Tuesday, 24 January 2017

A Tale Of Two Penalties

It's been a pretty eventful time for Arsenal recently and Sunday's 2-1 win over Burnley was certainly no different. With the game swinging to and fro in second half added time Arsenal somehow managed to take the three points with a 97th minute penalty. By that time it looked as if 10 man Arsenal had blown their chance of moving ahead of the other chasers and into second place behind Chelsea.

We had been treated to Arsene Wenger getting his marching orders at that stage and the FA have seen fit to charge him today. He has no defence really, but the suggestion from some quarters of a 10 game ban is ridiculous and not based in fact. Sure, he cursed at the referee or fourth official, didn't leave the tunnel after he was sent off and gave that fourth official a little push too, but 10 games would be way over the top. Then again having written the previous sentence maybe he will see that book bounce off his forehead.

However, I wouldn't be surprised if he got half of that in a ban which would rule him out of some pretty big games. In all of this there is no mention of yet another awful refereeing performance and that performance of course had an influence on his reaction. Burnley may well be upset at the late concession of a penalty which they considered to be offside, but the rules clearly state it was a penalty even if he was offside as the whistle had not gone when Laurent Koscielny was kicked in the face.

I've heard it suggested by some that Koscielny put his head down and it wasn't really a high boot, but that doesn't hold any water with me. What those who claim it wasn't a penalty are also forgetting is the stone wall penalty not awarded to Arsenal for the foul on Shkodran Mustafi earlier and you can't focus on one and ignore the other.

The time for referees to get some help from video replays must surely be just around the corner and it can't come quickly enough for me. I'm not for a minute suggesting that Arsenal suffer any more than other clubs from the awful decisions, but it just seems like too many games are being decided by bad refereeing decisions at the moment. 

While all that was going on the performance from Arsenal wasn't exactly one to write home about yet again. They did win though and have now taken 13 points from the last 15 available which is a mere one more than Chelsea have taken in that time. There's still eight points to make up though and the crunch is just around the corner.

If Arsenal are going to have any real chance of winning the league they are going to have to go to Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs and win as well as winning at home to both Manchester clubs. Judging by past performances this season and for far too many previous seasons it's a highly unlikely scenario. This team will have to become something they have never been before to win the league and that's consistently good in the big games.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Arsenal v Burnley Preview

Arsenal play at home to Burnley today in a game which gives them the chance to climb to second in the table. Yesterday's results went very well for Arsenal with Liverpool losing while Spurs, City and United all drew. Those slips mean Arsenal can go one point above Spurs in second place and five points behind Chelsea before the league leaders play Hull later in the day.

I don't hold out much hope of Hull getting anything from Chelsea which would see them maintain their eight point lead over Arsenal as long as Arsenal beat Burnley. On the face of it Arsenal should have few problems against the team with the worst away record in the league and a team who have only scored three goals in their nine away games. Of course things are rarely that easy in football and I expect Burnley to do all they can to keep Arsenal at bay.

Arsene Wenger is unlikely to make too many changes to the team which won 4-0 at Swansea last week and maybe Swansea's win at Liverpool yesterday puts a little more perspective on that result last week. Hector Bellerin, Francis Coquelin and Kieran Gibbs all return to the squad and all three could genuinely hope to play from the start, but I think Bellerin will probably be the only change made. Gabriel Paulista has looked better defensively at right back than he has done in the centre, but Bellerin's attacking prowess could be very useful today.

I expect Burnley to sit deep, tackle hard and hope to get something on the break or from a set piece. Arsenal won 1-0 away to them earlier in the season with a last gasp goal that never should have stood as Burnley put up s very good performance. Their home form is right up there with the best teams in the league, but they are a different team on their travels.

It could well be another game where Arsenal have to be patient and then need to push home their advantage if they do take the lead. Far too often for my liking the intensity from Arsenal has dropped off after they have taken the lead and their opponents have got back into the game. It nearly happened at Swansea last week, but the second half display was a lot more like the performance of a team who want to challenge for the title.

I would love to see them win by a few goals and I would be very surprised if they failed to score in the game. Burnley have found goals very hard to come by away from home and you would imagine scoring more than one goal today should be enough to tie down the three points. Even if Arsenal win they will more than likely be eight points behind Chelsea and it's going to be a tough gap to close.

To be fair any team that wins 14 of 15 games is going to streak away from the opposition and Arsenal will not catch them unless things start to go wrong for Chelsea. After the FA Cup games next week Chelsea travel to Liverpool for a midweek game and it's a game every other team hoping to challenge has to want Liverpool to win. Then Arsenal travel to Chelsea the following weekend and again all logic says it's a game Arsenal need to win for their sake and the other team's sakes too.

