Saturday, May 23, 2015

Predictions For Premier League Gameweek 38

It's that time of the week again when I attempt to predict the outcomes of the upcoming Premier League games. It's the final week of the season and I have given up all hope of winning my predictions league after another poor week. I'll give it one last go though and hopefully I can do a bit better this time.

My Fantasy league will of course be returning next season and there will again be a cash prize for the winner. The predictions league is more for the fun of playing and it will be returning next season too. Here's a look at the predictions league table as we go into the last set of games.

NC 1 (1)Rutland Gooner1860-400
NC 2 (2)sodobo1780+200
NC 3 (3)Michael Sheehy1665-400
NC 4 (4)goonerdhanesh1475+200
NC 5 (5)Wayne Hubbard1315-800

Sunday May 24

All games kick off at 3pm BST

Arsenal v West Bromwich Albion

Emirates Stadium, London

Arsenal were in such a good position a few weeks ago, but they could only draw their two games last week away to United and at home to Sunderland. They have only won once in their last five games and have failed to score in three of those games. Only Chelsea have conceded less goals at home than Arsenal, but they have failed to win or score in their last three games at home.

With a cup final coming up next week it's not easy to know which players will play for Arsenal and which ones to choose for fantasy managers.

West Brom beat the champions 3-0 on Monday night to sign off to their home support on a real high. They have taken 11 points from their last five games and have kept clean sheets in four of them. They have only won four of their 18 away games, but no other team has scored less goals away from home and only Southampton have conceded less on the road.

West Brom's defenders have done very well for fantasy managers recently and they will look to keep Arsenal scoreless in this game too.

West Brom will look to do what Swansea and Sunderland did, but I think Arsenal will just manage to win this game.

Prediction: 1-0

Aston Villa v Burnley

Villa Park, Birmingham 

Villa were stuffed away to Southampton last week and they will want to regain some form ahead of the cup final next week. They had won their previous two games though and those wins were enough to keep them in the top flight for another season. They have only won five of their 18 home games with only Burnley winning less games at home and only Burnley and Sunderland scoring less goals at home.

It's hard to know if Villa will rest players ahead of the cup final, but if they don't Christian Benteke looks like the best of the bunch for fantasy managers.

Burnley got a point at home to Stoke last week, but they failed to score yet again. Two goals and eight points in their last 11 games wasn't enough to keep them up, but they at least gave their all to the fight. They have only won two of their 18 away games and no other team has scored less goals away from home.

Burnley's defenders haven't done too badly for fantasy managers recently and they're more than capable of getting another clean sheet in this game.

With Villa's minds on the cup final I think Burnley might just be able to get a point and maybe even score a goal too.

Prediction: 1-1

Chelsea v Sunderland 

Stamford Bridge, London

Chelsea were well beaten away to West Brom on Monday night after having Cesc Fabregas sent off. That was their first defeat since the start of January and it was influenced by the red card and the fact they had little to play for. They're the only unbeaten team at home and they have taken more points at home than any other team as well as having the best defensive record at home.

I expect Chelsea to play a strong team in their last game in front of their home fans and Eden Hazard (if he's passed fit) and their defenders might be good choices for fantasy managers.

Sunderland got two very important 0-0 draws in the last week to make them secure in the Premier League for another season. They are unbeaten in their last five games and have kept clean sheets in the last three. Only the top four have lost less games away from home than Sunderland and their defensive record on the road is very good too with the exception of the drubbing Southampton gave them.

With their position safe for another season I don't think fantasy managers will get too much out of Sunderland players this week. 

I think Chelsea will sign off with a win by a couple of goals at least.

Prediction: 2-0

Crystal Palace v Swansea City

Selhurst Park, London

Palace got a very good win away to Liveroool last week to keep their hopes of finishing in the top half of the table alive. That win at Liverpool was their first in five games after four successive defeats. They have lost more home games than any other team and no other team has conceded more goals at home either.

If Palace can keep their form of last week Yannick Bolasie is probably not a bad option for fantasy managers. 

Swansea were beaten at home by City last week and that defeat ended their Europa League hopes. It also ended a run of three consecutive victories and they have had their best season in the Premier League. They have won seven of their 18 away games and that includes the last two in a row.

Gylfi Sigurdsson has refound some form in recent weeks and is worth considering for fantasy managers along with Bafetimbi Gomis.

I think Swansea might just be good enough to sneak a very narrow victory.

Prediction: 1-2

Everton v Tottenham Hotspur 

Goodison Park, Liverpool

Everton got a very late goal to win away to West Ham last week and move above them into the top half of the table. That win halted a run of two defeats and a win in this game should confirm a top half finish. They have only lost four of their 18 home games, but too many draws at home has cost them a lot of points.

