Friday, February 27, 2015

Predictions For Premier League Gameweek 27

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 well last week, but the two perfect scores I got helped me to keep my lead at the top of my predictions league. Besides those two perfect scores I only managed two correct outcomes and six incorrect ones. You can see from the table below that I'm still on top of that predictions league as I have been all season so far and hopefully I can continue to stay there.

There are four teams who don't play this week thanks to the Capital One Cup final on Sunday and fantasy   managers need to be aware of them when choosing their teams. Chelsea and Leicester don't get to play their postponed game until Gameweek 34, but the QPR and Spurs game has been rescheduled for the next Gameweek when both teams will play twice. It might not be a bad idea to hold on to QPR and Spurs players if it's possible with that double Gameweek coming up so soon.

NC 1 (1)Michael Sheehy1285+300
NC 2 (2)Rutland Gooner1190+300
Up 3 (5)goonerdhanesh1070-150
NC 3 (3)Wayne Hubbard1070-400
Down 5 (4)sodobo995-1000

Saturday February 28

West Ham United v Crystal Palace 

12.45pm GMT, Upton Park, London

West Ham got a very good point away to Spurs last week, but they really should have taken all three points with a two goal lead inside the last 10 minutes. They have dropped back to eighth in the league after winning only once in their last nine games. They have only lost three of their 13 home games though and only three other teams have a better defensive record at home.

Diafra Sakho looks like he might be the West Ham player to have for fantasy managers while Cheikhou Kouayate is in good form right now and Stewart Downing has dried up just a little. 

Palace ran Arsenal very close last Saturday and were more than a little unlucky to come away from the game with no points. It was only their second defeat in eight games and they're now five points above the relegation zone. They have only lost four of their 13 away games and no other team in the bottom half of the table has scored more away goals.

Despite their recent improvement there are no Palace players standing out for fantasy managers right now.

I think this will be a very close game and could go either way, but West Ham will just edge it.

Prediction: 2-1

Burnley v Swansea City

3pm GMT, Turf Moor, Burnley

Burnley got a very good point away to Chelsea last week, but they're in the bottom three on goal difference. They have only won once in their last 10 games and haven't kept a clean sheet in any of them. They have only won three of their 13 home games and only Villa and Sunderland have scored less goals at home while only Palace have conceded more goals at home.

Danny Ings continues to be the most likely Burnley player to impress for fantasy managers.

Swansea came from behind to beat United last week and do the double over them for the first time. It was only their second win in eight games, but it moved them within two points of eighth placed West Ham. They have only won three of their 12 away games and are the lowest scorers away from home in the top half of the table.

Gylfi Sigurdsson has to be considered by fantasy managers now that he's back from suspension while Jonjo Shelvey has looked good in recent weeks.

This game could go either way, but I have a feeling ƚwansea will win by the odd goal.

Prediction: 1-2

Manchester United v Sunderland 

3pm GMT, Old Trafford, Manchester 

United were beaten away to Swansea last week and dropped back to fourth place as a result. They have only won four of their last 10 league games and have only kept clean sheets in two of those 10 games. Only Chelsea have taken more points at home than United and they are the only team with a better defensive record at home too while no other team has scored more home goals than them.

United players haven't exactly set the world of fantasy football alight, but I think Angel di Maria is still worth a punt.

Sunderland got a dour draw at home to West Brom in their last game to edge that little bit further away from the relegation zone. They have only taken six points from their last nine games and failed to score in four of those games. They have drawn half of their 12 away games, but they have only won two and have struggled to score goals at home and away.

Costel Pantilimon is still a very good fantasy option while Anthony Reveillere has done well in recent weeks too.

United need to win to get back on track and I think they should have enough firepower to win this game.

Prediction: 2-0

Newcastle United v Aston Villa

3pm GMT, St. James Park, Newcastle 

Newcastle were well beaten away to City last week and were probably lucky not to lose by more than five goals. They have only won once in their last seven games and are rooted firmly in the middle of the table. They have won five of their 12 home games, but only one of their last five at home.

As I've said before Papiss Cisse could be a good fantasy choice, but he seems to lack a little consistency.

Villa looked like getting a point at home to Stoke last week, but they were undone by a last minute penalty. They have only taken three points in their last 11 games and failed to scored eight of those games. They have lost eight of their 13 away games and are by far the lowest scorers away from home with only four goals in those 13 games.

