Sunday, 4 October 2015

Arsenal v Manchester United Preview

It's been an up and down season so far for Arsenal with four wins from their seven league games and a disastrous start to their Champions League campaign. Despite their far from convincing league form they are still very much in the title chase and they have a chance of going second in the table if they win this game. City's win yesterday put them on 18 points and an Arsenal victory would give them 16 points.

Of course it's not going to be easy for them and United were the league leaders before this weekend and will go to the top again if they win. They have had a fantastic record against Arsenal for more years than is good for us with the exception of Arsenal beating them in the FA Cup last season. The way this season has gone so far this is a game Arsenal need to get something from and a defeat would open up the gates of hell among an already divided fan base.

The defeat on Tuesday night brought back all the old failings of Arsenal and not for the first time this season either. The second half of last season was so good with a couple of exceptions that us fans had genuine hope for this season. The failure to add to the squad during the summer was a gamble by Arsene Wenger and it hasn't paid off so far with a few injuries leaving the team genuinely short of attacking alternatives.

When Arsenal beat United in that cup quarter final it was Danny Welbeck who made the difference, but injury will deprive us of him for the next few months. In this fixture last season Jack Wilshere missed a magnificent opportunity to put Arsenal ahead and his drive and enthusiasm would be a real bonus for Arsenal at the moment. Tomas Rosicky's contributions have been all too infrequent in recent seasons, but again he's a player who can turn a game for Arsenal if introduced from the bench and he's out too.

It means Arsenal's team is all so predictable today and there's a hardly a person out there who doesn't know what team the boss will pick. It's more or less the team which started the FA Cup final against Villa with the exception of Gabriel Paulista for the injured Laurent Koscielny. Gabriel looks the most likely to partner Koscielny in the center of the defence when everybody is fit with Mertesacker probably missing out.

Of course the other change from that team will be the inclusion of Arsenal's only summer purchase with Petr Cech playing in goal. We were told Cech missed out on Tuesday's debacle due to a slight injury concern, but I have no doubt he will take over from David Ospina today after Ospina's howler against Olympiacos. He's the goalkeeper this team has needed for far too many years and he has to play in all but the FA Cup and Capital One Cup for me.

In this fixture last season Arsenal totally dominated and missed chance after chance before United got two goals. A late reply from Olivier Giroud was no consolation as a very average United team took all three points in a game Arsenal could and should have won. It's a regular occurrence which has led to so much frustration among the fan base and the boss still seems unable to find a remedy.

United may have been top of the table coming into this weekend, but I have been far from impressed by them this season or under Louis van Gaal at all. They have being getting results though and they seem to be the masters of getting a result against Arsenal when they don't put in a great performance. We well and truly owe them s defeat and it's about time we delivered.

To say United have been unconvincing this season doesn't mean Arsenal have been convincing. They have rarely looked as good as they did in the second have of last season and have struggled badly in front of goal. They did put five past Leicester last week, but they were far from good in defence in that game and that defensive ineptitude continued on Tuesday night.

They cannot afford to be so poor at the back today or they will pay a price for it again. Arsenal's best tactic against United could be their pace on the break, but they need to draw United out first or they won't get to exploit the space behind them. The way Arsenal play encourages teams to defend in depth and then Arsenal become the ones who are vulnerable on the break with vast amounts of space available between the defence and the rest of the team.

I think they need to be more conservative today and not over commit players into attack. If it means the game is far from entertaining that's something we can live with as the result is all important. A win would be a fantastic result, but for me it's very important that Arsenal don't lose.

They have already lost away to Chelsea aalthough Mike Dean's crucial decisions which had such a huge influence on the outcome have all since been overturned. The 0-0 draw at home to Liverpool was a different matter with Arsenal coming back strongly in the second half after being completely outplayed in the first half. They are yet again in danger of getting a paltry return from the other supposed contenders this season and it's something which needs to be addressed.

The ideal way of course would be to win today's game and put their United bogey to bed. As I said already though a draw wouldn't be the worst result either heading into the international break. A win and they're two points off the top while a draw would leave four points behind and a defeat six. 

don't think a lead like that is insurmountable with neither City or United looking too convincing so far, but the consequences of a defeat could be hard to swallow. It's clear that the Wenger out argument is growing by the week and the only way he can counter it is to get things right on the pitch. The problems have to be of his own making after failing to spend the money available in the summer to strengthen a squad which had so much promise last season. 

