Thursday, 23 February 2017

Predictions For Premier League Gameweek 26

It's that time of the week again when I attempt to predict the outcomes of the upcoming Premier League games. I did pretty well last time out with two perfect outcomes, four correct outcomes and four incorrect. However others did better than me which means I have dropped to third in my predictions league and I'm over 100 points behind the leader as you can see from the table below.

This is the first Gameweek where some teams won't play due to the EFL Cup Final between United and Southampton and it could prove awkward for some fantasy managers. That game on Sunday means there will be no games for Arsenal and City either and it could prove difficult to field a strong team. Those with 2 transfers to use could be tempted to use them this week, but from here on in there will be a few teams who don't play on occasions as well as some double game weeks at times too.

BadgesThis WeekPTS
 1 (1)  Karl-Yngve Lund 4+1351555
 2 (2)  Rutland Gooner 5+901435
 3 (2)  Michael Sheehy 5+801425
 4 (4)  Wayne Hubbard 1+1151355
 5 (5)  @ iWelloo 20860

Saturday February 25

Chelsea v Swansea v Swansea City

3pm GMT, Stamford Bridge, London

Chelsea could only draw away to Burnley in their last game, but they're still eight points clear at the top of the table. They have won 11 of their 12 home games and have scored more goals at home than any other team with only Spurs conceding less goals on their own patch. They have won 16 of their last 19 games with no other team conceding less goals so far, but they haven't kept a clean sheet in their last three games which isn't great by their recent standards.

The Chelsea defenders are the still the best choices for fantasy managers even if the clean sheets have slowed down a little while Eden Hazard and Diego Costa are both very good picks too.

Swansea won a very big game for them last time out when they beat fellow strugglers Leicester 2-0 to move four points clear of the relegation zone. They have lost eight of their 12 away games, but they have won two of their last three on the road and only three other teams have conceded more goals away from home. They have won four of their last six games to move away from the bottom three, but no other team has conceded more goals.

Gylfi Sigurdsson remains the outstanding fantasy choice in the Swansea team as he continues his almost one man crusade to keep them in the Premier League.

Despite Swansea's recent upturn in form I can't see anything other than a home win for Chelsea in this game.

Prediction: 3-1

Crystal Palace v Middlesbrough 

3pm GMT, Selhurst Park, London

Palace lost 1-0 at Stoke in their last game and they're now only off the foot of the table on goal difference. They have lost nine of their 12 home games with only Boro scoring less goals at home. They have only taken five points in their last 11 games and they failed to score in six of those games.

I still can't see any Palace players to recommend to fantasy managers and that needs to change for their sake or they could be heading for the Championship.

Boro got a credible 0-0 draw at home to Everton in their last game, but all of their draws have left them only two points above the drop zone. They have only won once in 12 games away from home with only Burnley and Hull scoring less goals away from home. They haven't won in their last eight games and they failed to score in five of those games.

Boro defenders can do quite well for fantasy managers and are still available at a fairly good price too.

With both of these teams struggling to score goals I have a feeling this game could be a scoreless draw.

Prediction: 0-0

Everton v Sunderland

3pm GMT, Goodison Park, Liverpool

Everton could only draw 0-0 at Boro in their last game which saw them drop to seven points adrift of the top six. They have only lost once in their 12 home games with only four other teams scoring more goals at home and only three others conceding less. They have taken 18 points in their last eight games and they kept five clean sheets in five of those games too.

When he's on form Romelu Lukaku is a must have for fantasy managers and the Everton defenders have been very good recently too.

Sunderland were thrashed 4-0 at home by Southampton in their last game to stay bottom of the pile and two points away from the relative safety of 17th place. They have lost nine of their 12 away games and had lost their previous five away games before winning at Palace a few weeks ago. They have only won once in their last eight games with only Boro and Hull scoring less goals so far.

Jermain Defoe is still by far the best fantasy choice in the Sunderland team, but his efforts might not be enough to help them avoid the drop.