I can't see any Villa players who might make a difference for fantasy managers right now.

I think Newcastle will be able to bounce back from last week's defeat and take all three points.

Prediction: 2-1

Stoke City v Hull City

3pm GMT, Britannia Stadium, Stoke

Stoke keep going away to Villa last week and got their reward with a last minute winner from the penalty spot. They have taken 17 points from their last nine games and they're only three points off eighth place. They have lost as many games as they have won at home and have conceded more goals than they have scored at home.

I still can't see any Stoke players to interest fantasy managers at the moment.

Hull won their second game in a row at home to QPR last week to move four points clear of the relegation zone. They have taken seven points in their last three games and their two wins were against teams below them in the table. Hull have only won two of their 13 away games, but those two wins in a row might just given them some confidence.

Dame N'Doye has done well since joining Hull in January and might be worth a punt for fantasy managers.

This looks like it will be another close game, but I think Stoke will get another win under their belts.

Prediction: 1-0

West Bromwich Albion v Southampton 

3pm GMT, The Hawthorns, Birmingham

West Brom got a point away to Sunderland last week and it helped to move them further away from the bottom three. They have taken eight points from their last three games and have kept clean sheets in four of those games. They have lost six of their 13 home games and only Palace have lost more games at home.

I thought Brown Ideye might have been a good fantasy purchase, but after last week I'm not so sure.

Southampton were beaten at home by Liverpool and have dropped out of the top four for the first time in quite a while. They have only won once in their last four games and have found goals a little hard to come by recently. They have won their last four away games though and have kept clean sheets in four of their last seven games.

Southampton's defenders still look like pretty good fantasy choices with Nathaniel Clyne and Ryan Bertrand probably the best of them. 

I think this will be another very close game, but Southampton's away form might just see them take all three points. 

Prediction: 0-1

Sunday March 1

Liverpool v Manchester City

12pm GMT, Anfield, Liverpool

Liverpool won away to Southampton last week, but had a tiring game on Thursday night in Turkey which went to extra time. They are unbeaten in their last 10 league games and have won seven of them and kept clean sheets in five of their last six. They have only won six of their 13 home games and have conceded more goals at home than any of the team's above them. 

Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and maybe Phillippe Coutinho are the Liverpool players to watch for fantasy managers while their defenders have been good in recent weeks too.

City had an easy win at home to Newcastle last week and cut Chelsea's lead to five points as a result. They have scored nine goals in winning their last two games, but hadn't won any of their previous four. City have won eight of their 13 away games and have taken more points and scored more goals away from home than any other team.

Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Yaya Toure are the City players to have for fantasy managers.

This is a big game for both teams and could go either way, but I think it will end in a draw.

Prediction: 1-1

Arsenal v Everton

2.05pm GMT, Emirates Stadium, London

Arsenal won away to Palace last week and that win moved them up to third with both United and Southampton losing. They have won five of their last six league games, but suffered a very bad defeat at home to Monaco in the Champions League on Wednesday night. They have won their last six home league games in a row and no other team has scored more league goals at home.

Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil are the Arsenal players performing the best in recent weeks, but it's hard to ignore Alexis Sanchez too. 

Everton could only draw at home to bottom club Leicester last week and they're still only six points clear of the relegation zone. They have only won once in their last 10 league games and failed to score in six of those games. They have only won three and have lost seven of their 13 away games with only four other teams conceding more goals away from home.

Romelu Lukaku seems to be hitting some form in recent games and could be worth considering for fantasy managers.

This is another game which could be a very close encounter, but I think Arsenal will be good enough at home to take the three points.

Prediction: 2-1

That's it for this week.

See you next week.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Another Fine Arsenal Mess

In the last sentence of my preview yesterday I said you never know what you will get with this Arsenal team and that was never more evident than in last night's game. I'm still struggling to understand how the team managed to come up with one of the most inept performances in memory on such an important night. It's hard to give credit to any player, but I suppose David Ospina didn't do too much wrong in goal.

Arsene Wenger set the stage by telling us it was time for his team to step and show they really were challengers at last. He struggled to explain what went on after the game, but he has to take his share of the blame for failing to influence matters from the bench. That was his team out there with almost all of his star performers available and they let him and the fans down yet again.