Another reversal would only add fuel to the fire and they will come a time when that fire cannot be put out. A win would quiten the critics for the moment at least and give the boss some breathing space for the next two week. I don't think the performance on the day will matter one bit if the team get the right result just as a great performance will count for nothing if they lose.

I do think they can win though and if anyone is going to win it for them Alexis Sanchez is the man to do it. Sometimes I wonder if he thinks he made the wrong decision joining Arsenal when all of his efforts come to nothing and others around him fail to show his attitude and commitment. I'd love to see him score the winning goal today and hopefully he will to get some reward for a player who is a dream to have at our club.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Predictions For Premier League Gameweek Eight

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 with one perfect scoreline, three correct outcomes and six incorrect outcomes. I actually made up a little ground on the leader in my predictions league despite dropping a place as you can see from the table below. It's still not too late to join in and the details can be found at the end of this post.

POSPlayer NameBadgesThis WeekPTS
 1 (1)  Rutland Gooner 3-10295
 2 (4)  Wayne Hubbard 4+85255
 3 (2)  Michael Sheehy +10195
 4 (2) sensisoccerworld 1+5190
 5 (4) goonerdhanesh 1-40130

Saturday October 3

Crystal Palace v West Bromwich Albion

12.45pm BST, Selhurst Park, London

Palace won away to Watford last week to keep themselves firmly in the top half of the table. They have lost two of their three home games, but those defeats were against Arsenal and City. Their away form has propelled them to the top half of the table and they will stay there if they can do better at home in games like this one.

Yohan Cabaye hasn't done too well for fantasy managers so far, but he has the ability to get plenty of points.

West Brom looked like they were going to get their third win of the season on Monday night when they led Everton 2-0, but they lost 3-2. They have kept clean sheets in four of their seven games so far and all three of their away games. They will have to be at their defensive best to get something from this game, but their defensive record away from home certainly gives them a chance. 

Boaz Myhill has been the best of the West Brom players for fantasy managers and is certainly worth considering.

I think this will be a close game with few goals and Palace will just get the better of West Brom.

Prediction: 1-0

Aston Villa v Stoke City

3pm BST, Villa Park, Birmingham 

Villa were beaten 3-2 away to Liverpool last week despite their best efforts to get back into the game. They have only taken one point from their last six games and they have dropped into the relegation zone as a result. They need to improve quickly or this season could end up very badly for them, but Stoke won't give them an easy ride.

Rudy Gestede has done well in recent weeks for Villa and could be worth considering for fantasy managers.

Stoke got their first win of the season at home to Bournemouth last week to move them out of the relegation zone. They have drawn two of their three away games so far, but they don't tend to win too many games on the road. They will fancy their chances away to a Villa team who are struggling badly at the moment though.

Stoke players haven't exactly set the fantasy world alight yet this season and it's not easy to see which of them might do well.

I think this will be a close game and a draw is probably the most likely outcome.

Prediction: 1-1

Bournemouth v Watford

3pm BST, Dean Court, Bournemouth 

Bournemouth were beaten late on away to Stoke last week and they suffered yet another injury to one of their players. After losing their opening game at home they have taken four points from two games on their own ground. It's going to be a struggle for them with Calum Wilson out for six months, but they will give it their all.

With Wilson injured it's hard to see which Bournemouth players might do well for fantasy managers.

Watford lost at home to Palace last week to put an end to the good run they had been on. They have failed to score in four of their seven games, but they have kept clean sheets in three of them at least. There have been less goals in games featuring Watford than any other team and they don't exactly set the world alight with sparkling football.

Odion Ighalo has scored four of Watford's five goals and is worth considering for fantasy managers as are most of their defenders and goalkeeper with their defensive record.

This looks like it could be a very close game between the top two from the Championship last season and a draw looks like the most likely outcome.

