Friday, 15 September 2017

The Great Switcheroo Sees Arsenal Reign On A Night Of Chaos

To say it was an eventful night at the Emirates last night is an understatement, but at least Arsenal managed to come through it with the three points. I saw the video clips during the day of Koln fans marching and singing through the streets of London and it was fairly obvious there was a lot more than the 2,900 away fans allocation. It seems there were up to 20,000 of their fans in London and at least half of them descended on the ground before kick off.

It led to a very scary situation for Arsenal fans with riot police eventually being called in to ensure safety inside the ground. From the reports I have read the Koln fans did their homework and many of them joined as Red Members which gave them access to tickets not taken up by Arsenal fans on the night. I have no doubt others tried to force their way in and it led to Koln fans taking over many of the sections reserved for home fans.

I know from the experience of a friend when Arsenal play in another country that a U.K. resident cannot purchase a ticket for a home section of that team's stadium. I wonder if it was the same for Koln fans and if Red Members purchasing tickets from Germany were blocked from doing so or if being a Red Member entitles you to a ticket regardless. There are ways around those rules of course, but it would be interesting to know whether the club actually allowed German residents to buy tickets for the game.

Thankfully the trouble was kept to a minimum and there was a lot of light hearted banter I'm led to believe. I have no doubt a lot of Arsenal fans chose not to enter the ground when they heard of the events unraveling and it must have been scary for those with children in particular. The decision to go ahead with the game was probably the right one when you consider what might have happened with so many Koln fans there if the game had been called off. It meant the kick off was delayed by an hour though which meant plenty of Arsenal fans had to turn around and go home as they could not have got home by the normal methods with the later finishing time.

In the game itself Arsenal started poorly and a bad clearance from David Ospina led to Koln going ahead early on. The three central defenders again didn't look good and the team just aren't playing well when they are deployed no matter what players are chosen. It's a system which worked really well at the end of last season as we searched for something to change our fortunes, but maybe it has run it's course.

Arsene Wenger changed formation to a 4-2-3-1 at half time with the unfortunate Rob Holding making way for Sead Kolasinac and it paid an instant dividend with The Tank scoring a cracking volley. The lead goal was an absolute beaut too with Alexis Sanchez eventually waking up and deciding to take part as he buried a shot into the top corner. The icing on the cake came when Hector Bellerin put the rebound away after a Theo Walcott shot was saved and we deserved the three points in the end.

It was good to see Jack Wilshere make his return and Reiss Nelson make his debut and they could both have a part to play this season. We are very short in the centre of midfield and the passing seemed an awful lot slicker when Wilshere came on. He has a lot to do to convince the manager to use him, but last night can't have done his case any harm.

It leaves us top of our Europa League group with a trip to BATE Borisov in a couple of weeks, but we have a much more pressing matter this Sunday. The manager has a lot of decisions to make before we travel to play Chelsea on Sunday and the first one has to be what formation he uses. It's clear that the one he's persisting with just isn't working and we're only at our best when we ditch it.

Besides the formation he has to decide if Alexis will regain a starting place and if he does it's a matter of who misses out. Opting for the second half formation against Koln would allow him to play with one less defender in the team, but it would mean more defensive duties for Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka. They have been found wanting in those duties at times already this season and if we play that formation they will have to be a lot more disciplined.

Finally for today it seems the only UEFA charge we will have to answer to after last night is for blocked stairways and the ticketing situation seems to have been ignored. Koln have charges of their own to face, but thankfully their fans didn't come looking for a fight or who knows what might have happened.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Predictions For Premier League Gameweek Five

It's that time of the week again when I attempt to predict the outcomes of the upcoming Premier League games. I did a little better last week than I have done so far this season with two perfect predictions, two correct outcomes and six incorrect. I'm still a long way off the top of my predictions league, but at least I've moved up a few places and hopefully that will continue. Here's a look at how the top of my league stands.