Romulu Lukaku is probably the Everton player most likely to do the business for fantasy managers this week. 

Spurs won at home to Hull last week to give themselves a chance of finishing as high as fifth this season. That was only their second win in seven games, but three points in this game could see them overtake Liverpool. They have won eight of their 18 away games, but only five teams have conceded more goals on the road.

Nacer Chadli has been the Spurs player most likely to perform for fantasy managers recently.

I think Everton should have more than enough at home to beat a Spurs team who have been far from impressive recently.

Prediction: 2-0

Hull City v Manchester United

KC Stadium, Hull

Hull are in a perilous situation after losing to Spurs last week and they have to win this game to stand any chance of staying up. They have lost six of their last eight games and more crucially their last three in a row. Their home form has really hurt them with only Palace losing more home games and collecting less points at home.

I don't think there are any Hull players who will make a difference for fantasy managers this week, but they need some players to step up and perform for them. 

United could only draw at home to Arsenal last week and their chances of finishing third are dependant on Arsenal losing while United win and overturn Arsenal's seven goal advantage in goal difference. They have only won once in their last five games and they failed to score in three of those games. They have only won six of their 18 away games and have conceded more than they have scored on the road.

Ashley Young is probably the United player most likely to get points for fantasy managers this week.

I think United will overcome goal shy Hull and relegate them in the process.

Prediction: 0-2

Leicester City v Queens Park Rangers

King Power Stadium, Leicester

Leicester drew away to Sunderland last week and that point was enough to complete their miraculous escape from relegation. They have won six of their last eight games and kept clean sheets in five of the last six. They have only won six of their 18 home games, but four of them were in their last five at home.

Jamie Vardy looks like the Leicester player who might do well for fantasy managers this week to celebrate his call up to the England squad and their defenders could have a good week too.

QPR were already relegated before last week's game, but at least they managed to win their last home game against Newcastle. That win over Newcastle was only their second one in 12 games and they need something from this game to try to avoid finishing last. They have lost more games and conceded more goals away from home than any other team.

Matt Phillips has done very well for fantasy managers since the turn of the year and could be worth considering for the final week and Leroy isn't a bad option either.

I think Leicester should have more than enough at home to see off a QPR team who never really came to grips with their road trips.

Prediction: 3-0

Manchester City v Southampton 

Etihad Stadium, Manchester 

City got a good win away to Swansea last week and that guaranteed them the runners up spot behind Chelsea. They have won their last five games to secure that second spot and have kept clean sheets in three of them too. Only Chelsea and United have won more home games than City and no other team has scored more goals at home.

Sergio Aguero and David Silva are the City players fantasy managers will be depending on this week.

Southampton thrashed Villa last week and will qualify for the Europa League if Arsenal win the FA Cup regardless of whether they finish in the top six or not. That was their first win in five games, but three points in this game could see them finish as high as fifth depending on other results. They might have lost half of their 18 away games, but they have the best defensive record away from home.

Despite their great win last week I'm not sure if Southampton players are the ideal choice for fantasy managers this week.

I think City will sign off with a win by a couple of goals at least.

Prediction: 3-1

Newcastle United v West Ham United

St. James's Park, Newcastle 

Newcastle lost away to QPR last week and they are still in relegation trouble going into their last game. They have only taken one point in their last 10 games and that's the reason they're so close to being relegated. They have won six of their 18 home games, but haven't won any of their last five and need to win this one to guarantee their place in the league next season.

I can't see any Newcastle players to recommend to fantasy managers.

West Ham were beaten at home by Everton last week and dropped into the bottom half of the table as a result. They have only won twice in the last 15 games and have failed to score in seven of those games. They have only won three of their 18 away games and only the bottom two clubs have won less games on the road.

I can't see any West Ham players setting the world of fantasy football alight this week.

Newcastle will be secure in the Premier League if they win, but I don't think will get anything more than a draw which will probably do them anyway.

Prediction: 1-1

Stoke City v Liverpool

Britannia Stadium, Stoke

Stoke could only draw 0-0 away to Burnley last week, but they have had their best ever season in the Premier League. They have only won two of their last nine games, but they have at least kept clean sheets in their last two. They have won half of their 18 home games and will want to add to what is already a record Premier League tally for them.

If Stoke are going to get something off Liverpool then Charlie Adam is probably the player most likely to make an impact for fantasy managers. 