I think Everton should be too strong at home and should win with a few goals to spare.

Prediction: 3-0

Hull City v Burnley

3pm GMT, KCOM Stadium, Hull

Hull fought hard away to Arsenal in their last game and were more than a little unlucky to lose 2-0 and stay in the relegation zone. They have taken seven points and scored seven goals in their last three home games since Marco Silva took the reins. They have lost 15 of their 25 games with only Boro scoring less goals and only Swansea conceding more.

Hull's defenders look like they could possibly do well for fantasy managers with Eldin Jakupovic in goal available at a very good price.

Burnley got a very good point at home to Chelsea last time out, but they followed that result with a home defeat against non league Lincoln City in the FA Cup. They have lost 10 of their 11 away games and have scored less goals away from home than any other team. Their home form sees them 10 points above the drop zone, but they only have five home games left and only the bottom five teams have scored less goals.

As I've said before Burnley's defenders are very good fantasy choices, but only when they play at home.

This is a game Hull really need to win and I think they will just about manage to do so.

Prediction: 2-1

West Bromwich Albion v Bournemouth 

3pm GMT, The Hawthorns, Birmingham 

West Brom drew 2-2 away to West Ham last time out to move within four points of seventh placed Everton. They have only lost three of their 12 home games and have won six of their last seven on their own ground. They have taken eight points and kept two clean sheets in their last four games and will hope to keep that record going against struggling Bournemouth.

Both Chris Brunt and Gareth McAuley have done well for fantasy managers while Matt Phillips seems to have fallen off recently after a very good run.

Bournemouth lost at home to City in their last game and they seem to be slipping quickly towards the wrong end of the table. They have lost eight of their 12 away games and no other team has conceded more goals away from home. They have only taken two points in their last six games and they conceded 18 goals in those six games.

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

I think West Brom should be too strong and should win this game by a couple of goals.

Prediction: 3-1

Watford v West Ham United 

5.30pm GMT, Vicarage Road, Watford

Watford lost 2-0 away to United last time out, but their recent results see them in a fairly comfortable mid table position. They have only won five of their 12 home games, but they have only lost one of their last five at home. The defeat at United was their first defeat in five games, but they have only kept one clean sheet in their last 15 games.

I don't think there are any Watford players to even peak the interest of fantasy managers.

West Ham drew 2-2 at home to West Brom in their last game to just about stay in the top half of the table. They have lost half of their 12 away games, but only three other teams have scored more goals away from home. They have taken 10 points in their last five games, but only five other teams have conceded more goals than West Ham.

Michail Antonio is still the best fantasy choice in the West Ham team and Andy Carroll isn't a bad bet either if he's fit.

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

Prediction: 1-1

Sunday February 26

Tottenham Hotspur v Stoke City

1.30pm GMT, White Hart Lane, London

Spurs lost 2-0 at Liverpool in their last league game which saw them drop back to third place 10 points behind the leaders. They have won 10 of 12 home games and are the only team still unbeaten at home with the best defensive record at home too. Their defeat at Liverpool was their first in 10'games and no other team has conceded less goals than Spurs.

The Spurs defenders are all still very good fantasy choices along with Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane.

Stoke won 1-0 at home to Palace in their last game and they look to be cementing their place in the top half of the table. They have only won three of their 12 away games and have lost four of the last five on the road in which they conceded 13 goals. They have only lost one of their last six games, but they have the worst defensive record in the top half of the table.

I can't see any of the Stoke players who might make a difference for fantasy managers right now although Peter Crouch is available at a good price and has impressed recently.

Spurs should have more than enough at home to win this game by at least a couple of goals.

Prediction: 3-1

Monday February 27

Leicester City v Liverpool

8pm GMT, King Power Stadium, Leicester

Leicester lost 2-0 away to Swansea in their last game and the prospect of the reigning champions getting relegated is now very real. They have only lost four of their 12 home games, but they have lost the last two and conceded six goals in those games. They have lost their last five games and have failed to score in seven of their last eight games.

