Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Arsenal v Galatasaray Preview

Arsenal started their Champions League group with a 2-0 defeat away to Borussia Dortmund and they have the chance to make up for that result tonight. They play at home to Galatasaray in a game in which three points are an absolute must if they are to stand a real chance of qualifying from the group. It's a group Arsenal should be qualifying from, but that defeat to Dortmund has left them playing catch up.

Galatasaray didn't have a great start either and had to rely on a late goal to get a point at home to Anderlecht. The Belgian team are seen as the minnows in the group and Galatasaray's result could well be put into perspective when Dortmund visit Anderlecht tonight. Galatasaray have taken seven points from their first four league games in Turkey, but they did have the slight advantage of playing last Friday night to give them an extra day's rest before tonight.

With both Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta picking up injuries at the weekend Arsene Wenger is a little limited in his options for tonight. Jack Wilshere also picked up a knock and might not be risked although he is in the squad tonight. Abou Diaby might have had a hope of getting a game tonight, but it appears he's not quite up to it and isn't in the squad either.

With the current list of defensive injuries there's no real choice at the back with the same defence and goalkeeper as that used at the weekend bound to start again. It's a very risky game Arsenal are playing defensively at the moment with no experienced back up to call on after the much needed defensive arrivals never materialised in the transfer window. If they pick up another defensive injury it could deal a fatal blow to their chances of doing anything this season.

In midfield I guess Mathieu Flamini has to play the holding role, but his performances have been far from convincing this season. He was the player caught in possession on Saturday for Spurs to score their goal and he didn't cover himself in glory in the 2-0 defeat in Dortmund either. Arsenal's lack of strength in that area is another result of transfer inactivity at a time when the team was crying out for a new arrival. 

If Wilshere plays I would imagine Mesut Ozil will have to be in the number 10 role in front of him with Danny Welbeck again playing up front. The big choices could be who plays in the two wide roles and I think it has to be both Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Alexis has been on the bench recently but he surely has to start and Chamberlain did enough on Saturday to keep his place.

There's always the option of playing Chamberlain alongside or just in front of Flamini or even putting Santi Cazorla in there. I don't think Cazorla is strong enough to play that role, but Chamberlain has played there before and done quite well too. If Wilshere isn't risked and Chamberlain does play a deeper role I would then expect to see Cazorla play out wide. 

It would be plain crazy to move Ozil out wide again to accommodate another player in his favoured role. It didn't work well enough on Saturday and he has to play a more central role like he did in the 3-0 over Villa the previous week. I know Ozil played wide left in the German team which won the World Cup, but he is Arsenal's most creative player and record buy and the team needs to be built around him.

The bench may start to take a bit of a sparse look as Arsenal's annual injury problems mount yet again. It can't be a coincidence that so many players are picking up so many injuries yet again and the club have to find a way to combat them. 

As for the game itself I expect Galatasaray to try to sit tight and hold on to what they have while looking to hit Arsenal on the break or from a set piece. It's a tried and tested technique against Arsenal this season as in previous seasons and Arsenal will have to find a way to break them down. On a few occasions last season Arsenal came out in home games and absolutely blew the opposition away from the first minute and I would love to see such a performance for the first time this season.

Too often this season Arsenal have conceded the first goal and found themselves up against a massed defence as they tried to get back into the game. They have conceded first in four of their six league games and even though they managed to fight back in all of them they only won once in those games. They can't afford to keep conceding first as they won't always be able to get back into the game.

I hope to see something extra from Ozil and Alexis tonight in a competition which so often brings out the best of the best players. Both of them cost the club a lot of money and they're both capable of winning the game all on their own. If they're on their game they're both more than capable of making the difference in a very tight game.