Liverpool were beaten at home by Palace last week as Steven Gerrard's farewell didn't exactly go to plan. After looking like they could finish in the top four they fell away badly and have only taken eight points in their last eight games. They have only won eight of their 18 away games and have scored less goals than they have conceded on the road. If they lose this game it's still possible they won't even qualify for next season's Europa League.

The way they're playing at the moment I can't see any Liverpool players to interest fantasy managers.

I think Stoke might just be good enough at home to heap more misery on Liverpool.

Prediction: 2-1

That's it for this week and this season, but I will be back soon with a review of the season and of course to reveal the winner of my fantasy league and the €50 prize.

See you soon.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Arsenal Draw Another Blank At Home To Sunderland

With second place still a possibility once Arsenal won last night I hoped to see them put in a performance to show they were prepared to fight to the end against City. A draw would have been enough to as good as guarantee third place, but they needed three points to put some pressure on City ahead of the final round of league games on Sunday. Their opponents had a lot to play for too as Sunderland needed just one point to guarantee their Premier League survival for another season.

Arsene Wenger made two changes from the team which he had picked for the last six games with Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere coming in for Nacho Monreal and Francis Coquelin. I had hoped for more changes in the team after the lacklustre performances against Swansea and United and I thought it was surely about time Theo Walcott got a chance. I also thought Gabriel Paulista should have been given a chance to impress, but Laurent Koscielny recovered from illness to take his place in the team.

Arsenal started so badly against Swansea and United that it could only get better and so it proved. They were still missing some tempo to their game but at least they were making a lot more chances even if they weren't the best chances and none of them were put away. The first half was certainly more promising, but still they couldn't manage a goal at home.

The second half started with Sunderland carving out some very good chances of their own and Arsenal had David Ospina to thank on three occasions when Sunderland got in behind them. The decision to play Wilshere ahead of Coquelin meant Arsenal were more vulnerable in front of their defence and Ospina prevented them from paying the price. Wilshere did reasonably well in the 67 minutes he played, but his game was far too similar to too many others for my liking.

The team is crying out for something different at the moment and Walcott seemed to offer that when he came on for Wilshere. I'm not laying the blame for Arsenal's inability to win the game at the feet of Wilshere as it was the boss who chose a team full of central players with no genuine width. Walcott isn't exactly genuine width, but he certainly offers more in that role than others when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck are both injured.

His willingness to take defenders on saw him come very close to scoring twice and I think he needs to be given a game agains West Brom on Sunday. With the cup final on the way he could be that something which Arsenal need in the open spaces of Wembley to retain the trophy they fought so hard to win last May. There's talk of Raheem Sterling coming in during the summer and Walcott possibly going the other way, but I think Arsenal should try to hold on to Walcott if they can.

In the second half Costel Pantilimon had to make a few good saves at least to deny Arsenal, but the team was still far too slow and laboured. The point Arsenal got will almost certainly mean they finish third unless United win on Sunday while Arsenal lose and United manage to turn around seven goals between them in goal difference. It's a highly unlikely scenario and it looks like third is Arsenal's and with it they will avoid the final qualifying round for next season's Champions League..

It's another chance missed for Arsenal though with only six points from their last five games and their chances of second place now a thing of the past. They have failed to score in three of those games too and all of those scoreless games were at home. It's been six years since Arsenal failed to score in three games in a row at home and their Champions League chances looked gone that season until Andrei Arshavin stepped in to save them.

At least there's still the FA Cup final to look forward to, but the prospect of that game isn't quite as appealing as it was only a few short weeks ago when Arsenal were playing so well and scoring freely. Looking at them at the moment it's hard to believe this team has scored over 100 goals this season and it's not easy to see where the next goal will come from. Théy look jaded, stale and short of ideas and the boss has to get them back into the right frame of mind by Saturday week.

First of all there's that game against West Brom on Sunday and I would expect to see a few more changes in that game with neither team having much to play for. West Brom will of course want to finish on a high and so too will Arsenal and maybe some fresh blood will give the team the impetus it's missing. At the same time a few of the other players will hopefully get a rest ahead of the cup final and be ready to show Villa what they're really made of.

After losing out on second place winning the cup has become a must if the team are to show real progress from last season. They might have finished one place above last season, but second would have been their best league position in 10 years and the FA Cup is a must to keep some momentum going ahead of next season. When it comes to next season they quite simply have to put in a genuine title challenge from first to last with the players Arsenal have and the money available to strengthen further in the summer.

Getting back to last night and what Sunderland did. It was all too predictable considering recent performances at home. That's three home games in a row when the opponents have parked the bus and Araenal failed to overcome them in each game. Sunderland were always going to play that way and the fact Arsenal didn't have a proper plan in place to counter it is what's most worrying.

