Saturday, November 1, 2014

Arsenal Aim To Win For The Third Game In A Row

The Arsenal season so far has lacked momentum as they have failed to put a decent run of wins together. All too often they have drawn games which they should be winning on paper at least, but have failed to do enough to merit victories. What they need to regain some vital confidence is a few wins in a row and the opportunity presents itself at the moment.

As it stands they have won their last two games but they have been far from convincing in either game. It took two magical minutes at the very end in Anderlecht for Arsenal to snatch three lucky points and they failed to create any clear cut chances of their own against Sunderland last Saturday. Thankfully Wes Brown and Vito Mannone were on hand to dish out some very early Christmas presents and Alexis Sanchez took full advantage both times.

In the next few days they play at home to the Premier League's bottom club and then they have the return fixture at home to Anderlecht. On the face of it they are games Arsenal should win and they will find themselves on a run of four consecutive wins if they do just that. I'm not saying it will be easy in either game, but they are games they have to win if Arsenal are to be considered more than also rans this season.

First up is Burnley at home on Saturday afternoon and another chance to get three points while some of the other top teams could struggle for the second week in a row. There's not much as sweet as seeing Arsenal rack up three points while the likes of Chelsea, City, Liverpool, Spurs and United all drop points as they did last weekend. When that happens it's vital to keep up the momentum and a home game against a team who have failed to win in their opening nine games fits the mould perfectly.

At the start of the season I thought Burnley didn't look strong enough to avoid relegation and it looks like they are destined for the drop unless something changes drastically. They are pretty resolute in defence, but their inability to score is proving to be a fatal flaw so far at least. They have managed two draws in their four away games so far, but they have failed to score in three of their four away games.

The team news for Arsenal isn't as bad as might have been expected with Per Mertesacker showing no ill effects from the weekend and Kieran Gibbs likely to recover from the knock he took too. The only new absentee would seem to be Jack Wilshere who is likely to miss out with a knee injury, but he didn't play last week due to suspension. It means Arsenal will more than likely field a fairly similar team to the one which won 2-0 at Sunderland last week.

We could get to see Theo Walcott make his comeback after almost 10 months out of the team due to injury. I doubt if he will start, but the chances are he will get a run from the bench and it will be even more likely if Arsenal have a nice lead under their belts. There's more good news on the injury front with Olivier Giroud well ahead of schedule in his recovery and set to join in full training after the next international break.

There is the possibility of a couple of fringe players getting a game and I wouldn't be surprised if either Lukas Podolski or Joel Campbell was in the team from the start. For me the most important player for Arsenal at the moment has to be Alexis and I'm pretty confident of them winning once he's in the team. His purchase in the summer was a master stroke from Arsene Wenger and it's a joy to watch him play for the team I support. His energy and commitment are an example to the rest of the team and Arsenal would have a lot more points if the other players could match them. 

I was at a home game against Burnley a few years ago when Arsenal won 3-1 and Nicklas Bendtner missed an absolute hatful of chances. He went on to score a hat trick only a few days later against Porto in the Champions League. Bendtner is no longer an Arsenal player, but it just goes to show how unpredictable a game football can be.

I expect Arsenal to dominate the game from start to finish and put loads of pressure on a Burnley team who have struggled at this level. The three points are theirs for the taking once they apply themselves properly and I expect Arsenal to win by two or three goals. It would be great to see them come out from the start and get a goal or two before Burnley know what has hit them, but I'll be happy once they play well and make plenty of chances as well as winning the game of course.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Predictions For Premier League Gameweek 10

It's that time of the week again when I attempt to predict the outcomes of the upcoming Premier League games. I managed two perfect scorelines last week along with two correct outcomes and six incorrect. Those perfect scorelines helped me to increase my lead at the top of my predictions league as you can see from the table below.

Player NamePTSTWBB
NC 1 (1)Michael Sheehy545+8515
NC 2 (2)goonerdhanesh415+6515
Up 3 (8)Wayne Hubbard260+9515
Down 4 (3)Daytona230-500

Saturday November 1

Newcastle United v Liverpool

12.45pm GMT, St. James' Park, Newcastle 

Newcastle have got their season up and running at last with back to back league wins followed by their Capital One Cup victory away to City. They have moved out of the bottom three and look like they might finally have put a terrible calendar year behind them. Those three wins might just give them the confidence to give Liveeoool a very tough game.