I don't think there are any Leicester players who can make a difference for fantasy managers, but they need a few of them to make a difference for themselves.

Liverpool put an end to a very poor run with a 2-0 win at home to Spurs in their last game and they're only a point outside the top four despite that run. They have only lost three of their 12 away games, but haven't won in their last three on the road. The win against Spurs was their first win in six games, but no other team has scored more goals than Liverpool so far.

Sadio Mane's return seems like it might have changed Liverpool's fortunes and he looks like the best fantasy choice in their team.

I think Liverpool will continue their recovery with a narrow win in this game.

Prediction: 1-2

That's it for this week.

See you next week.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Arsenal's FA Cup Game At Sutton Previewed

Arsenal play away to Sutton United tonight in the last 16 of the FA Cup with their path to the semi finals clearly laid out for them. They play a non league team tonight and the reward for the winner is a quarter final game at home to the other non league team left in the competition. With the greatest of respect to both Sutton and Lincoln we could not have asked for an easier draw. 

First of all we play against a Sutton team tonight who have looked very good so far and will have home advantage on their artificial surface. Those two elements will of course be in their favour, but we are still huge favourites to advance to the next round without the need for a replay. As bad as we might have been recently it would take an even worse performance than the one in Munich for Sutton to have any hope tonight. 

Not only have Arsenal had almost a week to recover from the mauling in Munich, but they don't play next weekend thanks to the EFL Cup final between Southampton and United. There will be no need to rest players for bigger games tonight because the FA Cup is our only realistic chance of a trophy just like it has been at this stage of the last three seasons too. We managed to win two of them and no other team has won more FA Cups than Arsenal while no other manager has won it more times than Arsene Wenger.

If this is going to be his last season at the club (no one really knows the answer to that) then maybe it would be in some way fitting if he could end it with a trophy. The FA Cup isn't the Holy Grail of the Premier League or the Champions League, but it's certainly better than no trophy at all. If he could leave as the record winner of the trophy as both a club and a manager it wouldn't be the worst way for him to finish. 

We will have to overcome Sutton first though and even with no game next weekend I think we will see a few changes. To be honest the team which capitulated in Munich needs to be changed and there are a few players who could look to make an impact on a rare outing. It's a no win situation for Arsenal though with everyone bar the Arsenal faithful hoping for an upset and even a few of them would like to see it if it hastened the departure of the manager.

I'm not in that camp though and I will always want Arsenal to win. I'm hoping for a display to show they have put Munich behind them, but to be honest any win will do all things considered. I have no doubt Sutton will put it up to them and try to put them off their game, but I also have no doubt that we are vastly superior to them.

If Sutton were to win tonight it would be one of the biggest shocks ever in the FA Cup. Arsenal are royalty when it comes to this competition and they cannot allow themselves to succumb to the commoners tonight. As bad as the defeat in Munich might have been a defeat tonight would open the gates of hell and the repercussions would last for a very long time.

I think those players will bounce back tonight and a win would put them on the road to recovery too. There's still a top four place to play for and an attempt to regain some respect in the second leg against Bayern. If we are going to have any hope of doing either of those things we need to start out on the road tonight.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Groundhog Day For Arsenal Fans

Well that was a bit of a shock wasn't it. There can't be too many Arsenal fans who saw that coming. The way we were playing most of us fans must have thought Arsenal would go to Munich last night and put in the sort of performance us fans believe they should be capable of.

I'm not going to go into a blow by blow account of what happened, but let's just say it wasn't pretty. We somehow managed to reach half time level though and Granit Xhaka even had a chance to put us ahead just before the break. We had hardly touched the ball in that first half and when we did it usually went straight back to Bayern after one touch. The lack of belief in the players was so visible you could almost touch it, but we were level. We have been a team who completely fail to perform in one half of a game far too often recently and I hoped it was the first half last night where we did just that.