Prediction: 1-1

Manchester City v Newcastle 

3pm BST, Etihad Stadium, Manchester 

City led away to Spurs last week, but they ended up losing 4-1. That defeat was their second one in a row and it saw them surrender top spot to United. They looked so good in their first five games and they will look to regain some of that form against a team in the bottom three.

Kevin de Bruyne has done well since joining City and looks like a good fantasy bet along with David Silva and Sergio Aguero when he eventually clicks.

Newcastle almost held on for a win against Chelsea last week, but they had to settle for a draw in the end. They still haven't won a game and they haven't scored away from home either. They will have got some encouragement from their game last week, but it will be a huge task for them to get anything out of this game.

I still can't see any Newcastle players worth recommending to fantasy managers. 

As bad as City were last week surely they should win at home to Newcastle with a few goals to spare.

Prediction: 3-0

Norwich City v Leicester City

3pm BST, Carrow Road, Norwich

Norwich did well to get a point away to West Ham last week and keep themselves comfortably in mid table. They haven't kept a clean sheet yet, but they have scored in six of their seven games too. They will feel they have every chance at home to a Leicester team who certainly won't sit back and defend.

Wes Hoolohan and Nathan Redmond have done well so far for fantasy managers and they're still available at a good price.

Leicester were beaten for the first time last week when they went head to head with Arsenal and lost 5-2. They have scored and conceded in every game so far and they're the joint top scorers in the league too. They have to be admired for having a go no matter who the opposition are and it has made them very enjoyable to watch.

Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy have been the stand out fantasy performers in the Leicester team so far.

I think this will be a close game which could go either way with a Leicester victory possibly on the cards.

Prediction: 2-3

Sunderland v West Ham United

3pm BST, Stadium of Light, Sunderland 

Sunderland are rooted to the foot of the table with only two points from their seven games. They have lost their last three games without scoring a goal and they have the worst defensive record in the league too. They need to turn things around quickly, but that's looking increasingly less likely as the weeks go by.

Jermaine Lens looked good early on for Sunderland, but none of their players are doing anything for fantasy managers now.

West Ham were held at home by Norwich last week to end a run of three wins in a row. They have won all three of their away games so far and each of those games were against teams considered to be among the best in the league. They will fancy their chances away to the bottom club, but they can't allow complacency to creep in.

Dimitri Payet has been in outstanding form so far and is a must have for fantasy managers.

This one looks like West Ham's for the taking and I'll be very surprised if they don't win.

Prediction: 1-3

Chelsea v Southampton 

5.30pm BST, Stamford Bridge, London

Chelsea failed to win yet again last week and they're still in the bottom half of the table. They have only won twice in their opening seven games and only Sunderland have conceded more goals than them. If Chelsea are going to have any hope of retaining the league they will have to improve an awful lot and very quickly too.

None of the Chelsea players have impressed so far for fantasy managers, but surely some of their stars will come good soon.

Southampton got a good win at home to Swansea last week and they're starting to look like they did last season. They have drawn all three of their away games so far and kept clean sheets in two of them too. They will feel they have a chance against a struggling Chelsea team and they could get something if they are at their very best.

Graziano Pelle, Sadio Mane and Dusan Tadic have all done well for Southampton so far and fantasy managers should consider having at least one of them in their team.

Chelsea must surely come good soon and they might just start to do so by winning this game.

Prediction: 2-1

Sunday October 4

Everton v Liverpool 

1.30pm BST, Goodison Park, Liverpool

Everton had a great 3-2 win at West Brom on Monday night after trailing 2-0. They have only lost once in their first seven games and they have kept three clean sheets in those games while they have failed to score in three of those games too. They will be up for this game and will feel they have a real chance against a struggling Liverpool team.

Ross Barkley looks like the best fantasy option in the Everton team at the moment with Romelu Lukaku possibly worth considering too.

Liverpool won at home to Villa last week, but they made hard work of it. That was their first win in five games and they have conceded nine goals in the last four games after keeping clean sheets in the first three. They need to steady the ship and surely there could be no better way than winning the derby against Everton.

The return of Daniel Sturridge has been a great boost for Liverpool and fantasy managers too and Phillippe Coutinho is worth considering too.

It's never easy to predict this game and I'll sit on the fence by opting for a draw.