Papiss Cisse looks like he might not be the worst buy for fantasy managers at the moment if he has recovered from injury.

Liverpool just can't get a decent run of results going at the moment and they're struggling to score goals too. Liverpool have lost two of their four away games so far and conceded eight goals in those four games. Their minds could well be elsewhere in this game with a trip to Real Madrid coming up in midweek. 

Raheem Sterling still looks like the best of the Liverpool players for fantasy managers.

I think this could be a very close affair and might well end in a draw.

Prediction: 1-1

Arsenal v Burnley

3pm GMT, Emirates Stadium, London

Arsenal are still nowhere near their best, but they have climbed up to fifth in the league. They are unbeaten at home since the opening day of last season, but they have drawn three of their four home games so far this season. If they're going to finish in their usual top four place they have to improve their home form starting with this game.

Alexis Sanchez is proving to be the difference for Arsenal more often than not at the moment and is well worth considering for fantasy managers.

Burnley haven't won in their opening nine games and they're now bottom of the table. They have failed to score in three of their four away games, but they have managed to draw two of those games. It looks like they are destined to return to the Championship and they could be in for a tough afternoon against Arsenal.

I can't see any Burnley players who might make a difference for fantasy managers at the moment.

I can't see anything other than an Arsenal win in this game.

Prediction: 3-0

Chelsea v Queens Park Rangers

3pm GMT, Stamford Bridge, London

Chelsea are still unbeaten in the league with 23 points from their first nine games. They have won all four of their home games so far and scored 11 goals in the process which has only been bettered by Southampton. Their title odds are shortening by the week as those behind them continually falter.

If he's fit Diego Costa is a must for fantasy managers as is Cesc Fabregas with Eden Hazard and all of Chelsea's defenders to be considered too.

QPR have lost all four of their away games so far and only scored one goal in those games. They have conceded more away goals than any other team and will find it very hard to avoid relegation. Their win over Villa on Monday night lifted them off the foot of the table, but they could be in for a torrid afternoon at Chelsea.

I still can't see any QPR players to recommend to fantasy managers with the possible exception of Charlie Austin.

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

Prediction: 4-0

Everton v Swansea City

3pm GMT, Goodison Park, Liverpool

Everton have won their last two games to move up into the top half of the table. They have only won once in their four home games though and only QPR have conceded more goals than them. Everton have no problems scoring goals with only the top two scoring more so far and their defence has improved in recent weeks.

Leighton Baines continues to excel for fantasy managers while both Seamus Coleman and Romelu Lukaku have to be considered too.

Swansea got their first win in six games at home to Leicester last week and it moved them back to sixth in the table. They haven't won away from home since the opening day victory at United and this won't be an easy game for them. On their day they are capable of competing with any team and it's not beyond them to get something from this game.

Gylfi Siggurdsen is still the outstanding fantasy choice in the Swansea team while Wilfried Bony has impressed in recent weeks as predicted by the guys at Fantasy Yirma last week.

I think this will be a very close game between two good teams and Everton might just shade it.

Prediction: 2-1

Hull City v Southampton 

3pm GMT, KC Stadium, Hull

Hull got two very good draws away to Liverpool and Arsenal in their last two games. They have proved to be a hard team to beat and have a real goal threat in every game they play. They have only won once in four home games though and will won't find it easy against an in form Southampton team.

Mohamed Diame has done very well since joining Hull and is a good option for fantasy managers.

Soutthampton have won nine of their last 10 games in all competitions and are second in the league. They have the best defensive record in the league so far and only Chelsea have scored more goals than them. They haven't been quite so potent away from home though with two defeats and only five goals in their four games.

Graziano Pelle has been a revelation since joining Southampton and has made himself a must have player for fantasy managers while Southampton's defenders have all done very well too.

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

Prediction: 1-1

Leicester City v West Bromwich Albion

3pm GMT, King Power Stadium, Leicester 

Leicester have been in a downward spiral ever since they beat United and they're only one place outside the relegation zone. They have only taken one point in their last four games, but they are still unbeaten at home. A few weeks ago they looked like the most likely of the promoted teams to stay up, but I'm not so sure now.