The team will have to give a little more than they did on Saturday to earn a point against a very average Spurs side. After equalising in the second half the players couldn't summon up enough to put the required pressure Spurs which would have seen them crumble. Given the chance tonight they have to put Galatasaray to the sword and put themselves in a position to progress from the game and into the knockout stages.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Arsenal Prepare To Mash The Spuds

It's North London derby time again today as Arsenal play at home to their fierce local rivals Spurs. It's a rivalry that stretches back a long time, but in football terms the rivalry isn't the biggest. While Arsenal have consistently won trophies and challenged with the very best Spurs have a taken a back seat.

They haven't won the league since 1961 and their achievement of winning the double that season has been matched by Arsenal three times since then. The balance is so far in Arsenal's favour that Spurs have not finished ahead of them in the league since Arsene Wenger took the reins at Arsenal in 1996. It would seem the height of Spurs ambitions is to finish above Arsenal, but they just cannot manage to do so. There are those who believe Spurs fans would be happy to finish 19th in the league and be relegated as long Arsenal finished below them.

For Arsenal it's not just about beating Spurs although it's always nice to celebrate the inevitability of St. Totteringham's Day. Arsenal can and do finish above Spurs and still declare their season a failure if they haven't won a trophy or at least challenged for the league. A day may well come when Spurs finish above Arsenal, but even if it does happen it will only be temporary. The real difference between the clubs is Arsenal are a big club while Spurs want to become one.

Last season the clubs met three times with Arsenal doing the league double and knocking Spurs out of the FA Cup too. Arsenal went on to win the FA Cup and finish in the top four to qualify for the Champions League yet again while Spurs finished sixth and qualified to play their Eropean football on a Thursday night as is the norm for them. We're only five games into the new season, but already the same pattern is emerging.

Arsenal haven't lost a home league game since the opening day of last season, but Spurs had a very good record on the road last season. They haven't lost in either of their away games so far this season, but Arsenal have a lot more to offer than West Ham or Sunderland. Spurs away record may have been good last season, but it was awful against the teams who finished above them and Arsenal are one of those teams.

From a selection point I don't see too much change happening from the Arsenal team who won 3-0 away to Villa last week. The defence certainly won't change with only four fit defenders in the first team squad and I can't see too much change in front of them either. There is most certainly a case for brining both Alexis Sanchez and Jack Wilshere back into the team and I would expect at least one of them to play from the start.

Mesut Ozil got the chance to play in his favoured role last week and he scored one goal and made another. Surely he will play in the number 10 role again this week and I wouldn't be surprised if Alexis was one of the players given a chance to get on the end of his passes. If Wilshere is going to get into the team I can only really see him taking Aaron Ramsey's place and they're not really the same type of player. It looks like Wilshere could be vying with Ozil for the number 10 role and it could see him playing second fiddle for much of the season.

I was impressed with Danny Welbeck last week as he worked hard for the team and held the ball up very well when he had to do so. He missed a few good chances in his first two games for the club, but that goal last week could be just what the needed and hopefully the goals will flow for him. I can see him getting some joy against Spurs and maybe getting his name on the scoresheet. 

For me it's all about how Arsenal approach the game and if they have the right attitude and tempo they can and should win. Spurs will probably try to pressure the ball but Arsenal have the players to play their way past them and punish them. If their defence push too far forward the Arsenal attack has the pace to get in behind them and punish them.

Arsenal can't afford to let their Wednesday night game at home to Galatasary prey on their minds and need to concentrate on the job in hand. It will be a lot easier for them to face Galatasary off the back of a good win in the North London derby. 

I won't deny that Spurs have some good players and a manager who looks like he could have a real future in the game. Their players may be good but they're not as good as the Arsenal ones and for me that's where the crunch comes. An Arsenal team which sets out from the start to win the game should be strong enough to overcome whatever Spurs have to offer. I'm predicting an Arsenal win by a couple of goals before they move on to the Galatasary game followed by a trip to Chelsea next weekend. It's going to be a really big week in their season and hopefully they will get it off to a perfect start.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Predictions For Premier League Gameweek Six