Prediction: 2-2

Arsenal v Manchester United

4pm BST, Emirates Stadium, London

Arsenal finally found their shooting boots when they won 5-2 away to Leicester last week. They had only scored five goals in their previous six games and they have only taken four of their 13 points at home. A win and other results going their way could put Arsenal top of the table, but they will have to be at their best to have a chance of doing so.

Alexis Sanchez finally got going last week and is a strong possibility for fantasy managers along with Theo Walcott and maybe Nacho Monreal or Hector Bellerin.

United won 3-0 at home to Sunderland last week to make it three wins in a row and to go to the top of the table. They have won five of their seven games so far and have scored nine goals in their last three games. They have a very good record against Arsenal in recent years and will hope to continue that record in this game.

Juan Mata and Anthony Martial look like very good fantasy options at the moment with Chris Smalling doing well too.

I think this will be a very close game which could go either way, but I'm leaning towards an Arsenal win.

Prediction: 2-1

Swansea City v Tottenham Hotspur 

4pm BST, Liberty Stadium, Swansea

Swansea were beaten 3-1 away to Southampton last week and their good start to the season seems a long way off now. They have only one point and one goal from their last three games, but they have taken seven points from their three home games. They're a hard team to beat at home, but they will have to be at their best against an in form Spurs team.

Andre Ayew and Bafetimbi Gomis started the season very well for Swansea and fantasy managers, but it's not so easy to choose them right now.

Spurs got a great 4-1 win at home to City last week after trailing 1-0. They have won their last three league games and kept clean sheets in three of their last four. No other team has conceded less goals than Spurs and that has to give them a good chance against a Swansea team who have been goal shy in recent games.

Spurs defenders are looking like very good options for fantasy managers at the moment.

This is another game which could go either way and I think a draw is the most likely outcome.

Prediction: 1-1

My fantasy league is up and running again and it's open to all comers with a €50 prize (out of my pocket) to the winner. You can join up by using the league code 48497-14043 after you have set your team up here and good luck to all who play. There were over 1,000 teams in my league last season and there's already more than that signed up for this season.

I'm also running my Predictions League again this season and it's very enjoyable even if there's no cash prize for the winner. The code for my league is FD757-ARR after you have signed up here and of course both games are completely free to play. 

That's it for this week.

See you next week.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Arsenal's Champions League Nightmare Continues

After losing their opening Champions League group game away to Dinamo Zagreb a few weeks ago Arsenal had to win at home to Olympiacos last night. There was no room for error with back to back games against Bayern Munich, but somebody forget to tell Arsene Wenger and his players. The night ended with a shambolic defeat against a team who had never won a game in England in their previous 12 attempts.

The team named before the game left us fans feeling a little anxious as Petr Cech was on the bench with David Ospina playing in goal. The boss chose a team which wasn't his strongest one for the defeat in Zagreb and the inclusion of Ospina showed he still wasn't treating the competition or the opposition with the required respect. We were told Cech had a knock, but he was able to sit on the bench which surely meant he had to be able to play.

Francis Coquelin returned just in time from injury in midfield at least with both Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini injured. Aaron Ramsey dropped to the bench as he was the only player to have played in each of the last three games and he possibly needed a break with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain coming in. There were a couple of changes in defence too with Gabriel Paulista and Kieran Gibbs coming in for Per Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal.

Whatever about Gabriel coming in I was surprised to see Monreal on the bench. You would be hard pressed to find an Arsenal fan who doesn't think Monreal has been Arsenal's best defender for quite a while now. I was more than surprised to see Monreal on the bench, but I still thought Arsenal had a strong enough team to get the win.

Olympiacos came into the game on the back of five wins out of five in their domestic league, but they were well beaten at home by Bayern in their first group game. They were underdogs on the night and it would take an exceptional performance from them to get anything from the game once Arsenal got into their stride. After the 5-2 win at Leicester on Saturday I fully expected to see Arsenal do just that to make amends for the opening defeat. 

Arsenal started reasonably well, but before long it was obvious they were very short of ideas. Gradually Olympiacos grew in confidence and their opening goal may have been a surprise, but not a shock knowing Arsenal. The fact that they played a large part in handing the goal to their opponents was hardly a surprise either.