 1 (1) Wild Things
 2 (2) betojohn
ioannis papanikos
 3 (8) Brisbane City FC
 3 (5) David Luiz
 5 (5) immycader
Imran Cader

Friday September 15

Bournemouth v Brighton & Hove Albion

8pm BST, Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth 

Bournemouth lost 3-0 at Arsenal last week as their poor start to the season gets worse by the week. They won nine home games last season and scored a lot of goals at home too and they need to find some of that home form very soon. They have lost their last four games and only scored one goal in those games, but they will see a home game against a newly promoted team as a great chance to get their first points.

I can't see any Bournemouth players to recommend to fantasy managers at the moment.

Brighton got their first win of the season at home to West Brom last week and it was a very welcome three points. They haven't scored away from home yet, but they did manage a point at a Watford team who are doing quite well. Their home form is going to be crucial in their bid to stay up, but they do have a chance of getting something from this game. 

Pascal GroB had a very good week for fantasy managers last week, but it's hard to know if it was a one off or not.

With Bournemouth in desperate need of some points to put on their board they might just get their wish in this game.

Prediction: 2-1

Saturday September 16

Crystal Palace v Southampton 

12.30pm BST, Selhurst Park, London

Palace lost yet again last week away to Burnley and that defeat cost Frank de Boer his job. No other team lost more home games last season and they already have the worst record at home so far this season. Roy Hodgson will have to act quickly to reverse their slide, but I'm not sure if he's up to the task any more.

I can't see any Palace players to recommend to fantasy managers at the moment and I don't know if that will change under Hodgson.

Southampton lost at home to Watford last week and they should probably have more points considering their opponents in their first four games. They took almost as many points on the road as they did at home last season and they scored more goals on their travels too. They have failed to score in three of their first four games and that has to be a real worry for them.

Southampton defenders and goalkeeper still look like good fantasy options, but it might be better to avoid their attacking players until they can find a way to score some goals again.

This isn't an easy game to call, but I wouldn't be surprised if it ended in a scoreless draw.

Prediction: 0-0

Huddersfield Town v Leicester City

3pm BST, John Smiths's Stadium, Huddersfield 

Huddersfield lost away to West Ham on Monday night to put an end to their unbeaten start to the season. They're unbeaten at home so far though even if they have only played two games and they haven't conceded at home yet either. They didn't score an awful lot of goals in the Championship last season and they have only scored two goals so far this season, but they did win both games they scored in.

Huddersfield's defenders and keeper have been good fantasy choices so far with Aaron Mooy looking like a reasonable option too.

Leicester lost at home to Chelsea last week and they have had some really hard fixtures to start their season. Their home form eventually moved them away from the wrong end of the table last season and they could do a lot better this season if that home form holds up. Their fixtures are a lot easier over the next couple of months than they have been at the start of the season.

Jamie Vardy has been the best of the Leicester players for fantasy managers with Riyad Mahrez and Toby Maguire doing quite well too and their fixtures aren't looking too bad for the next while.

Huddersfield have started very well, but I think Leicester might just get the better of a very close game.

Prediction: 1-2

Liverpool v Burnley

3pm BST, Anfield, Liverpool

Liverpool were thrashed by City last week after Sadio Mane was given his marching orders. They have won both of their home games so far without conceding a goal, but they need to improve on their results at home to the "lesser" teams last season. Things looked to be going very well for them until last week's defeat at City and they need to quickly put it behind them.

With Mane suspended the best fantasy options in the Liverpool team are Roberto Frimino and Mohamed Salah.

Burnley won 1-0 at home to Palace last week and they're sitting pretty in seventh place at the moment. They are unbeaten away from home so far and that's not bad considering they played away to last season's top two clubs. Their away form almost got them relegated last season, but the signs are that might improve this season.

Chris Wood has been impressive since joining Burnley and is still available at a good price for fantasy managers while their defenders look like they could do well at home again this season.

Despite Burnley's impressive away results so far I still think Liverpool should win this game comfortably.

Prediction: 3-0

Newcastle United v Stoke City

3pm BST, St. James' Park, Newcastle 

Newcastle won away to Swansea last week and it was their second win and clean sheet in a row. Their home form will be key for them if they're going to stay up this sason and this is a game they will be looking to win. They looked to be in trouble after their first two games, but the wins against West Ham and Swansea have given them a lot more hope.

Ciaran Clark, Jamaal Lascelles and Rob Elliot have all done very well for fantasy managers at a very good price too.

