Thursday, 16 May 2019

Arsenal’s Season Review In Limbo

At this stage of the season I would expect to be writing my season review for Arsenal, but I’ll have to wait around two weeks to do it. During those two weeks there isn’t a game to play until we face Chelsea in the Europa League final in Baku on May 29th. It’s going to seem like an eternity waiting for that game and our fate for this season hangs on it.

Our failure to make the top four means our Champions League hopes hang on the outcome in Baku and we have to win to show genuine progress this season. We finished the Premier League campaign with a few points more than last season and one place higher too, but fifth place isn’t enough for a team with Champions League aspirations. Not only are the financial rewards from Europe’s top competition better, but it’s easier to attract new players with the prospect of playing against the best players in the world.

On the face of it gaining a place in the league and going one stage further in the Europa League should be a mark of progress, but it’s difficult to see any progress this season. Unai Emery came in at the end of Arsene Wenger’s 22 year reign at the club and we hoped he could do things differently to how they had been done under the last few seasons under Wenger. He tried to get the team to play the ball out from the back at all times at first, but as the season progressed he gradually had to at least cut it back.

It’s hard to see what our style of play is and how we set about taking on opponents. Surely managing to introduce a new style, or just a style, would have shown a sign of progress, but he quite simply hasn’t been able to do it. I know it was only his first season at the helm, but I don’t think he has lived up to the expectations.

Our biggest problem in recent seasons had been our defence and it’s got even worse in my opinion. We added a goalkeeper, a central defender and a full back, but the same individual errors and team lapses seem to happen game after game no matter who is playing. There have been a few notable exceptions along the way, but all in all it’s not been easy to watch Arsenal this season.

The absolute collapse in our chase for a top four finish was the low point for me, but it came right in the middle of four very good Europa League performances. The performances in those games at home and away against Napoli and Valencia were very good, but we only took four points from six league games at the same time. It’s hard to believe the Europa League doesn’t mean more to the players than fighting for a top four spot in the league.

Of course the hectic schedule and list of injuries played a part in our league downfall, but somehow the players found a way in Europe that was missing in the Premier League. If they can pull one more of those performances out of the bag then maybe we can get hold of that nice shiny trophy and end the season on a real high. I think it would only be papering over the cracks, but it’s still infinitely superior to ending the season without a trophy and not qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

That’s it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Predictions For Premier League Gameweek 38

It’s that time of the week again when I attempt to predict the outcomes of the upcoming Premier League games. I didn’t do too badly last week with one perfect prediction, four correct outcomes and five incorrect outcomes, but I’m still sixth in my predictions league with only one week to go. Here’s a look at how the top five in that league stands.

POSITIONPLAYER NAMETHIS WEEKPOINTS
 1 (1) whitgooner
frank merrick
2860
 2 (2) David96 2720
 3 (3) stevew3ok 2695
 4 (4) mbbeth
Malcolm Beth
2690
 5 (5) JediKnut 2685

Sunday May 12

All games 3pm BST

Brighton And Hove Albion v Manchester City

AMEX Stadium, Brighton 

Brighton came from behind to get a very good 1-1 draw away to Arsenal last week after their Premier League status was assured for another season when Cardiff lost to Palace. They have only taken one point and scored one goal in their last four home games with only Huddersfield and Palace scoring less goals at home. They haven’t won in eight games and they failed to score in six of those games, but it was still enough to keep them up.

I can’t see any Brighton players to recommend to fantasy managers in this game.

City just about managed to win 1-0 at home to Leicester last week to keep their one point lead at the top of the table with one game to go. They have won their last six away games and they only conceded one goal in those games with only Liverpool taking more away points and no other team scoring more or conceding less goals on their travels. They have win their last 13 games and they kept clean sheets in 10 of those games with no other team scoring more goals or conceding less.

The City defenders are probably the players most likely to do well for fantasy managers in this game.

I think City should just about have enough to get the win they need to retain their Premier League title.

Prediction: 2-0

Burnley v Arsenal 

Turf Moor, Burnley

Burnley lost 2-0 away to Everton last week, but they were already safe from any relegation worries before that game. They have lost three of their last five home games and only three other teams have conceded more goals at home. They haven’t won in their last three games and only the three relegated teams have conceded more goals, but they will fancy their chances against a team on a very poor run of league results.

Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes might be the Burnley players to have for fantasy managers this week.

Arsenal couldn’t manage to win at home to Brighton last week and their Champions League ambitions are as good as over barring a miracle via the league at least. They have lost three of their last four away games and only five other teams have conceded more goals away from home. They have only taken four points in their last six games, but only the top two have scored more goals.

With their top four chances gone and their eggs in the Europa League basket I can’t see any Arsenal players to recommend to fantasy managers.