They need to go into that game on the back of wins at home to Burnley and Watford and that starts today. They have taken 10 points from their last four games and 16 from six games would be a good way to go into that Chelsea game despite who the opposition might have been in those games. I still doubt this team's ability to do what needs to be done at the crucial stages in the season, but they at least have to go to Chelsea in a position where they can do something.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Predictions For Premier League Gameweek 22

It's that time of the week again when I attempt to predict the outcomes of the upcoming Premier League games. I did reasonably well last week with one perfect prediction, five correct outcomes and four incorrect outcomes. Those predictions moved me back to second in my predictions league and just within 100 points of the leader as you can see from the league table below.

NameBadgesThis WeekPTS
 1 (1)  Karl-Yngve Lund 3+401345
 2 (3)  Michael Sheehy 5+801250
 3 (4)  Rutland Gooner 4+1001220
 4 (2)  Wayne Hubbard 1+201200
 5 (5)  @ iWelloo 20860

Saturday January 21

Liverpool v Swansea City

12.30pm GMT, Anfield, Liverpool

Liverpool led away to United last week, but they had to settle for a point in the end and dropped back to seven points behind Chelsea in third place. They're one of only two teams unbeaten at home with only Spurs scoring more home goals and only Spurs and Chelsea conceding less at home. They have only lost two of their 21 games and are unbeaten in their last seven as well as being the top scorers in the league.

Adam Lallana, Roberto Frimino and Phillippe Coutinho all look good for fantasy managers with the Liverpool defenders doing well in recent weeks too.

Swansea were well beaten at home by Arsenal last week and dropped to the foot of the table again. They have lost seven of their 10 away games with only Palace and Hull conceding more goals on their travels. They have lost five of their last six games and conceded 18 goals in the process as well as having the worst defensive record in the league.

Gylfi Sigurdsson is by far the best of the bunch in the Swansa team for fantasy managers even if he hasn't been quite so prolific in recent weeks.

Despite their current hectic schedule I can't see anything other than a comprehensive Liverpool victory in this game.

Prediction: 4-0

Bournemouth v Watford

3pm GMT, Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth 

Bournemouth led 1-0 away to struggling Hull last week, but yet again they conceded three goals and ended up losing 3-1. They have won half of their 10 home games with only five other teams scoring more goals at home and only five other teams conceding more at home too. They have taken 10 points in their last nine games, but they conceded three goals in seven of those games and only four other teams have conceded more goals.

Charlie Daniels has done well for fantasy managers despite Bournemouth's defensive problems and Junior Stanislas does well when he gets to play.

Watford drew 0-0 at home to Boro last week, but they needed a win to stop their slide down the table. They have only won two of their 10 away games with only three other teams scoring less goals on their travels. They have only taken two points and scored two goals in their last six games.

I can't see any Watford players to make a difference for fantasy managers at the moment.

I think this will be a close game, but Bournemouth will get the better of it.

Prediction: 2-1

Crystal Palace v Everton

3pm GMT, Selhurst Park, London

Palace lost 3-0 away to West Ham last week and they're only out of the relegation zone on goal difference now. They have taken less points at home than any other team and have lost six of their last seven games at home. They have only taken two points in their last seven games and they failed to score in three of their last five.

I can't see any Palace players who might make a real difference for fantasy managers.

Everton had a great 4-0 win at home to City last week and they certainly seem to have rediscovered their early season form. They have only won three of their 10 away games and have conceded more than they have scored on the road. They have taken 10 points from their last four games and kept clean sheets in three of those games.

Leighton Baines looks to be the best of the Everton players at the moment for fantasy managers with Seamus Coleman, Kevin Mirallas, Romelu Lukaku and maybe even Tom Davies worth considering too.

I think Everton will take advantage of Palace's poor form and narrowly take the three points.

Prediction: 1-2

Middlesbrough v West Ham United

3pm GMT, Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough 

Boro drew 0-0 away to Watford last week, but they're still only two places and four points above the relegation zone. Only two teams have taken less points at home and no other team has scored less goals on their own patch with only five other teams having a better defensive record at home. They are the lowest scorers in the league, but only three other teams have a better defensive record and they have kept four clean sheets in their last eight games.

Boro defenders have done well for fantasy managers with Ben Gibson and Victor Valdes probably the best of them.