Stoke got a very good point at home to United last week and they are proving to be a difficult team to beat. They only won four away games last season and it will probably be their home form that keeps them clear of the wrong end of the table. They have had some tough games to start their season and they have Chelsea and City to come over the next few weeks.

Eric Maxim Choupa-Moting could be a good reasonably priced fantasy option while Jack Butland is looking pretty good too.

I don't see too many goals in this game and I think it's most likely to end in a draw.

Prediction: 1-1

Watford v Manchester City

3pm BST, Vicarage Road, Watford

Watford won 2-0 away to Southampton last week and they're one of only three teams left unbeaten. Only four teams conceded more goals at home last season, but they look like they could be a different team under Marco Silva this season. Since drawing 3-3 with Liverpool in their first game they have kept clean sheets, but that won't be an easy task in this game.

Watford's defenders and keeper have been impressive so far for fantasy managers, but this could be a tough game for them while both Abdoulaye Doucoure and Richarlison de Andrade have done well so far too.

City won 5-0 at home to Liverpool last week and they're only off the top of the table on goal difference. Their away form was second only to Chelsea's last season and they have already started with two away wins this season. They have the attacking players to win the league, but their chances could rely on their ability to keep them out at the other end.

Both Sergio Aguero and Gabriel de Jesus seem to managing their fair share of points for fantasy managers while David Silva is looking pretty good too.

I don't think Watford will roll over for City, but I think City will just about manage to win.

Prediction: 1-2

West Bromwich Albion v West Ham United

3pm BST, The Hawthorns, Birmingham 

West Brom were beaten 3-1 away to Brighton last week to put an end to their unbeaten start to the season. They won nine of their home games last season and they're already looking like their home form could be key for them this season. They struggled to score goals last season and they still don't look like they have the firepower to improve on that. 

West Brom's defenders had been doing well for fantasy managers until last week and they could be worth considering this week too.

West Ham got their first win of the season at home to Huddersfield on Monday night to ease the pressure on Slaven Bilic. This is their fourth away game of the season and they lost the first three and conceded 10 goals in the process. The win against Huddersfield brought some respite, but they have a long way to go to move up the table judging by the way they're playing.

Javier Hernandez still looks like the best fantasy option in the West Ham team to me while Michail Antonio and Andre Ayew might not be the worst choices either.

I don't think we'll see too many goals in this game, but the chances are West Brom will take the three points.

Prediction: 1-0

Tottenham Hotspur v Swansea City

5.30pm BST, Wembley Stadium, London

Spurs won 3-0 at Everton last week and they could easily have scored a fair few more. They have already dropped more points at home this season than they did in all of last season as they struggle to cope with playing at Wembley. Their midweek Champions League win at home might have helped them to overcome their issues at Wembley and they have four games coming up where they should expect to take maximum points.

Harry Kane seems back on song for fantasy managers while Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and all of the Spurs defenders are looking very good too.

Swansea lost 1-0 at home to Newcastle last week and they still look like they will struggle to score goals. They have taken all four of their points so far this season away from home and they haven't conceded a goal on their travels yet. Their away points were at Southampton and Palace and they will find Spurs a very different prospect.

I'm not too sure any of the Swansea players will do enough to attract the interest of fantasy managers this season.

Spurs should have far too much for Swansea and should run out fairly comfortable winners.

Prediction: 3-0

Sunday September 17

Chelsea v Arsenal

1.30pm BST, Stamford Bridge, London 

Chelsea won 2-1 at Leicester last week and their opening day defeat seems to be firmly behind them. They won 17 of their 19 home games last season and they were the top scorers at home too. If they're going to retain their title they're going to need to take almost as many points at home starting in this game.

Alvaro Morata is looking very good for fantasy managers with Cesc Fabregas worth considering too as well as the returning Eden Hazard and all of the Chelsea defenders with Marcus Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta the best of them.

Arsenal got back to winning ways with a 3-0 home win against Bournemouth last week, but a trip to Chelsea will be a much tougher proposition. Their away record against the rest of the top six has been awful for a few seasons and they have lost their two away games this season without scoring a goal. If they're going to have any hope of challenging at the top of the table they need to get something from games like this.