It's not easy to see any Leicester players impressing for fantasy managers at the moment.

West Brom have climbed the table after losing only once in their last five games. They did well to get a point last week after trailing Palace 2-0 and they will feel they have a good chance of getting something from this game too. They have only scored two goals away from home so far though and only QPR and Leicester have scored less on the road.

Saido Berahino is the West Brom player most likely to succeed for fantasy managers at the moment as he's in great form.

This has the makings of a very close game and I think a draw is the most likely outcome.

Prediction: 1-1

Stoke City v West Ham United

3pm GMT, Brittania Stadium, Stoke

Stoke started off by losing their first two home games, but they have won their last two. Their biggest problem is their lack of goals and only Villa have scored less goals at home. They have been good defensively though and only the top two have conceded less goals at home so far.

Stoke players haven't exactly excelled for fantasy managers so far, but Ryan Shawcross is usually a fairly good bet.

West Ham are in great form at the moment and have won four of their last five games. They have only lost once away from home and only Chelsea and City have scored more goals away from home so far. They're playing well with Diafra Sakho making a real impression, but he's doubtful for this game with an injury.

If Sakho is fit he's a great option for fantasy managers while Stewart Downing has had a pretty good season so far too.

This could be a very close game and a low scoring one too with a draw as the most likely outcome.

Prediction: 1-1

Sunday November 2

Manchester City v Manchester United

1.30 GMT, Etihad Stadium, Manchester

City aren't exactly firing on all cylinders at the moment and were beaten twice in the last week. They have a lot of work to do to get out of their Champions League group and they're five points behind Chelsea in the league. City's home form hasn't been what it was in the last few seasons and they will have to improve at home to win this game and to try to keep pace with Chelsea.

Sergio Aguero still looks like the best fantasy choice in the City team with David Silva (if he's fit)performing well as ever also.

United got a very late but very important point at home to Chelsea last week and will be looking to build on that result. They haven't won away from home yet though and their defence has been far from impressive too. The return of Wayne Rooney from suspension could be the boost they need to get something from this local derby.

Angel di Maria is the best of the United players for fantasy managers with Rooney worth considering too as well as Robin van Persie of course.I think City will bounce back from their recent disappointments to win this game by a couple of goals.

Prediction: 3-1

Aston Villa v Tottenham Hotspur 

4pm GMT, Villa Park, Birmingham 

Villa have lost their last five games in a row and failed to score in all five of them. They have only won once in their four home games and they're the lowest scorers at home too. They have only managed four goals in their nine league games and that lack of goals has to be a real worry.

There are no Villa players making any sort of impression for fantasy managers at the moment.

Spurs can't seem to find any consistency at the moment and they have a lot of games to play with Europa League and Capital One Cup commitments. They have only lost once in four away games and that was against the reigning champions. Their real problems have come at home where they have lost three games already which is only matched by Burnley.

Christian Eriksen looks like the Spurs player most likely to succeed while Nacer Chadli has had a good start to his season and Hugo Lloris has done well in goal.

I think this game could be quite close but Spurs might just have the edge.

Prediction: 1-2

Monday November 3

Crystal Palace v Sunderland 

8pm GMT, Selhurst Park, London

Palace are only a point above the bottom three after taking only one point in their last three games. They should have won at West Brom last week, but weren't helped by some poor refereeing and this is a game they cannot afford to lose. Palace have only taken four points and scored four goals in their four home games and they will have to improve on that if they're to stay up.

Mile Jedinak is probably the Palace player most likely to score points for fantasy managers as he takes their penalties.

Sunderland have lost their last two games and dropped back into the relegation zone as a result. They haven't won away from home yet, but they don't have the worst defensive record away from home despite shipping eight goals against Southampton. They need a result to try to regain some confidence, but it won't be easy for them in this game.

I don't see any Sunderland players worth writing home about for fantasy managers at the moment.

Despite all of Sunderland's current woes I think they will make a game of this, but will probably lose narrowly.

Prediction: 2-1

That's it for this week.