West Ham won 3-0 at home to Palace last week to move well clear of the bottom three despite the absence of want away Demitri Payet. They have only won two of their 10 away games, but they did manage draws away to both United and Liverpool. They have won four of their last six games and kept a clean sheet in three of those games too.

With Payet unavailable Michail Antonio and Winston Reid are the best fantasy choices in the West Ham team with Andy Carroll and Darren Randolph outside bets.

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

Prediction: 1-1

Stoke City v Manchester United

3pm GMT, Bet365 Arena, Stoke

Stoke won 3-1 away to Sunderland last week, but a game against United will be a much tougher task. They have only won four of their 10 home games and have conceded as many goals as they have scored at home, but they have only lost one of their last eight at home. They have won their last two games after failing to win the previous five and they have conceded more goals than any other team in the top half of the table.

Peter Crouch has had a new lease of life in recent weeks and his low price could make him a different option for fantasy managers looking to save some money.

United came from behind to get a point at home to Liverpool last week and they're still sixth despite their long unbeaten run. They have only lost two of their 10 away games with only Chelsea and Spurs conceding less away goals. They are unbeaten in 12 league games and had won six in a row before drawing with Liverpool last week, but they're a lot less prolific in front of goal than any of the five teams above them.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic looks like a must have for fantasy managers at the moment while Paul Pogba has done well too with the noteable exception of last week.

I think Stoke will make a game of it, but United will get the better of a close affair.

Prediction: 1-2

West Bromwich Albion v Sunderland

3pm GMT, The Hawthorns, Birmingham 

West Brom were well beaten away to Spurs last week and they have a very poor record against the top six this season, but Sunderland certainly aren't one of them. They have won half of their 10 home games and only five other teams have scored more goals at home. They have taken 19 points from their last seven games against teams below them in the league and Sunderland fit nicely into that category.

Matt Phillips looks the like West Brom player most likely to succeed for fantasy managers with Chris Brunt, Ben Foster and Gareth McAuley worth considering too.

Sunderland lost 3-1 at home to Stoke last week and they just can't seem to get out of the bottom three. They have lost eight of their 10 away games with only Burnley scoring less goals away from home. They have only taken one point from their last four games and they conceded 12 goals in those games.

Jermain Defoe is still the only Sunderland player worth having for fantasy managers.

I think West Brom should have enough to get the better of Sunderland with a couple of goals to spare.

Prediction: 2-0

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur

5.30pm GMT, Etihad Stadium, Manchester 

City were thrashed 4-0 at Everton last week and find themselves out of the top four and 10 points behind the leaders Chelsea. They have won six of their 10 home games and they have won their last three on their own patch. They have won four and lost four of their last eight games and they have conceded more goals than the rest of the top six.

Surely Sergio Aguero, Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva will all do well for fantasy managers in the long term.

Spurs won easily against West Brom last week and moved up to second in the table seven points behind Chelsea. They have only won four of their 10 away games, but no other team has conceded less goals away from home. They have won their last six games and scored 19 goals in the process while only conceding three and they have the best defensive record in the league.

Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Harry Kane and all of the Spurs defenders are all performing really well for fantasy managers.

This is a game both teams need to win and neither can afford to lose, but I think it will end with the honours even.

Prediction: 1-1

Sunday January 22

Southampton v Leicester City

12.00pm GMT, St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton 

Southampton lost away to Burnley last week and their cup exploits seem to be affecting their league form at the moment. They have only won four of their 10 home games with only Boro scoring less goals at home. They have lost their last four games and conceded 10 goals in the process with only Boro scoring less goals so far.

None of the Southampton players are doing too well at the moment for fantasy managers, but that should change when their schedule becomes a little less hectic.

Leicester were well beaten at home to Chelsea last week and they still can't put a comfortable space between them and the bottom three. They still haven't won a game away from home and only Burnley have taken less points on the road. They have only won once in their last six games and they failed to score in four of those games.

I can't see any Leicester players setting the fantasy world alight at the moment.

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

Prediction: 1-1

Arsenal v Burnley

2.15pm GMT, Emirates Stadium, London

Arsenal won 4-0 away to Swansea last week to move back into the top four, but they're still eight points behind Chelsea. They haven't lost at home since their first game of the season and only the three teams above them have scored more goals on their own ground. They have taken 10 points from their last four games and kept a clean sheet in three of those games with only Liverpool scoring more goals so far.

Alexis Sanchez is a must have for fantasy managers with Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil doing quite well too and their defenders have done well in recent weeks.