Danny Welbeck has been in very good form for fantasy managers, but it's a risk to pick him while Sead Kolasinac could be worth a shout now that he's getting a game.

My head tells me Chelsea will win this game, but my heart always goes with Arsenal and it won't be any different this time.

Prediction: 1-2

Manchester United v Everton

4pm BST, Old Trafford, Manchester 

United dropped their first points of the season when they drew 2-2 away to Stoke last week. Their home form kept them out of the top four last season with 10 draws, but they have won their first two games at home this season and scored six goals in the process. They hadn't conceded a goal before Stoke got two last week and they still have some very attractive fixtures for the next few weeks.

With Paul Pogba injured the best fantasy options in the United team are Romelu Lukaku, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and all of their defenders and keeper.

Everton lost 3-0 at home to Spurs last week and they were lucky it wasn't a heavier defeat. They only won four of their away games last season and they struggled to score goals away from home. They have had some tough games to start their season, but their lack of goals is a real problem and the inability to replace Romelu Lukaku looks like it could really hamper their chances.

Wayne Rooney has been the best fantasy option so far for Everton, but I'm not sure they will make enough chances to make him a worthwhile choice for fantasy managers.

I think United should have more than enough to win this game by at least a couple of goals.

Prediction: 2-0

That's it for this week.

See you next week.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Arsenal See Off Bournemouth As Bigger Tests Await Them

After a traumatic two week wait for a game since their 4-0 drubbing by Liverpool it was back to Premier League action for Arsenal on Saturday when Bournemouth came calling. We didn't find them easy to beat last season with a 3-3 draw at their place while we struggled to eventually beat them 3-1 at the Emirates. It was a different matter on Saturday though as Arsenal won easily and could have scored a few more than the three goals they managed.

The team was more or less as expected with the exception of Alexis Sanchez I suppose who was on the bench with Danny Welbeck retaining his place. We did see the return of both Sead Kolasinac and Alexander Lacazette though which meant the team looked balanced with players playing in more or less their best positions. The one exception was Nacho Monreal who looks like he's now a certainty as one of the three central defenders despite it not being his position. He has done well there though and it makes sense to play him on the left of that back three.

As good as Arsenal were it has to be said Bournemouth offered very little and it was all too easy. Welbeck took his second goal well even if he was a little fortunate with his first goal and Lacazette took his goal very well too. We were rarely under pressure at the back with the exception of Jermain Defoe hitting the post early in the second half and a late flurry which saw Petr Cech make one good save right at death when we were down to 10 men.

The reason we were a man shy was Francis Coquelin picked up an injury when we had already used all of our subs and his absence means are midfield options are even more limited. He would have been a shoe-in to play against Cologne in the Europa League on Thursday night, but Arsene Wenger might have to get a little creative with his team selection now. I suppose Mohamed Elneny will play, but who partners him in the centre of midfield is the big question and will it mean a recall for Jack Wilshere.

As tempted as the manager might be to play a much weakened side he will also want to make sure we're not playing catch up in our group as it's a competition we can most definitely have real hopes of winning. United showed the advantages of winning it last season as it qualified them for the Champions League despite only finishing sixth in the league and we might need that safety net come the end of the season. The problem with playing a strong team is we face Chelsea away from home three days later and it's a game where we have to turn up in a big way.

After the debacle of Liverpool and our dreadful away record against any sort of good side for far too many years it has reached a stage where the fans are unwilling to accept any more of the dross we have seen far too often. Anything other than a defeat at Chelsea would be a great result, but if we lose while playing well and giving our all it would be a marked improvement from what we have seen too often in the past and against Liverpool only a couple of weeks ago. Chelsea have recovered from losing their opening game and look like they will be right up there in the title race again this season.

When you look at our players as individuals they are capable of being a very good team, but far too often the sum of the parts does not match up to those individual parts. We need to play as a team with players who are willing to give their all for the team and for their team mates too with no players hiding. It's certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility, but after Liverpool it's a hard stretch to believe it will happen.