It didn't start too badly as Arsenal had the right tempo for the night in the first five minutes and looked like they had the will to get the job done. The tempo changed very quickly though as Arsenal struggled to make any inroads into a tight and well disciplined Monaco defence. Monaco didn't show too much ambition either and looked content to play in safe areas without over committing players in attack.

The game changed a little while before half time when a shot from outside the box took a deflection and wrong footed Ospina to crash into the Arsenal net. Monaco had a precious away goal and Arsenal knew they were in a game and I sat back and waited for their reaction.

Arsenal tried to up the tempo after the break and certainly offered a lot more going forward, but it was at the expense of anything resembling defensive stability. It didn't take Monaco too long to take advantage as they broke quickly after Alexis Sanchez lost possession in their box. As four Arsenal players descended on the player in possession he played a pass which left Monaco with a two on one from the halfway line. The ball was played to ex Spurs player Dimitar Berbatov and he made no mistake to increase their lead.

The decision by Per Mertesacker to step forward and challenge for the ball leaving a two on one behind him was astounding for a player of his experience. If I was the manager of a schoolboy player who did that he would be on the sidelines for the next game at least for such a stupid decision and for a player with over 100 caps for the world champions to do so was inexcusable. When things go wrong for Arsenal in defence Mertesacker always seems to suffer the most.

As somebody said on Twitter last night the signs were there against Palace and Leicester when Arsenal were more than a little lucky to win both games and found themselves under severe pressure against teams they should have dominated. The balance between defence and attack just doesn't seem to be right and Arsenal just aren't placing enough emphasis on protecting their defence. Francis Coquelin was brought into the midfield to do the work others don't do and he has been very good since winning his place in the team. I thought he played too far forward last night and wasn't there to screen the defence as he has been so often recently.

Arsenal tried to throw everything they had at Monaco and they created some good chances, but those chances fell to Olivier Giroud who had a most forgettable night. He has done well since he came back from his injury and was in fine form before last night, but the last of the chances he missed was the easiest and the final straw as the boss replaced him with Theo Walcott on the hour mark. I've said it before and I'll say it again I just don't think Giroud is good enough to play at the level Arsenal aspire to play. 

Walcott had an immediate impact and almost scored, but unfortunately he then got in the way of Welbeck's follow up to stop it going into the net. Arsenal soon lost their momentum and again gave the initiative to Monaco who created some good chances of their own. Both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky made their way off the bench too with Coquelin and Santi Cazorla coming off. Rosicky's impact was minimal, but Chamberlain had a big impact on the game and both ends.

With the game seemingly petering out he produced a moment of magic just on the 90 minute mark to give Arsenal some hope for the second leg. Up to that point he had lost the ball on more or less every occasion and he did so again in the final added minute with terrible consequences for Arsenal. With the whole team again too far forward Monaco broke when Chamberlain was dispossessed and added a third and probably killer goal. Where the defence were again is anybody's guess, but it was no surprise after such an inept performance.

The third goal means Arsenal have to score three times away from home to a team who only conceded one goal in their six group games. Monaco only scored four goals in that group too and I don't think they set out to score as many as they did last night. I think they saw how the game was going and how bad Arsenal were in defence and realised the chance was too good to pass up. I don't give Arsenal any hope in the second leg and I think they will go out at this stage of the competition for the fifth season in a row.

I wish I could figure out where the team went so wrong last night, but it's impossible not to think it was in their heads. Maybe they underestimated Monaco and thought they only had to show up to win through, but there are no easy ties at this stage in the toughest club competition in the world. It was yet another horror show from Arsenal and we all saw it happening, but yet again neither the players nor the manager could do anything to change it.

For me Arsenal were far too narrow with Welbeck coming in from the right and playing too close to Giroud while Cazorla, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez kept trying to play through the middle. To break Monaco down Arsenal needed to use every inch of the pitch and stretch them time and again, but they kept playing the same slow laboured game right through the middle. I lost count of how many times Arsenal lost possession in front of the centre of Monaco's defence, but it didn't stop from trying the same thing time after time. 

Arsenal created enough good chances to have won the game if they had kept their defensive house in order, but once Monaco got their first goal all thoughts of proper defending went out the window. With the tie played over two games it was quite incredible to see Arsenal over commit players forward with 140 minutes still to play and time most definitely on their side. They paid the price with the second and third goals coming on the break and Monaco as good as putting the tie to bed before the second leg. 