Both Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny went for the same ball and managed to recover enough to block the ensuing shot for a corner. When the corner came in Arsenal were completely asleep and nobody marked the man on the edge of the box. His first time shot from the corner was deflected off Chamberlain past the helpless Ospina and Arsenal were behind.

They immediately upped their game with Alexis Sanchez getting stuck in and he quickly set up a chance for Theo Walcott. His finish wasn't great but the Olympiacos keeper made a mess of his attempted save and the scores were level. I hoped Arsenal had learned their lesson from the fright of going behind and would approach the game in a much more positive manner.

Almost immediately they were behind again when Ospina as good as threw the ball into his own net from a corner. He came too soon for the corner with the taker putting right it under the bar and tried to catch it as he back pedalled. All he could do was push the ball away and the official behind the goal confirmed the ball had crossed the line.

I couldn't understand why Ospina didn't just push the ball over the bar, but he took the difficult option and Arsenal trailed again. It was hard to know if the ball had crossed the line or not, but the insistence on using an official behind the goal rather than goal line technology means we'll never really know for sure. None of that can hide from the horrendous mistake Ospina made and the decision to play him ahead of Cech just had to be the wrong one.

Half time came and went and still Arsenal couldn't muster a head of steam to put Olympiacos under pressure. Koscielny went off with what looked like a hamstring injury which limited Arsenal's attacking options from the bench, but a look at the bench revealed how limited those options were anyway. The introduction of Ramsey a little later did the trick though and Arsenal turned the heat up almost instantly.

It didn't take long for the second equaliser to come and it was no surprise when Alexis got it. He headed in a lovely cross from Walcott and I thought surely Arsenal would now go on to take the three points. I couldn't have been more wrong though as they immediately pressed the incredibly huge self destruct button which they are so fond of.

Olympiacos broke forward and Arsenal panicked in defence. With Coquelin off the pitch the midfield neglected their defensive duties and Olympiacos had time and space to score their third goal. If it didn't hurt so badly it would almost have been funny, but there was still time for Arsenal to at least try to get back into the game.

The boss threw on his last sub with Joel Campbell replacing Hector Bellerin, but that move showed the lack of options we have. They huffed and puffed for the rest of the game, but never really put the pressure on the Olympiacos goal that was required. The only time I thought the team played with the tempo needed was when Ramsey came on and they were chasing their second equaliser.

The defeat leaves Arsenal in a precarious position in their group and needing to take points off Bayern or facing missing out on the knock out stages. Their chances of getting any points off Bayern were always going to be slim, but the two performances so far will only make it more difficult. They will have to win at home to Dinamo and away to Olympiacos too to have any chance, but I honestly think they're out of it already.

For me the team selection was wrong again as it was in Zagreb and those decisions stand squarely at the feet of the boss. He didn't put out his strongest team in either game and the lack of respect shown to the competition and the opposition backfired. I don't know if the players let that lack of respect get to them and thought they just had to show up in both games to win.

The excuse of Olivier Giroud's red card in the first game couldn't be used last night, but the consequences had an affect on the game as Giroud would surely have been a welcome option from the bench. Not having Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere or Tomas Rosicky available through injuries wasn't ideal either, but the squad has to be strong enough to deal with injuries. The failure to add quality in the summer transfer window besides Cech is surely the biggest failing of all considering the money Arsenal have available.

From the debacle of last night Arsenal have to play at home to the league leaders Manchester United on Sunday and they have to do an awful lot better in that game. United have had the better of Arsenal in the league for more years than I care to remember and that has to stop. The players owe the fans a performance after last night's debacle and nothing short of beating United should do on Sunday.

Of course the players have to take a huge amount of the blame for last night, but for me the manager has to bear even more. The team continue to suffer from the same failings season after season and yet those failings just do not seem to be addressed. The manager has to be able to get his players to defend better, but it just doesn't seem to be working.

I've always thought he was still the man for the job, but I'm increasingly beginning to think I could be wrong. I'm not going to be one of those constantly calling for his removal, but I can't say I'd be adverse to him calling it a day either. The team might still challenge for the league this season, but it's difficult to see how if they're capable of performances like last night.