Wilshere's miserable record for the season continued with Arsenal not winning a league game he has started since the opening day. I know he has missed a lot of the season through injury, but it's still a little worrying to see how the team does when he plays. It's not all down to him of course and the boss has a lot to answer for too.

At the moment he just seems to be trying to fit players in where he can rather than picking the best players for each position to suit the system he wants to play. It's a little tougher for him with some of the better players in the wide roles injured at the moment, but he has to find a way to rejuvenate the team before the cup final. They're his team playing his way and he needs to alter that way to whatever way he can to win the cup next week.

That's it for this week.

See you next week.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Arsenal v Sunderland Preview And Predicted Arsenal Line Up

Since Chelsea put a halt to Arsenal's great winning streak by taking a point at the Emirates Arsenal have lost their way. They have only taken five points from their last four games including that game and the only victory was against struggling Hull. The defeat at home to Swansea was a bitter pill to swallow in a game Arsenal had to and should have won and the point at United on Sunday was more than a little lucky.

I made a point before the game about the team needing pace in attack away to United and bemoaning the absence through injuries of Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Arsenal set up to defend and hit United on the break when they could, but with those two injured and Theo Walcott again warming the bench it wasn't the right tactic for the players on the pitch. If the stats are to be believed it was the first time in 10 years Arsenal didn't manage a single shot in the first half of a game.

Walcott eventually came on and it was his cross which got deflected into the United net to earn Arsenal a point. I also made the point that Arsene Wenger was almost sure to pick the exact same side for the sixth game in a row and predictably he did so despite that team losing to Swansea six days earlier. With this game coming so soon after the United game there has to be some rotation in the team and Arsenal certainly have players who can come in and make an impact.

The team chosen against United had been abject for the first hour against Swansea and were even worse for just as long against United. Football is a game played over 90 minutes the last time I checked and Arsenal need to play with pace and commitment to their game from first minute to last to beat any team in the Premier League. There are no easy rides and Arsenal really haven't taken enough points off the rest of the top eight teams this season.

They have put the team's below that position to the sword more often than most teams though and Sunderland come to them in a precarious position at the wrong end of the table. They are three points above the relegation zone with this game and s trip to champions Chelsea to come and they will be guaranteed Premier League football if they take one point from those games. They will stay up even if they lose both of those games if Hull don't win at home to United or if Newcastle lose at home to West Ham.

I don't think Hull have it in them to beat United and I severely doubt that Newcastle will beat West Ham, but a point would put them level with Sunderland and that could put Sunderland behind them if Arsenal and Chelsea put a few goals past them. I can't see Sunderland coming to Arsenal and having a go and I would be very surprised if they didn't try to park the bus like Chelsea and Swansea in Arsenal's last two home games. It had been a long time since Arsenal failed to score in two home games in a row, but both of those teams shut them out and Sunderland will be more than happy to do the same.

They won't want to go into the final game of the season still involved in the relegation battle and they have put up some good performances in recent weeks to make themselves favourites to stay up. They have only won three of their 17 away games, but they have managed to draw more away games than any other team and their defensive record away from home is quite good with the exception of the eight goals Southampton put past them. They have taken eight points from their last four games which has included wins at home to Southampton and away to Everton and they will make life as hard as they can for Arsenal. 

As I said already there needs to be some rotation for the good of the squad and also because the players played only three days ago and play again in four days. None of the injured players will be returning from injury which means it's more than likely going to be the same squad which was used against United. There are plenty of those players who were on the bench on Sunday who could quite easily fit into the team and I expect to see a few of them get a run out.

I would be very surprised if Walcott and Jack Wilshere weren't in the starting team and I think there has to be room for Gabriel Paulista and Kieran Gibbs too. Which players would miss out would be another matter, but Gibbs would of course come in for Nacho Monreal and I would have said Gabriel would replace Per Mertesacker, but Laurent Koscielny is a bit of a doubt and it might not be a bad idea to rest him with the FA Cup final only 10 days away. 

If Walcott comes in it will mean Aaron Ramsey won't play on the right as I can't see Walcott being deployed in a central role. I would have Ramsey alongside Francis Coquelin in central midfield which would see Santi Cazorla miss out. Cazorla has had a great season, but it's hardly fair to Ramsey to continually play him out of position and he deserves a chance to play in his favoured position. 