With the players Arsenal have you would think they would be able to cope with the opposition closing them down, but it appears that's just not the case. I don't know if it's a lack of movement by team mates or players just taking too much out of the ball or maybe it's a combination of both. I do know the Arsenal players are capable of playing the ball a lot quicker and getting past any team that closes them down quickly, but they're just not doing it right now. Other teams have realised it's the way to get at Arsenal and Arsenal now have to find a way to counter them.

The wins over Leicester and Palace were more than a little lucky and the team really isn't playing well right now. If they're going to finish in the top four and progress in the FA Cup they need to find some balance to the team and that has to mean playing another player alongside Coquelin and sacrificing one of the more attacking players. I know Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta are injured and Jack Wilshere is just back from his latest injury, but the time has come for decisions to be made on which attacking players are first choice. With the attacking options Arsenal have those players might have to take turns on the bench, but the needs of the team outweigh the needs of the individual.

There's a few days before the team play again at home to Everton in the league on Sunday and the players and manager need to take some of that time to reflect on what went wrong. I expect to see some changes in that game because heads have to roll after a performance like last night. Those who do play need to understand that if something isn't working then it's not a good idea to just keep trying it again and again.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Arsenal v Monaco Preview

Arsenal play in the knock out stages of the Champions League yet again tomorrow night when they play at home to Monaco. For the last few seasons Arsenal have only finished second in their group and ended up with a really tough draw in the last 16. This season was no different as Borussia Dortmund narrowly edged them into second place in the group stages, but the draw has been relatively kinder to them.

Without being disrespectful to Monaco they were seen as one of the easier group winners for Arsenal to get in the draw with clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich as possible alternatives. Monaco did win their group though with Bayer Leverkusen, Zenit St. Petersburg and Benfica to contend with. Their record in that group was hardly astounding and their qualification was only assured when they won their final game 2-0 at home to Zenit.

The most impressive thing about their group performance was their defensive record where they only conceded one goal in their six games. They might have only scored four goals in those six games which normally would be nowhere near enough to win a Champions League group, but that defensive record is one to be proud of for them. Arsenal weren't exactly quite so good in defence in their group where they let in eight goals, but they did score 15 times.

Monaco have continued with that defensive strength in the French league and have steadily climbed the table on the back of clean sheet after clean sheet. If I'm not mistaken they have nine clean sheets in their last 10 games and it's going to be a really tough task for Arsenal to open their defence up. Arsenal have some attacking options which Monaco don't come up against on a weekly basis though and they will be stretched to contain players like Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla.

It's not too easy to judges the two teams relative strengths based on their Champions League records. While Monaco's group might be said to have been average the same has to be said about Arsenal's group too. Dortmund won the group but they have spent the season in the relegation places in Germany while Galatasary were just awful and a plucky Anderlecht really should have been out of their depth, but displayed a lot of skill and commitment to finish third.

I don't expect Arsene Wenger to make too many changes from the team which just about won away to Palace on Saturday, but I have a feeling Theo Walcott will come in for Danny Welbeck. It might be more than a little unfair on Welbeck if Walcott does play, but I think his pace might just be a factor for Arsenal on the night. Welbeck contributes an awful lot to the team when he plays, but Walcott is deserving of a place too and I think he might just get his chance.

Other than that I don't expect to see any changes and I hope to see Arsenal take the game to Monaco to try to build up a precious lead in the home leg. Arsenal have won their last nine home games in a row in all competitions and are making the Emirates a real fortress after a slow start to the season on their home patch. I think the players they have are revelling in the open spaces at home and sometimes find it a lot harder away from home when the opposition can limit the space they get and close them down very quickly.

The Champions League is a stage set for the likes of Alexis and Ozil to thrive and I expect to see those two players get plenty of the ball along with Cazorla of course. I've been so impressed by Ozil since his return from injury and it looks like the rest he got did him a world of good. His passing in the final third is second to none and he continually creates chances for others no matter who the opposition might be. If Arsenal can capitalise on some of the chances he makes against Monaco they might just give themselves the edge they want.

I don't expect Monaco to be overly interested in attacking and they will be very happy if the game finishes as a boring 0-0 draw. That wouldn't be the worst result for Arsenal either, but a score draw would give Arsenal some real problems in the return leg in three weeks time. I think they can do enough to get a narrow victory tonight and I hope they keep a clean sheet to with it. If Monaco have to attack Arsenal in the second leg it might just open the way for Arsenal to use their pace on the break and secure a slot in the quarter finals.