See you next week.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Arsenal Enjoy A Midweek Rest

I've never been a big fan of the League Cup or the Capital One Cup as it's currently known. From the final defeat to lowly Swindon in the sixties through the next final defeat to Luton in the eighties and then the final defeat to Birmingham four seasons ago there has been little joy in the competition for Arsenal. The only two wins were in the George Graham era with victories over Liverpool and Sheffield Wednesday and they were important in their day, but it's a competition of a lot less significance now.

Arsene Wenger has used the competition to blood youngsters and give fringe players an outing as well as those returning from injury. The usual set up was 10 or 11 changes from the weekend team as Arsenal's youngsters quite often put in excellent displays. Those displays haven't been quite the same in the last couple of seasons and I can't say I was too unhappy to go out this season although any defeat leaves a nasty taste.

With the current injury crisis in the Arsenal defence it was definitely for the best that the players had the week to train and prepare for the upcoming challenges rather than fight tooth and nail away to Shrewsbury like Chelsea had to do. Even with their vast funds and large squad they still made only eight changes from the team which drew with United on Sunday and they just scraped through. I hope they make it through to the semi finals along with Liverpool and have a tough two legged semi final in January.

Meanwhile a bruised and battered Arsenal defence can concentrate on finding four players fit to play Burnley on Saturday. With Kieran Gibbs limping off against Sunderland and Per Mertesacker looking like he took a knock too that could be a very tough task. As it stands it looks like Nacho Monreal, Calum Chambers and Hector Bellerin are the only defensive certainties for Saturday and it might not be a bad thing if they got the chance to train together this week.

For so much of the season Arsenal play twice a week and there is little opportunity for the coaching staff to get an extended run on the training ground with the players. Between match preparation and travel to and from games there might be two days at best in midweek, but this week offers them an opportunity of a whole week uninterrupted. We can all think of numerous parts of the game which the team need to work on together and individually and this week will hopefully afford them the opportunity to do so. 

A home game against the bottom club on Saturday afternoon is the ideal opportunity to keep the sequence of victories going as is the game at home to Anderlecht a few days later. If the team can use this chance to regroup to push them on and win those two games they will find themselves on a sequence of four wins in a row. The best way to install confidence in any team is to win games and four wins in a row would surely help them to do so.

There might be tougher challenges ahead but winning the next two games will be a massive boost. The points dropped by the other top teams last weekend were a big boost to Arsenal as they were winning and they need to continue that progress at home to winless Burnley. The consequences of not winning at home to a side destined for relegation are not worth thinking about.

Likewise a win over Anderlecht would as good as seal a spot in the last 16 of the Champions League. I have no doubt Dortmund will win at home to Galatasaray at the same time which would mean an Arsenal win would guarantee second place in the group at worst. Second place has led to a very tough last 16 draw in the last few seasons for Arsenal, but they can still beat any team over two legs if they apply themselves properly to the task.

By this time next week we could be looking at Arsenal in the top four and with the knockout stages of the Champions League guaranteed yet again. I'm not saying it would all be down to the week off (from games) they have had but I think it could certainly play a part. Let's just hope they use that week wisely and come back on Saturday raring to go.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Arsenal's Premier League Trip To Sunderland Previewed

This season has been far from easy for Arsenal fans to endure thus far. We have a team who can and do play good football on a regular basis, but for some reason it is not working at the moment. The team are labouring through games and more often than not waiting on a grandstand finish to get something out of them or at least so it seems to me.

Last Saturday was the first home league match that they scored first in, but they then managed to fall behind before an injury time equaliser got a point from Hull. It means they have had to come from behind in all four of their home league games so far and only managed to win the first of them against Palace. An unbeaten home league run stretching back to the opening day of last season is all well and good, but the draws are piling up and you lose ground on the pacesetters when you draw at home in particular.

There has to be a reason for Arsenal's inability to win games at the moment and I saw some very interesting statistics on Twitter on Wedbesday night. It would seen Arsenal are a far more productive team so far this season when Jack Wilshere isn't on the pitch. The difference between their goals for and against when he is not playing or has been substituted is startling. I'm not one for blaming all of the team's ills on Wilshere, but there has to be questions asked as to how he is being deployed in the team.