It's that time of the week again when I attempt to predict the outcomes of the upcoming Premier League games. I managed one perfect scoreline last week with three correct outcomes and six incorrect. It wasn't the greatest week I've ever had, but most others fared worse than me and I moved up to first 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)Michael Sheehy15500
Down 2 (1)goonerdhanesh145-900
NC 3 (3)sensisoccerworld12500
Down 4 (3)Daytona95-300

Saturday September 27

Liverpool v Everton

12.45pm BST, Anfield, Liverpool

Liverpool haven't had the best start to their season and have lost three of their first five league games. They're missing Luis Suarez badly (and who wouldn't) and the injury to Daniel Sturridge hasn't helped, but their defence has been the real problem. If they're going to keep up with the pace setters they will have to sort out a defence which has seen only four other clubs concede more goals so far.

Raheem Sterling is the Liverpool player doing the business for fantasy managers at the moment.

Everton have only won once in their opening five games and they have the worst defensive record in the league so far. Mind you they have been scoring plenty of goals too with only Chelsea scoring more in those opening five games. If they're going to get anywhere near the heights of last season they will have to sort out their defensive issues just like Liverpool.

Romelu Lukaku and Leighton Baines are probably the Everton players most likely to succeed at the moment for fantasy managers.

This is a game neither team can afford to lose and I have a feeling it might just end in a draw. 

Prediction: 2-2

Chelsea v Aston Villa

3pm BST, Stamford Bridge, London

Chelsea are still unbeaten but they lost their 100% record when they drew away to City last week. They are the highest scorers so far with 16 goals, but they haven't been as strong defensively as they were last season. They have only ever lost one home league game under Jose Mourinho and it's a record they will be looking to extend in this game.

Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard are the Chelsea players fantasy managers need to have in their team at the moment.

Villa were beaten for the first time at home to Arsenal last week, but they're still third in the table. They have won both of their away games by the same 1-0 margin so far, but this will be a much tougher task for them. They're in the middle of a very tough run and this is probably the toughest of all the games in that run.

Villa defenders have done well up to now, but are probably best avoided for the next couple of weeks.

I can't see anything other than a Chelsea win in this game despite how well Villa have started this season.

Prediction: 2-0

Crystal Palace v Leicester City

3pm BST, Selhurst Park, London

Palace came from behind to win away to Everton last week and move themselves out of the relegation zone in the process. They're letting in a lot of goals though and only three other teams have conceded more goals than Palace. They have scored a few goals too, but most of them have been away from home and they need to start finding the net at home too.

Jason Puncheon still looks like the Palace player most likely to succeed for fantasy managers to me.

Leicester had a magnificent victory at home to United last week after trailing 3-1 and they have looked very good since their promotion. Their only defeat came away to the leaders Chelsea and only three teams have scored more goals than them so far. They look to have done very well to bring in Leonardo Ulloa with his five goals in five games making him the second highest scorer in the league so far.

Ulloa looks like the outstanding Leicester player to have for fantasy managers and he's available at a very good price too.

This could be a close game, but Leicester's performances so far make me think they will edge it.

Prediction: 1-2

Hull City v Manchester City

3pm BST, KC Stadium, Hull

Hull haven't won since the opening day, but they have only lost one of their five league games. They are letting in more goals than they did last season but they also look a more potent force going forward with a stronger squad. This will be a very tough task for them, but they are capable of getting something from it.

Nikica Jelavic has done well so far and is worth checking out for fantasy managers.

City have only taken two points in their last three games and are five points behind the leaders at this early stage. They did well to get a late point at home to Chelsea last week and put seven past Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup in midweek. There's a strong possibility of some squad rotation with a few of their best players carrying knocks and a Champions League game coming up in midweek.

Sergio Aguero and David Silva are the best fantasy choices in the City once they are fit enough to play.

Even with a few injury doubts and their upcoming Champions League game I still think City will have enough to win this game.

Prediction: 1-3

Manchester United v West Ham United

3pm BST, Old Trafford, Manchester

United looked to have turned a corner last week when they led 3-1 at Leicester, but they crumbled to a 5-3 defeat. They have had what was considered a relatively easy start to the season, but have only managed five points and one win in five games. With no midweek League Cup or European distractions they have plenty of opportunities to get things right on the training ground.