As it turns out the first half was our "good half" and what came after the break was almost unbelievable, but yet completely believable at the same time. Bayern didn't even have to do too much to destroy us and I don't think they were battering the door down with us trying all we could to hold on. We simply capitulated as if it was a run of the mill thing to do as we handed them goal after goal. 

The loss of Laurent Koscielny at 1-1 didn't help matters, but it certainly didn't excuse any of what followed. I could run through the goals one after another and lay the blame at individual players, but the team as a whole failed miserably. We will exit the Champions League at the round of 16 yet again for the seventh season in a row and yet again it's as good as over after the first leg.

Groundhog Day doesn't go near enough to explaining the feeling which Arsenal fans woke up to this morning. The excuses of lack of finance as we built the new stadium are gone and still we cannot compete when it matters. It all points to one thing and one thing only for me which is a change is needed at the very top.

Arsene Wenger doesn't seem capable of bringing these players to a level where they can genuinely compete and if he can't do it then it's time for someone else to be given a chance. It might all go desperately wrong and we could do even worse, but we quite simply have to change something. It's not working now and it hasn't worked for far too long to believe he can get these players or any other group of players to perform to the best of their abilities for him.
It will be a sad day when he leaves, but the longer he stays the more he tarnishes what he has done for the club. 

I don't pretend to know enough about the inner workings of the club to suggest I know how those in charge feel about our current demise. I would be surprised if they are happy at yet another capitulation in both the Premier League and Champions League though. They would be fools to think the fans are happy as things stand, but they seem content as long as we continue to fill the stadium and finish in the top four.

There's still the FA Cup to fight for this season, but at this point it's not enough to rescue yet another season of disappointment. I don't think we will win it anyway when you see what teams are left in it and consider how badly we are playing. To be honest I'm worried about going to non league Sutton next Monday night with the way we are playing at the moment.

The loss of our manager will bring an awful lot of uncertainty to the club, but there couldn't be too much more than we have at the moment. His failure to commit either way to the contract on offer isn't helping matters and the inability to tie Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil down is becoming an increasingly large worry too. Both of their contracts expire in 16 months and it's incredibly bad business by the club to let those contracts run to less than two years. 

I have no doubt negotiations have been ongoing, but how have they not been sorted since last summer. I can only assume that both players are running their contracts down so they will be in a far better negotiating position with us and any potential new clubs when the season ends. If they haven't signed on by the start of pre season we will have to sell them and at a cut price too. I can't imagine any new manager coming in would like to see the club's two star players exit just as he enters.

To be honest I wouldn't blame Alexis if he wanted out as he is one of the few players who isn't underperforming and his poor games are few and far between. I'm sure he would like to put a few trophies on the shelf and he probably feels his chances of doing so at Arsenal are at best very limited. I wonder if he feels a new manager is what's needed too.

It looks like change could be the order of the day this summer in more ways than one and any new manager could be on the back foot immediately if we lost both of them as well. There's still something to play for this season though as a top four place is still a very important target. For me it's not enough to save the manager's job though and I don't think anything is at this stage unless by some miracle we win the league. It's been a culmination of season after season of collapses which has led me to believe the only way forward is through change and the sooner it happens the better.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Arsenal v Hull City Preview

Last Saturday's defeat to Chelsea is still fresh in the mind and yet it seems so far away. It's been a difficult week since that game and there can be very few excuses offered for the lack of fight in the second half in particular. The league has to be beyond Arsenal now and that means it's back to the annual fight to finish in the top four.

There is of course the side issue of the trip to Bayern Munich on Wednesday night for the first leg of the Champions League round of 16. It would take a brave man to predict anything other than yet another exit at this stage of the competition for Arsenal. Despite all this I find myself writing this preview on the Air Coach on the way to Dublin airport as I make the way to see my beloved Arsenal take on Hull City.

Let me make it clear that Arsenal always have been and always will be a part of me no matter what league they play in or how badly they might be doing. It doesn't matter who owns the club or manages it, my heart will always belong to Arsenal and I'm quite fond of the wife and kids too. I'll meet some good friends today and have a few beers before and after the game, but I'm making the pilgrimage out of devotion to Arsenal.