The next few weeks are going to be very busy for Arsenal with the FA Cup quarter final at United as well as three league games to contend with before that return trip to Monaco. The right performance and result tonight would set them up nicely to hopefully progress against United and galvanise their current third place in the league. You can never be certain with this Arsenal team but the graph certainly seems to be moving in the right direction and the chance is there for them to continue that tonight.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Arsenal Move Up To Third After A Good Weekend

Champions League qualification is nothing new to Arsenal under Arsene Wenger and with their hopes of winning the league gone it's their target yet again this season. They've been gradually getting closer and closer to the top four and the results from this weekend have finally seen them climb to third. Arsenal did their bit by beating Crystal Palace on Saturday and the two teams directly above them were beaten to see them move up two places.

The battle for third and fourth places has five teams involved in it and Arsenal managed to steal a march on three of the other four this weekend. While they were beating Palace on Saturday United were losing away to Swansea and Arsenal moved above them. Things got even better on Sunday when Spurs could only draw at home to West Ham and Southampton lost at home to Liverpool to enable Arsenal to hold on to that third spot.

In the greater scheme of things I think it might have been far better for Arsenal if Southampton had managed to take a point off Liverpool. Arsenal are only three points ahead of Liverpool and Liverpool are on a very good run at the moment and closing quickly on the top four. They're unbeaten in 10 league games and seem to have found some real defensive strength to spur them on.

The points dropped by Spurs sees them fall back to seventh and Arsenal are now four points ahead of their local rivals. When they lost to Spurs a couple of weeks ago they fell behind them and back to sixth and things weren't looking too good. Since then Arsenal have just about managed a couple of 2-1 wins against teams at the wrong end of the table and those six points were very welcome as those around them slipped up. 

Getting back to that game against Palace it was a real nerve jangling finish to the game with Palace scoring in added time and then hitting the post right at the death. Arsenal had looked comfortable in the first half as they scored twice and Palace didn't manage an attempt on target. After the break Palace picked things up and put Arsenal under some real pressure, but Alexis Sanchez missed a great chance to finish them off on the break.

Palace put both of Arsenal's full backs under some real pressure and Calum Chambers found it very hard to cope with Yannick Bolasie when he came on for Palace just before the hour mark. The state of the pitch didn't help and Palace's work rate never dropped from first minute to last either. The important thing for Arsenal was the result though and the three precious points they won proved to be very important by Sunday night.

Arsenal!'s away form hadn't been good in the last couple of months despite the win at City and Palace looked to put them under the kind of pressure Spurs did a couple of weeks ago. To be fair to Palace they were more than a little unlucky to get nothing from the game and they will stay well clear of the relegation zone if they continue to play like that. Arsenal's defensive record away from home isn't good and they again invited too much pressure on their defence against Palace.

They have only five away league games left this season of the 12 games left to play and they will have to defend an awful lot better in those five games to make sure they finish in the top four. The tactic which worked so well against City just isn't working well enough against teams who play with the tempo Palace had and who are prepared to get plenty of crosses into the Arsenal box. Arsenal have to get hold of the ball more often away from home and not depend only on hitting teams on the break.

At the same time their home form has dramatically improved and they have won their last nine home games in a row in all competitions. That's a very nice statistic to have with the home leg of their Champions League round of 16 game against Monaco coming up on Wednesday night. Monaco have an excellent defensive record this season, but they won't have faced too many teams with the attacking options Arsenal possess.

After a slow start to their season Monaco are in the top four in the French league and have the best defensive record in that league. They only conceded one goal in their six Champions League group games and look like they will be very hard to break down. On a positive note for Arsenal though Monaco only scored four goals in their group games and have only managed 26 goals in their 25 league games. 

Arsenal could have had a tougher draw though and they have a real chance of getting into the quarter finals. There's still plenty to play for this season and the next few weeks will decide if Arsenal continue to have trophies to play for. They face six games in three weeks with that FA Cup quarter final at United in there as well as the two legs against Monaco and three league games. It's going to be a hectic three weeks for Arsenal and their fate for the season will be a lot clearer after the last of those six games in Monaco on March 17th.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.