My heart always goes for Arsenal and it will rule my head yet again in this game.

Prediction: 1-2

Crystal Palace v Bournemouth 

Selhurst Park, London 

Palace won 3-2 away to Cardiff last week to move up to twelfth place, but they can’t make it into the top half of the table. They have only won once in their last six home games with only Huddersfield taking less points and scoring less goals at home. They have taken 10 points from their last five games and Newcastle are the only team in the bottom half of the table to have conceded less goals.

Despite their poor home form I still think Wilfried Zaha could be the Palace player to watch for fantasy managers this week.

Bournemouth got a last minute goal to win 1-0 at home to nine man Spurs last week and they’re only a point behind Palace going into this game. They have taken seven points from their last four away games, but only Fulham and Huddersfield have conceded more goals away from home. They have only won three of their last 13 games and only the three relegated teams have conceded more goals.

Both Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser are possibilities for fantasy managers this week.

I think this will by a close game and Palace might just get a rare home win.

Prediction: 2-1

Fulham v Newcastle United 

Craven Cottage, London

Fulham lost 1-0 away to Wolves last week to put an end to a run of three consecutive wins and that defeat meant they will definitely finish second last in the league. They have won their last two home games without conceding any goals, but only three other teams have taken less points at home and only Cardiff have conceded more goals on their own patch. They have won three of their last four games and they kept clean sheets in each of those victories, but no other team has conceded more goals.

Ryan Babel has been the Fulham player to have for fantasy managers in recent weeks.

Newcastle lost 3-2 at home to Liverpool last week, but they gave Liverpool a very good run for their money. They have only won once in their last 10 away games, but only the top two have conceded less goals away from home. They had taken seven points from three games before losing to Liverpool, but only the bottom three clubs have scored less goals.

Ayoze Perez has been in good form recently for fantasy managers and he could do well in this game.

I think this will be a close game and Fulham might just say goodbye to the Premier League with a narrow win.

Prediction: 1-0

Leicester City v Chelsea 

King Power Stadium, Leicester 

Leicester lost 1-0 away to City last week, but they came very close to handing the league to Liverpool. They have won four of their last five home games and they scored 10 goals in those games, but their home record is only marginally better than their away record. They have taken 16 points from their last eight games and the season has probably ended a little early for them.

Both Jamie Vardy and Youri Tielemans have done very well recently for fantasy managers and they could profit from playing against a tired Chelsea team in this game. 

Chelsea won 3-0 at home to Watford last week to guarantee a place in the top four with a week to spare. They have lost five of their last eight away games and they have conceded more goals than they have scored on the road. They have taken 14 points from their last seven games to cement their top four place and they can rest a few players ahead of their Europa League final later this month.

I’m not sure what Chelsea players will play which makes it difficult to recommend any of them to fantasy managers.

I think Leicester will get the better of a tired Chelsea team to take the three points in this game.

Prediction: 2-0

Liverpool v Wolverhampton Wanderers 

Anfield, Liverpool 

Liverpool left it late away to Newcastle last week, but their 3-2 win kept them one point behind City at the top of the table with just one game left to play. They are the only team unbeaten at home with only City scoring more home goals and no other team conceding less. They have won their last eight games and they kept clean sheets in three of the last four with only City scoring more goals and no other team conceding less.

Both Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are very good choices for fantasy managers along with the Liverpool keeper and defenders as they look to overtake City to win the title on the final day of the season.

Wolves won 1-0 at home to Fulham last week to guarantee they will finish in seventh place. They have only won once in their last six away games, but only the top two have conceded less goals at home. They have taken 10 points from their last four games and only the top four teams have conceded less goals.

I’m not so sure any of the Wolves players will do well for fantasy managers in this game.

I think Liverpool will get the win they need, but it probably won’t be enough to overtake City and they will have to settle for second place.

Prediction: 2-0

Manchester United v Cardiff City

Old Trafford, Manchester 

United could only draw 1-1 away to Huddersfield last week and that point finally ended their top four hopes. They have only won three of their last seven home games and they have conceded considerably more goals at home than the rest of the top six. They haven’t won in four games and they haven’t kept a clean sheet in ten, but they can still catch Arsenal and finish fifth. 

With a home game against one of the worst defences in the league surely Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford can do well for fantasy managers this week.

Cardiff lost 3-2 at home to Palace last week and that defeat was enough to finally relegate them. They have lost four of their last five away games and they failed to score in each of those defeats with no other team scoring less goals away from home. They have lost nine of their last 11 games with only Huddersfield scoring less goals and only Fulham conceding more.

I can’t see any Cardiff players to recommend to fantasy managers.

I can’t see anything other than a comfortable United victory in this game despite their current form.