Angel di Maria looks like a must have for fantasy managers and most of United's attacking players look like good bets too.

West Ham had a very good win over Liverpool last week and are unbeaten away from home so far. They seem to have more attacking flair than last season, but they aren't as solid at the back either. They will have their work cut out in this game, but they will get chances and will believe they have a chance of getting something from the game.

Stewart Downing continues to impress for West Ham and might not be the worst player for fantasy managers to have.

I think United will have too much firepower at home in particular and will take the three points.

Prediction: 3-1

Southampton v Queens Park Rangers

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

Southampton are in very good form at the moment and have the best defensive record in the league so far. They are second in the table and haven't conceded a goal at home so far. Despite selling so many players in the summer they look like a better team and will be confident of winning this game.

Nathaniel Clyne and Graziano Pelle look like very good fantasy choices in a team full of good fantasy options.

QPR got a late point at home to Stoke last week, but they have failed miserably away from home so far. They have lost both of their away games by the same 4-0 scoreline and performed terribly in both games too. They will have to offer an awful lot more if they want to get anything out of this game.

I can't see any QPR players worth recommending to fantasy managers.

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

Prediction: 3-0

Sunderland v Swansea City

3pm BST, Stadium of Light, Sunderland 

Sunderland haven't won a league game yet, but they have drawn four out of five. They need to turn a few of those draws into wins if they're going to climb the table. It won't be easy for them against a Swansea team who play good football and are nobody's mugs.

Seb Larsson has been the best of the Sunderland players up to now for fantasy managers.

Swansea had a very good start to the season winning their first three games, but they have lost their last two games. Those two defeats did come against the current top two and they played very well in both games too. They're more than capable of getting something from this game and will make things very hard for Sunderland.

Gylfi Sigurdsson has been the best of the Swansea players so far with Nathan Dyer looking good too along with the Swansea defenders.

This looks like it could be a very close game and it could see draw specialists Sunderland getting yet another point.

Prediction:  1-1

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur 

5.30pm BST, Emirates Stadium, London 

Arsenal were the big winners last weekend when they won 3-0 away to Villa and none of the other top sides could manage a victory. They're still unbeaten in the league and haven't lost at home in the league since the opening day of last season. They beat Spurs three times out of three last season and will want to get the upper hand on their fiercest rivals again.

Danny Welbeck looks like a very good fantasy purchase to me with Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sanchez worth considering too.

Spurs were beaten at home by West Brom last week to slip back to ninth in the table two points behind Arsennal. They have only taken one point in their last three games after a good start to the season and can't afford to lose this game too. They will have to be at their very best to get anything out of this game though.

Nacer Chadli and Emmanuel Adebayor have been the best performers for fantasy managers while Christian Eriksen still looks like the best long term fantasy choice to me.

I think Arsenal should be good enough on their own turf to win by a couple of goals.

Prediction: 2-0

Sunday September 28

West Bromwich Albion v Burnley

4pm BST, The Hawthorns, Birmingham 

West Brom got their first win of the season last week away to Spurs and it moved them out of the bottom three. They followed that up with a win in the league cup in midweek and things are looking a little better for them. They have only scored three league goals so far though and have failed to score in three of their five games.

There are still no West Brom players setting the world of fantasy football alight.

Burnley have drawn their last three games 0-0 and only Southampton have a better defensive record than them. They haven't scored since the first half of their opening game though and will have to find some goals from somewhere or their season will be over very soon. 

Burnley defenders are looking very good at the moment with Tom Heaton and Michael Duff possibly the best of them.

I can see this game ending in yet another 0-0 draw for Burnley.

Prediction: 0-0

Monday September 29

Stoke City v Newcastle United

8pm BST, Britannia Stadium, Stoke

Stoke were pegged back late on away to QPR last week and have yet to take a point at home this season. They have previously been very good at home and surely it's only a matter of time before they get that form back. Their only win and clean sheet was away to the champions City and they haven't looked as good defensively this season. 