There's the usual requests for programs for those not as lucky as me to make it over. Right now I'm in dire need of coffee and food, but those extra few minutes in bed at 3am always seem worth it when you press the snooze button. I've no doubt I'll pick up something overpriced in the airport, but it's my own fault. 

I'm listening to a Ska mix on my phone as I write this and the prospect of Arsenal and listening to some great music makes me exceedingly happy despite the hour. I was that guy moving in time to the music at the bus stop at 3.30am as others made their way home from their night out. I thought my earphones were pretty obvious, but it still didn't stop those stumbling past from trying to start a conversation with me.

Anyway, I digress and this is meant to be a preview of a game Arsenal quite simply have to get three points from. The defeat to Chelsea was bad enough, but it was preceded by a defeat at home to Watford and the first half display in that game was one of the most abject displays in a long time. It seems we have become a team who perform for one half of a game all too often and if we don't get our business done in that half then we're in real trouble.

Hull won at home to Liverpool last week and drew away to United in their previous game and they kept a clean sheet in both games. They might still be in the bottom three, but the arrival of Marco Silva has been exactly what they needed and I would be surprised if they were relegated. He has a very good record in his short managerial career and he certainly knows how to get the best out of his players even if he doesn't tend to stick around for too long.

This week has been dominated by speculation about Arsene Wenger's future and he has been a fantastic manager for Arsenal for over 20 years now. There have been highs and lows of course, but I think the tide may have turned and it could be best for all if he didn't take up the offer of the new contract at the end of this season. Change can be scary, but I think Arsenal need a change even if things don't immediately improve if he goes. Not every team can be successful every season, but I think things cannot continue as they are and a change is essential at this stage.

Having said that I still greatly admire the man and what he has done for the club and I will never abuse him here or on social media. I cannot see what can be gained from the abuse which some people throw in his direction and it only helps to further divide an already split fan base. It can't help the players either, but you can only hope as professionals they can ignore it.

I don't imagine there will be too many changes from the team last week despite virtually every player under performing. I would like to see Mohamed Elneny, Danny Welbeck and/or Lucas Perez come into the team, but it's not really about who plays and more about the attitude and commitment. Hull will more than likely sit deep and hit us on the break as they did so well in beating Liverpool last week, but maybe they might have the audacity to come at us like Watford did in the first half. We didn't have a clue how to deal with that as we obviously hadn't prepared for a team having the nerve to take us on on our own patch.

We need the players who went missing last week to stand up and be counted and it's worrying that Alexis Sanchez has suddenly had far less influence than usual in his last few games. The contract situations of both him and Mesut Ozil are extremely worrying and it's becoming more difficult to believe they will be Arsenal players next season. For me I think they would have tied everything down before now if they were staying and we will have to sell them both at a cut price this summer with only a year left on their contracts if they don't sign up very soon.

Despite all of this I'm still looking forward to the game as I always am when I make the trip. I'm an optimist at heart and I always believe Arsenal will win no matter who they play or where the game is. Today is no different and I think we will get the job done no matter how messy or ugly it might get.

Hopefully Hector Bellerin will be able to return after his injury last week and I'm still struggling to believe that the so called "pundits" to a man didn't think it was even a foul on him. The rules of the game clearly state it was not only a foul but a red card for Marcus Alonso and Chelsea's first goal should not have stood. Where the game might have gone after that is another matter, but you cannot rewrite the past. As a person who has suffered concussion playing football I know how dangerous it can be and I wasn't allowed to play for three months after my concussion. I hope we don't rush him back too soon and his welfare has to be of paramount importance.

I'll leave it there as I near the airport and the inevitable queue for security before I finally get that cup of coffee. My final thought for the day is that the team need the fans behind them in good and bad times and it's too easy to turn on the manager and/or the players. I just hope they can get the support they need today and use it to put two bad results behind them as they build towards at least a strong finish to the season.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.