Despite the vast amount of money in the English game English teams are performing worse each season in the Champions League. Something has to change at Arsenal and other clubs too if they're going to challenge again. I don't know if a change of manager is what's needed, but I think I'd be willing to give it a try.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Arsenal v Olympiacos: Champions League Preview

Arsenal finally found their shooting boots on Saturday when they put five goals past Leicester to match their tally of their previous six league games. Those goals couldn't have come at a better time with a Champions League game that has to be won at home to Olympiacos tonight. After losing their first game away to Dinamo Zagreb there is very little room for error left for Arsenal in a group which also includes Bayern Munich.

After tonight's game Arsenal have back to back games at home and then away to Bayern and they have to go into those games with three points in the bag. The defeat to Dinamo has made life difficult in the group, but failure to win tonight would make it almost impossible. Bayern are in fantastic form at the moment and it won't be easy to get anything off them, but Arsenal are of course capable of doing just that.

It would be just like Arsenal to drop points tonight and then go out and take three or four points off Bayern. They can't depend on getting anything from Bayern though and they need to make sure they take maximum points from the three games left against Olympiacos and Dinamo starting with tonight. 

Olympiacos have had a very good start to their domestic campaign and they're on top of the Greek league after winning their first five games. They lost their opening group game 3-0 at home to Bayern, but Arsenal's defeat in Zagreb will have given them real hope of making the knockout stages. They will hope to get through to the final game with a chance of qualifying and know they have a chance at home to Arsenal in that game. 

As for Arsenal they know it would not be in their best interests to have to go to Greece needing a result in the last game and they need to tie things up before that game. The first step in that journey is tonight's game and it's a game they should and have to win. 

In team news it seems both Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta will miss out with slight knocks after Saturday's victory over Leicester. Flamini started that game after his heroics against Spurs in the Capital One Cup, but he went off injured early on to be replaced by Arteta. The team looked a lot more solid with Arteta in the holding role instead of Flamini and maybe the games he's played recently are helping him to regain some form after he missed so much of last season through injury.

It looks like Francis Coquelin could be set for a return to the team as he's been back in training for a few days after recovering from the knock he picked against Chelsea last week. Coquelin has made that defensive midfield spot his own and it will be good to see him back in the team if he's fit to play. If he's not fit to play I can only imagine an axis of Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla will play together, but neither of them have the defensive instincts of Coquelin.

One player who definitely won't be playing is Olivier Giroud after he was sent off in the first half of that defeat in Zagreb. His absence will surely mean Theo Walcott starts again and he seems to be growing in confidence with each game he plays as a striker. The jury may still be out on him, but 12 goals in his last 13 Premier League starts suggest he must be doing something right.

Gabriel Paulista will also be available after sitting out the victory over Leicester as he served his one match ban. It's going to be a close call between him and Per Mertesacker to play alongside Laurent Koscielny at the heart of the defence and it's impossible to know who will get the nod. For me Gabriel is the better choice and I think he will confirm his status as first choice before too long. 

Arsene Wenger made quite a few changes for the game in Zagreb, but I don't expect him to make too many for tonight. I think he has to play what he sees as his strongest team possible to do everything possible to ensure a victory. Arsenal don't play again until Sunday and that should give the players plenty of time to recover.

Of course they did play only three days ago and that game next Sunday is against the current league leaders Manchester United. It's been a long time since Arsenal beat United in the league and a victory on Sunday would be so sweet with them on top of the league, but the points tonight are just as important. I think the five day gap to the United game has to be more than enough for the key players to play in both games.

Speaking of key players it was great to see Alexis Sanchez get his first goals of the season on Saturday. I said in my preview of that game that he looked to have finally found his feet after missing out on a pre season and his hat trick showed that he is back to his best. Not only was he the 100th player to score a hat trick for Arsenal, but apparently he was the first player to score a hat trick in all three of Serie A, La Liga and the Premier League. 

A few times in recent seasons Arsenal have come out in home group games and blown the opposition away with some great attacking football and early goals. It would be great to see them turn that style on tonight and get the win they need to get their chances of qualifying back on track. Any sort of win would do tonight of course, but another attacking performance like Saturday's would be great ahead of the United game.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.