Prediction: 3-1

Southampton v Huddersfield Town

St. Mary’s Stadium, Southampton 

Southampton lost 3-0 away to West Ham last week, but they were already safe from relegation before that game. They have taken 10 points from their last five home games, but no other team has drawn more games on their own ground. They haven’t won in four games and they haven’t kept a clean sheet in six with only four other teams conceding more goals. 

Nathan Redmond and Shane Long have been the best of the Southampton players for fantasy managers in recent weeks and they could do well in this game.

Huddersfield got a very good point with a 1-1 draw at home to United last week, but their relegation was confirmed weeks ago. They have lost their last seven away games and they failed to score in six of those games with no other team scoring less goals on the road and only Fulham conceding more. They had lost eight games in a row before drawing with United and no other team has scored less goals with only Fulham conceding more.

I can’t see any Huddersfield players to recommend to fantasy managers.

I think Southampton will finish their season on a high with a comfortable win in this game.

Prediction: 2-0

Tottenham Hotspur v Everton

London Stadium, London

Spurs lost 1-0 away to Bournemouth last week after having two players sent off, but other results all but guaranteed they will finish in the top four. They have won six of their last eight home games with only three other teams conceding less goals at home. They have only taken 10 points from their last 11 games, but only the top two teams have conceded less goals.

I’m not sure what the Spurs players will have left after their midweek exertions, but if they can get up for it then Christian Eriksen and Lucas Moura could do well for fantasy managers.

Everton won 2-0 at home to Burnley last week, but they have left it too late to try to finish seventh. They have taken 10 points from their last seven away games and they kept clean sheets in four of those games with only the top two conceding less goals away from home. They have taken 16 points from their last seven games and they have kept eight clean sheets in their last 10 games.

Everton’s defenders and keeper have been very good choices for fantasy managers in recent weeks with Lucas Digne probably the pick of them.

I think Everton might just give Spurs a tough time and possibly even edge a tight game.

Prediction: 1-2

Watford v West Ham United

Vicarage Road, Watford 

Watford lost 3-0 away to Chelsea last week, but they still have an FA Cup Final to look forward to. They haven’t won in their last three home games, but they were unbeaten in five home games before that. They have lost six of their last 10 games and they haven’t kept a clean sheet in 11 games.

I’m not sure if Watford will be up for this game with their FA Cup final possibly playing on their minds, but if they are Gerard Deulofeu and Troy Deeney could do well for fantasy managers.

West Ham won 3-0 at home to Southampton last week and they can still possibly finish in the top half of the table if they win this game. They won their last away game at Spurs, but they had only taken one point from their previous eight away games and they failed to score in six of those games. They have won their last two games without conceding a goal after failing to win the previous four and not keeping a clean sheet in 13.

Marco Arnautovic has come good for fantasy managers in the last couple of weeks and he could be the player to have in this game.

I don’t think there will be too much in this game, but Watford will probably take the three points.

Prediction: 2-1

That’s it for this season.

See you next season.

Arsenal Show Some Backbone As Baku Beckons

Arsenal went to Valencia last night for the second leg of their Europa League semi final knowing nothing short of qualifying for the final would do in their quest for Champions League football for next season. After winning the first leg 3-1 at home last week they had a lead to protect, but their recent Premier League form gave us real cause for concern. I was far from confident of making the final and the early goal to Valencia looked like it might be just what they needed to overcome the deficit.

I hadn’t factored in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang having his best game in his 16 months at the club though and he equalised soon afterwards. Half time came and went with the tie still in the balance before Alexandre Lacazette gave us the lead on the night and left Valencia with a huge hill to climb. They did manage to equalise, but enter Aubameyang again with two more cracking goals to give us a 4-2 win on the night and a 7-3 win on aggregate.

In the other semi final Chelsea scraped through against Eintracht Frankfurt on penalties to set up another all English final in Baku on May 29th. Playing the final in Baku has it’s problems for Arsenal as UEFA can’t currently guarantee the safety of Henrikh Mkhitaryan due to the ongoing political situation between Azerbaijan and Armenia. It’s comical that UEFA have allowed the final to be played in a country with some much hatred for others and it’s not as if they couldn’t have seen it coming.

Mkhitaryan didn’t travel when Arsenal played away to Quarbag earlier this season for the very same reason. Officially Arsenal chose not to pick him in the squad for that game, but ultimately it came down to his nationality. UEFA have had time to consider a solution since then in the knowledge that Arsenal have been second favourites to win the trophy all along. 

Personally I think the game should be moved to a country where you don’t need to get assurances of player safety for a European Final because the locals can’t be trusted. I have no doubt the game will go ahead in Baku though and Arsenal will have to do without a very good player which will surely be an advantage to Chelsea. With so many travel arrangements already made I doubt if the game could be moved, but UEFA have a lot to answer for.