Burnley won 1-0 at home to Southampton last week and they're still managing to hold on to a place in the top half of the table. They have only taken one point from their nine away games and have only managed three goals in those games. They have won three of their last four games, but they were all at home and they're the lowest scorers in the top half of the league.

Burnley's defenders have done well for fantasy managers, but only when they play at home.

I think Arsenal should be good enough to win this game with a few goals to spare.

Prediction: 3-0

Chelsea v Hull City

4.30pm GMT, Stamford Bridge, London

Chelsea bounced back from their defeat against Spurs with a very good 3-0 win at Leicester last week. They have won nine of their 10 home games and their last seven in a row and they are the highest scorers at home too. They have won 14 of their last 15 league games and kept a clean sheet in 11 of those games with only Spurs conceding less goals.

If Diego Costa is back he's a very good choice for fantasy managers as is Eden Hazard while every fantasy team should have at least one Chelsea defender.

Hull came from behind to win 3-1 at home to Bournemouth last week and moved off the foot of the table in Marco Silva's first game in charge. They have lost eight of their 10 away games and only Palace have conceded more away goals with only Burnley scoring less on their travels. Their win last week was their first one in 10 games and only Swansea have conceded more goals with only Boro and Southampton scoring less.

Robert Snodgrass is the Hull player who can make a difference for fantasy managers.

I think Chelsea should be far too good for Hull and should win comfortably.

Prediction: 3-0

That's it for this week.

See you next week.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Arsenal's Trip To Swansea City Previewed

It's back to the bread and butter of the Premier League for Arsenal today when they visit struggling Swansea. They overcame Championship side Preston in the cup last week after a first half to forget and today's opponents could easily be playing in the same league as Preston next season. Swansea have had a poor season so far and find themselves in the relegation zone, but they are only one point from the relative safety of seventeenth place Crystal Palace.

With eight points to make up on league leaders Chelsea it's a game Arsenal just have to win and they have to follow it up with home wins against Watford and Burnley before they travel to play Chelsea. If they can go into that game with nine points from those three games they should hopefully have made up some ground on a Chelsea team who seem to be having a few problems of their own. Their chances of staying in the title race could depend on the outcome of that game against Chelsea and they at least have to go into that game in the best position possible to them.

If they're going to take nine points from those next three games they will have to do an awful lot better than they have done in their last two games. The first half performances at Bournemouth and Preston were nowhere near good enough and they cannot start in the same fashion today. They need to be at the races from the first minute and they need to press home any advantage they might get as all too often they score first and then let their opponent back into the game.

Arsene Wenger has a few decisions to make with Hector Bellerin added to those unavoidable while Mesut Ozil should be fit again after a bout of illness. I had my suspicions that Ozil was given a mid-season break to recharge his batteries, but we'll go with the official club line of him being ill. He should return today and so should Alexis Sanchez after he was rested in the cup win at Preston last week.

With Francis Coquelin still out we should see Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey continue in midfield and we definitely need to see an improvement from their partnership. With Theo Walcott still out I would hope to see Lucas Perez start in one of the wide roles as he has a knack of scoring goals at the right time and I think he might offer more protection to the full back than Alex Iwobi. There's a chance they will both play, but that would mean leaving Olivier Giroud on the bench and I can't see that happening after his recent goalscoring exploits.

With Giroud in the team we aren't as quick to do anything in attack or as dynamic either, but it's hard to argue with his goals at the moment. Starting Giroud also means putting Alexis into a wide role where his influence is less, but I think that is just what we will get. I prefer to see Alexis snapping at the heels of defenders in the belief he will get the ball rather than Giroud looking like he is going through the motions at the same job.

With Bellerin out I imagine Gabriel Paulista will play at right back considering both Carl Jenkinson and Mathieu Debuchey seem to be up for sale at the moment. It's not his natural position, but he has done well enough when he has played there. The only problem is what we will miss from Bellerin in attack where he is an extra asset at opponents can struggle against at times.

When we won 3-2 at home to Swansea Nacho Monreal got a very tough time from Madou Barrow and he will need more protection today if Barrow plays. I think we could nearly be better off with Kieran Gibbs at left except for the fact that he's injured of course. It has to be a close goal for the goalkeeper's shirt too as Petr Cech continues to disappoint with David Ospina waiting in the wings.

Finally for today we are the top scorers away from home and we're going to the team with the worst defensive record at home. For me that means we should win and win well and I just hope that players can give us a full 90 minute performance and restore some confidence in them and the fans too.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.