If we can come through the Chelsea game with our pride intact the fixture schedule is pretty kind to us relatively speaking until at least November. We could give ourselves something to build on in that Chelsea game and a good run after it could leave us in a fairly good position. I know there's a lot of ifs and buts in there and the chances are the team will let us down, but as a fan you have to believe your team can do it despite what your eyes tell you sometimes.

I'm not saying we're going to win the league, but we have been completely written off for a top four place by far too many "experts" already. A top four finish is most certainly not beyond the team and squad as it is even if the chances of winning the league are slim to none. While a top four finish isn't the bee all and end all it's certainly far superior to the alternative which sees us playing on Thursday nights this season.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Arsenal v Bournemouth Preview

It's been almost two weeks since Arsenal played thanks to the international break and those two weeks have seemed like an eternity. That last game was an unmitigated disaster when Liverpool destroyed a disinterested Arsenal 4-0 and we were probably lucky it was only 4-0. Since then we've had the shambles of an end to thr transfer window and the pressure on the manager has already reached higher heights than at any time last season.

Last season was our worst league finish since Arsene Wenger took charge in 1996 and like so many I thought it was the ideal time for him to go with his contract up and yet another FA Cup in the bag. He convinced himself to sign on again though with the belief that he could return the team to the glory days of his first 10 years at the club. That hasn't started so well though with two defeats in our first three games and team selections and performances that beggar belief.

Of course those performances don't really beggar belief as we've seen them too often before, but the team selections were more than puzzling. I have no doubt Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was accommodated to try to convince him to stay at the club, but that didn't work out as he is now a Liverpool player and I don't think he will be missed too much.

After seven years at the club he had never made himself a first team regular and never made a position his own. My only issue with his sale is how late it was done and the fact that we didn't come up with a replacement. The emergence of Reiss Nelson could negate Chamberlain's departure, but it remains to be seen whether he will get the call up to the first team and if he can make that step up.

The three central defender's that the manager switched to late last season isn't looking so good now and the consensus is it might be ditched today. If we do switch to a back four again we might see a player sitting in front of them to shield them from nasty teams who try to attack us and exploit our weaknesses and tactical nativity. The most obvious choice would be Francis Coquelin who played in that role when he broke into the team a few years ago and he's certainly more suited to it than Mohamed Elneny.

Whatever formation we go with we quite simply have to play both Alexander Lacazette and Sead Kolasinac from the start and the decision to leave them out against Liverpool was ridiculous. Kolasinac was voted the best left back in the Bundesliga last season and Lacazette is supposedly the striker we have needed for far too many years now. If we going to have any chance of making headway in the Premier League this season we need to play our strongest team in every game.

We don't have to worry about upcoming Champions League games with only the Europa League to play in and the teams we are chasing are all playing in the Champions League. I would be very surprised if we didn't play a weakened team against Cologne on Thursday night with a trip to Chelsea in the league next Sunday. After our bad start we need to consolidate and anything other than a defeat at Chelsea next week would be a great result. 

All that depends on today of course and it goes without saying that we have to win today and win well too. If we don't put on a performance that shows we can play and play well today then it's a very bad sign. As bad as the results and performances against Liverpool and Stoke were they were both away from home. We're at home today and we just have to put a performance to warm the fans and show we are still a force to be reckoned with.

Our away form went to pieces after Christmas last season and while it did improve towards the end of the season we ended up missing out on the Champions League thanks to that away form. Our home form still held up with only one defeat after the opening day last season and it has to hold up again this season. As bad as our start has been, Bournemouth's has been worse with three defeats out of three and only one goal scored.

We need to go at them at full pelt from the first minute and punish their mistakes. There is no place for taking it slowly and letting the game develop. If we attack them from the start I think the goals will come and I think we should be looking to win with a few goals to spare.

I heard both Charlie Nicholas and Phil Neville on the TV last night saying they think Everton will finish ahead of Arsenal and they think the best we can do is seventh. It's very early to write off a team with our talent and with the amount of goals we can score and I hope the players can use those opinions to galvanise them and make them play better. I hope that will start today, but I suppose it's only hope when you consider what we have seen so far this season. I do think we will win today though and I think will score three goals at least, but the real tests will come next week and as the season progresses.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.