Back to all things bright and beautiful though and the attitude and commitment shown by the players last night was magnificent. I wondered beforehand if they had being saving their best performances for the Europa League and I don’t think we need to wonder any more. Without a doubt we would be in with a much better chance of finishing in the top four if the players had performed in the league in any way similar to any or all of their last five Europa League games.

If we win the final and qualify for next season’s Champions League all will be sweetness and nice, but failure to do so will lead to some very serious questions being asked. Option one is obviously my preferred option and we can worry about the state of our squad and style of play when we have a trophy in the cabinet. Hopefully that will be the case and we will have the whole summer to start work on the rebuild that is so badly needed, but at least it will be from a position of strength. It has to be a lot easier to attract the players we will be chasing if we have that trophy and the prospect of Champions League football next season too.

That’s it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

It’s Do Or Die For Arsenal Tonight

After last night’s events in Amsterdam the impending sense of doom as an Arsenal fan increased by at least ten fold. What Spurs did to come back and win that game was something that is so far beyond Arsenal that it’s not even comprehensible. It means they will play Liverpool in the Champions League final on June 1st while we have our chance to make it to the Europa League final tonight.

I for one will be wholeheartedly behind Liverpool on that night, but Arsenal need to do their part too. If we can progress tonight we will play the final in Baku three days before the Champions League final and it would give us a chance to get something on the board before Spurs play. For us to end the season with a European trophy when they have had their best season in 58 years would be some consolation and it would be even better if Liverpool beat them.

I’m fairly confident of Liverpool doing just that, but my confidence in Arsenal living up to their part of the deal is considerably less. My confidence in them progressing to the final isn’t even all that high and who can blame given our recent performances. Four points from our last six games against teams below us in the league has blown our top four chances and left us with the Europa League as our only realistic route to Champions League football for next season.

Third place was well within our reach with all the other contenders faltering too, but we blew it big style. With United playing at home to already relegated Cardiff on Sunday the chances are we will finish sixth if we don’t win our game at Burnley at the same time. My confidence in the team winning that game is hovering somewhere around zero at the moment and it could go even lower after tonight.

Unai Emery has made some big mistakes in team selection, tactics and substitutions recently, but he has a chance to make some amends tonight. We went to Napoli in the second leg in the last round with a two goal lead and progressed after winning 1-0 on the night. We have a two goal lead tonight too, but crucially for Valencia they managed an away goal at our place last week.

There is going to be an awful lot of pressure on the players tonight to put in a performance to get us to that final, but pressure isn’t something they have coped with well recently with the exception of our European games. Valencia aren’t a bad side, but Napoli were better and we rose to the challenge in both legs against them. Even in the home leg against Valencia last week we came back from 1-0 down to win 3-1 despite almost always falling to pieces when we have gone behind in games recently.

We need to be really tight at the back tonight and it’s something these players struggle to do on a regular basis. With Valencia needing to push on we can hopefully exploit any space behind their defence with the pace of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Despite missing his fair share of chances he is still right up there with the leading scores in the Premier League and the goals both him and Alexandre Lacazette have scored this season have gotten us out of a lot of tricky situations.

It’s the lack of goals from our midfield that has been our real attacking problem for me, but our biggest problem is undoubtedly our defence. When the same players make the same stupid mistakes time after time it beggars belief, but it just keeps happening anyway. The penalty Granit Xhaka gave away against Brighton on Sunday was a case in point and there can’t be too many of us who didn’t know exactly what was going to happen when he attempted to break up the Brighton attack. Sure he wasn’t helped by the terrible pass from Henrikh Mkhitaryan to gift them possession, but he didn’t engage his brain for a single second in how he dealt with it.

Shkodran Mustafi has the ability to do exactly the same thing to us at any given time, but I have no doubt both of them will be playing tonight. To be honest the manager has very few options due to the squad size and the players he has absent through injury so we all have a fairly good idea which players will be playing. Maybe he’ll pull something out of the hat, but with so much resting on this game and I would be very surprised if he did.

As I said already my confidence isn’t high, but I live in hope. The events of the last two nights have shown us anything can happen in football and maybe that will include us making it to the final. I know Valencia will take heart from the comebacks of Liverpool and Spurs, but I choose to hope for those games giving us hope of what would be a reversal in our fortunes. 

I really worry how we will react if they score first, but last week did show we are capable of keeping our heads at least. Our reaction to going behind in away games has been different though and it has made us all question the mental strength of the players. Maybe they can show tonight that it is something that they do possess. I had wondered before last week if the players had been saving their best performances for the Europa League and they showed as much in that game. It’s time for them to show us how much it means to them again tonight and maybe raise our hopes just a little after such a dismal end to the season.

That’s it for today.

See you tomorrow.