I was far from happy earlier in the season when Mesut Ozil was played in a wide role to allow Wilshere to perform in his favoured playmaker's position. Ozil is one of the best players in the world in that role while Wilshere still has a long way to go to realise his full potential. He has been plagued by injury for the last few seasons, but it appears he is now a permanent fixture in the team and I'm not sure how good that is for the team.

Far too often he can be seen taking too much out of the ball in possession and then losing it as two or three opponents surround him. He's very fond of castigating team mates for lack of movement when he has the ball, but this Arsenal team are at their best when they use the ball quickly. I really like Wilshere as a player, but I'm not sure what his position in the team is or should be for that matter.

He will be suspended for today's game after receiving five yellow cards already this season and it will be interesting to see how the team perform without him. By my calculations Arsenal have scored 14 goals when Wilshere has been off the pitch this season and only conceded two. He has started almost all of their games which means the late goals Arsenal are so find of have come when Wilshere has gone off and seven of the goals came in the two games he missed out on.

When it comes to Sunderland this afternoon I would expect to see a very similar Arsenal team to the one which was abject at times against Anderlecht on Wednesday night. They got out of jail with two very late goals and will have to have a lot more tempo to their game against Sunderland. For me it always seems Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is the first player to be dropped after a poor performance from the team and so it was on Wednesday. He might not have been good against Hull on Sarurday, but neither was anyone else with the exception of Alexis Sanchez.

Wojciech Szczesny will of course return after suspension ruled him out of Wednesday's game with Emiliano Martinez dropping to the bench. I thought Martinez did all that was asked of him well against Anderlecht and was in no way at fault for the goal Arsenal conceded. When the cross came in it was in fact Mathieu Flamini who lost his man, but he was covering after Per Mertesacker went walkabout. It wasn't helped by Nacho Monreal playing as a central defender as it's a role he just isn't suited to.

Anderlecht adopted a style which works all too often against Arsenal by defending in numbers and hoping for something on the break or from a set piece. As it was their goal came from a break, but the disorganisation in the Arsenal defence was frightening. I know there has been a lot of injuries and a lot of change as a result, but defenders have to know the basic concepts of how to defend correctly.

This season has already become a struggle to make the top four yet again with all hopes of putting in a title challenge all but gone. The optimism after last May's FA Cup final win is as good as gone and it's almost painful watching Arsenal playing at the moment. The deficiencies in the team are glaringly obvious but it seems Arsene Wenger sends the team out to make the same mistakes game after game. Is his influence over them so little that he cannot inspire them to put in the effort and play at the tempo needed to regain their form. 

After last week's embarrassing 8-0 defeat away to Southampton there has to be real doubt in the Sunderland camp. They will be glad Arsenal are playing far from their best, but Sunderland have to be there for the taking. If Arsenal can come out of the blocks firing on all cylinders and get a lead then Sunderland's confidence has to be brittle. I think Arsenal can win by a few goals if they go about it in the right way, but the big question is how will Arsenal play.

I would like to see Hector Bellerin come in at right back with Calum Chambers switching to the centre of defence. In midfield I think it's time Mikel Arteta came back into the team after spending the last two games on the bench since his return from injury. Santi Cazorla is the obvious choice as the playmaker for me with Aaron Ramsey making up the rest of the midfield trio. That would leave Danny Welbeck as the central striker with Alexis and Chamberlain in the wide roles. I think that's a team which could take the game to Sunderland and have enough attacking threat to score a few goals too.

There's a possibility of Theo Walcott making the bench for today, but Laurent Koscielny looks like he's out for a few more weeks. The defence is so much weaker without Koscielny, but Walcott will at least be back in the near future. I think he has been sorely missed in the last nine months and his return will be very welcome. Who knows he might get a few minutes before the end of the game if things are going Arsenal's way.

I seem to say this week after week but it's time for Arsenal to get their season started. There can't be a better chance to get things going in the right direction than against a team who were beaten 8-0 last week. I know Sunderland's fans will be looking for a reaction after that defeat, but it's up to Arsenal to make sure they don't get a chance to do so. I think Arsenal will win and by a couple of goals too and the week they get off before their next game won't be a bad thing. Maybe the players will get a chance to practice their defending during that week and save us all from some further worries every time the opposition cross the half way line. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.