pile the pressure on the teams chasing them.

Prediction: 2-0

Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur 

2.15pm GMT, Old Trafford, Manchester 

United looked to have taken the three points at Everton last week, but a last minute penalty meant they had to settle for a draw. They have only won two of their seven home games and have drawn the last four at home in a row. They have only won once in their last eight games and they're already 13 points off the top of the table.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has hit some form in the last few games, but he costs an awful lot for fantasy managers.

Spurs thrashed Swansea 5-0 last week to keep in touch with the top four, but they need to get something out of this game too. They have only lost one of their seven away games, but they have drawn four of them and only Arsenal have a better defensive record away from home. They have only won two of their last seven games, but they do have the best defensive record in the league.

Harry Kane and Dele Alli look like the best fantasy choices in the Spurs team with their defenders worth considering too.

I think this will be another very close game and the chances are it will end in a draw.

Prediction: 1-1

Southampton v Middlesbrough 

2.15pm GMT, St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton 

Southampton were well beaten away to Palace last week and the sheer volume of games they have played could be catching up on them. They have only lost one of their seven home games, but only Boro and Hull have scored less goals at home and only three other teams have conceded less goals at home. They have only won once in their last six games and only two other teams have scored less goals than them.

Charlie Austin has been the best Southampton player for fantasy managers, but their lack of goals makes it hard to pick their attacking players and their defenders have done quite well too.

Boro beat Hull 1-0 last week and those three points moved them four points clear of the relegation zone. They have only lost once in their seven away games, but they have only won once too with no other team drawing as many away games. They have only lost one of their last six games and they kept clean sheets in three of those games.

The Boro defenders haven't done badly in recent weeks and look to be the best fantasy bets in their team.

I think this could be a low scoring game and Southampton might just win by the only goal.

Prediction: 1-0

Liverpool v West Ham United

4.30pm GMT, Anfield, Liverpool

Liverpool looked to be cruising to a win at Bournemouth last week, but they somehow managed to lose 4-3 and dropped back to third place. They are one of only three teams unbeaten at home and only Chelsea have scored more goals at home. That defeat at Bournemouth was their first one in 12 games and they're the top scorers in the league so far.

With Phillippe Coutinho injured it looks like Sadio Mane could be the Liverpool player to have for fantasy managers with Roberto Frimino and Adam Lallana looking good too.

West Ham were well beaten at home by Arsenal last week and they need to turn things around quickly or Slaven Bilic could find himself in a spot of bother. They have only won once in their seven away games with only Leicester, Hull and Palace conceding more goals on the road. They have only taken two points in their last five games and they conceded 12 goals in those games.

Dimitri Payet still looks like the West Ham player most likely to succeed for fantasy managers.

I think Liverpool should put last week's disappointment behind them and win this game with a few goals to spare.

Prediction: 3-1

That's it for this week.

See you next week.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Arsenal's Champions League Trip To Basel Previewed

Arsenal face a trip to Basel tomorrow night in their final Champions League group game. Despite being unbeaten and level on 11 points with PSG their chances of winning the group are somewhere very far south of slim. After the 2-2 draw at the Emirates a couple of weeks away they fell behind PSG on their head to head record as they had drawn 1-1 in Paris back in September.

The way the head to head rules work away goals come into play and PSG are ahead on that count. The only way they can finish ahead of PSG is if the French champions fail to win at home to Ludogorets and it's something that I just cannot see happening. Arsenal put six goals past them at the Emirates and I cannot see PSG slipping up with the prize of first place in the group so close at hand.

It means Arsenal will probably finish second in the group yet again and with second place comes a last 16 game against a group winner. At the moment the choices for them are Napoli, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Monaco, Borrusia Dortmund and Juventus, but not all of the groups are decided yet and a few of those teams might not win their groups. It would be a brave person to bet against Arsenal drawing Barcelona and I will not be at all surprised to see them come out of the hat together.

As for the game against Basel it seems Arsene Wenger is taking a full strength squad for the game and it looks like he will possibly play the strongest team he has available. The 5-1 win at West Ham on Saturday was a great result and it moved Arsenal up to second in the table behind Chelsea. There's a lot to be said for keeping a winning or unbeaten run going, but I suppose you could also say that run ended when Southampton put us out of the EFL Cup last week.

I wasn't too upset with that exit as it's a competition we're not going to win using just the reserves and fringe players. The value of resting players for that game was shown in the win at West Ham while our conquerors were beaten 3-0 at Palace after playing a strong team against us. Maybe a second string side would be the way to go against Basel with a Stoke team on a good run coming to the Emirates on Saturday.

I think the boss will go for a bit of a mixture and maybe rest one or two players who might just need a bit of recovery time before Saturday. I wouldn't be surprised to see Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud and Alex Iwobi play and of course David Ospina will play in goal as he has done in every other Champions League game this season. I doubt if Hector Bellerin will be risked even if he is fit to return as we need him back in tip top shape for the Christmas games.

Basel are no pushover on their own ground and they need to get at least a point from this game to have a chance of finishing third and qualifying for the last 32 of the Europa League. At the moment they're behind Ludogorets on their head to head records and can only beat them by taking more points off us than Ludogorets take off PSG. They have done very well against English teams over the last few years and will hope for more of the same in this game.

They've not as good as they were in previous season's though and we should be able to beat them even with a few changes to the team. Ideally I would like to see Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil rested, but we are pretty blunt in attack without them and I wouldn't be surprised to see them play. I hold no hope of PSG dropping points so our result won't really matter too much, but it would still be good to finish the group unbeaten with 14 points in the bag. As I said before the Southampton game last week though, it's more important to see all the players come through the game unscathed and ready to go over the festive period.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.