As usual Ryan Shawcross seems to be the best performing of the Stoke players for fantasy managers.

Newcastle came back from 2-0 down to get a point at home to Hull last week, but they're still propping up the table. They managed to win away to Crystal Palace in the league cup in midweek and that might just be the turning point which keeps Alan Pardew in his job. They haven't scored an away goal in the league yet and have had an appalling record in the league since the turn of the year.

I still can't see any Newcastle players worth recommending to fantasy managers.

I think Stoke should be good enough to get their first home points of the season with a narrow victory.

Prediction: 1-0

That's it for this week.

See you next week.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Arsenal Face Southampton In The Capital One Cup

After what could only be described as a perfect weekend in the Premier League for Arsenal they face Southampton tonight in the third round of the Capital One Cup. It's a competition in which Arsenal have done well in the past, but not quite so well in recent seasons. They haven't actually won the League Cup since 1993 and have never done so under Arsene Wenger despite reaching the final in 2007 and 2011.

The manager has traditionally given a run to fringe players and reserves in league cup games and I can't see this game being any different. He has quite often played a completely different starting 11 in this competition from the one which has played in the previous league game. This game should give a few players a chance to show what they can do and maybe try to impress the boss.

We should get our first chance to see David Ospina in an Arsenal goalkeepers shirt and he could be in for a pretty busy night too. In defence I imagine both Hector Bellerin and Isaac Hayden will get a run out, but it's not easy to see who else might play there. Semi Ajayi has been drafted into the squad and he could well see himself in the centre of defence with Hayden. Who plays at left back is anybody's guess although I suppose there is a chance Francis Coquelin will have to fill in with no other real options. Nacho Monreal is still injured and I would be very surprised if injury prone Kieran Gibbs was risked.

There are plenty of options in midfield and I would imagine a combination of Mathieu Flamini, Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky and Gideon Zelalem might be the ones to play. Jack Wilshere is a possibility after he was on the bench at the weekend, but I would be surprised if he was risked in a game which is so far down the list of priorities for the club. There's plenty of talent in that foursome and it would be great to see Diaby in particular playing a competitive match for Arsenal.

In attack I suppose Lukas Podolski is a shoe in to start with Joel Campbell more than likely to get a run out too. That would leave Chuba Akpom on the bench and hopefully he can get a run at some stage in the game. He's a talented player and has looked very good in his appearances for the under 21 team so far this season.

I would be surprised if Southampton didn't play a full strength team to continue their fine start to the season. They have taken 10 points in their last four games and are in second place behind leaders Chelsea. They have also got the best defensive record in the league so far this season with only three goals conceded in their five games and only one in their last four.

There was some concern that they would struggle after they sold so many of their players in the summer, but Ronald Koeman appears to be doing a very good job. They are still playing an attractive brand of football and look like they are capable of giving any team a run for their money. They're not going to win the league though and a top four finish is probably beyond them so a good cup run is probably the best they can hope for.

A win away to Arsenal would be a great feather in their collective caps for Southampton and a further boost to their confidence too. If they play a strong team they have every chance of doing so with the probable Arsenal defence looking short of experience at this level. The winners go through to the last 16 and I have no doubt Southampton would be more than happy to progress to the next round.

For me the Capital One Cup offers some young Arsenal players a chance to sample first team football and play in front of a very large crowd. I'm not too bothered whether they progress or not, but I do want to see a good performance from the players who are chosen. If they manage to get through to the next round then that's great but it's no big deal if they go out.

I will of course be cheering Arsenal on and hoping for a victory as always when they play, but I won't be taking the result as a pointer to how the rest of the season is going to go. In an ideal world Arsenal will win with Diaby shining and Campbell maybe getting his first goal for the club too. There are bigger fish to fry though with Spurs, Galatasary and Chelsea all coming up after this game and it's important to have the strongest team possible for those three games which has to be the most important factor when tonight's team is picked.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.