If Ramsey plays centrally it might mean Wilshere will miss out unless the boss decides to play them alongside each other. Coquelin has been fantastic since getting into the team as he does the defensive work in midfield which others don't do, but the inclusion of Wilshere and Ramsey would certainly offer more attacking options. It could be a risk to play them both together, but against a team struggling at the wrong end of the table it might be one he chooses to take.

Of course Wilshere could push further forward or so could Ramsey if either Mesut Ozil or Alexis Sanchez were to be given some much needed rest. The club played an awful lot of money for those two players though and I expect they will play as they tend to do when they're fit. A bit of a shake up to the team wouldn't go astray and I hope those four players will get a chance. I don't think the team will suffer with them in it and the bench would have a very strong look to it too.

There's still the slight matter of third place to play for as Arsenal need a point to confirm direct qualification for the group stages of next season's Champions League. There's even the very slight possibility of Arsenal finishing second if Southampton can do them a favour by winning at City on Sunday and Arsenal can win their last two games. I don't see it happening myself, but Southampton can still finish fifth with a win if Liverpool fail to win at Stoke and Spurs don't win at Everton.

If Arsenal are going to open up Sunderland they need to get to the task a lot earlier than they have done in recent games and they need to use the full width of the pitch as much as possible. I know it's not easy with some of the injured players the more likely ones to play in those positions, but they cannot approach the game with the same lack of urgency which has been all too evident recently. I think a few fresh faces could be the remedy to that problem and I hope to see the players put Sunderland under real pressure from the off.

It would be a shame if the league campaign was to fizzle out after the players fought so hard to get themselves in such a good position since the turn of the year. A win would at least give them some hope of finishing second and give City something to think about when they play Southampton on Sunday. Who knows what could happen if Arsenal were to win their last two games and the only way we will see what it could mean is if they start by beating Sunderland.

I think they will get the win and I hope they put up a performance that shows the players still want to try to finish second as well as getting a place in the cup final team. That final is getting very close now and the chance to retain the trophy and become the team who has won the cup the most times is something to look forward to. Hopefully the team will go into it on the back of two home wins and knowing they have given their all to finish as high as possible in the table.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Arsenal's Trip To Manchester United Previewed

The defeat at home to Swansea on Monday night means Arsenal's chances of finishing second are an awful lot less likely. They're only three points behind City with a game in hand, but City have much better goal difference thanks mainly to the 6-0 spanking they gave QPR last week. Arsenal's chances of catching them will be a lot clearer after City play away to Swansea in the earlier kick off today.

Swansea have something to play for themselves with a Europa League place still a possibility if they can win their last two games. After both Southampton and Spurs won yesterday Swansea know they have to win to realistically keep their chances alive and they're very much an in form side. If they can do Arsenal a favour by taking a point or even three off City then second place will be very much up for grabs again.

Of course for Arsenal to keep those chances alive they will have to go to United today and win and that's no easy thing. United have lost three league games at home so far this season, but they have also won 14 and no other team has won more home games in the league. It's United's final home game of the season and they will want to sign off with a win for the home fans.

United have their injury problems coming into this game and Arsenal do too even if they have named an unchanged side in five successive games. It doesn't look like Danny Welbeck will be available and he was the player who scored the winning goal against his former club when Arsenal won away to United in the FA Cup quarter final. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mathieu Debuchey and Mikel Arteta are all unavailable too and I think the team is missing the pace of both Welbeck and Chamberlain and the options that pace gives them. For me the unchanged nature of the team may not necessarily have been a good thing as Arsenal have a squad capable of beating almost any team and I think the squad needs to be utilised more often.

United came to Arsenal in the league in November and somehow or other won 2-1 despite only having one effort on target. The cup game was a lot different, but Arsenal did need a defensive howler to hand them the winning goal and I have no doubt this game will be just as close as those two were. It could come down to which teams makes an error to give the game away just like the cup game and Arsenal need to be switched on from first minute to last to ensure they're not the ones messing up this time.

Without the pace of Welbeck and Chamberlain it might not be a bad idea for Arsene Wenger to deploy Theo Walcott on the right even if he isn't exactly a genuinely wide player. Walcott hasn't really got much of a look in for one reason or another since returning from injury in January and the chances are he will be on the bench again today. When he came on against Swansea he missed a good chance to put Arsenal ahead, but he wasn't the only player who should have scored in that game.

I think the United defense are vulnerable to pace and Walcott could be the player to expose their deficiencies given the chance. He offers that something different that Arsenal need at the moment, but the chances are the boss will stick with the same side despite the result on Monday night. That team has loads of quality in it and is more than capable of winning this game, but they cannot afford to play it at the same pace as they did in the first half against Swansea. They didn't make Swansea work hard enough in the first hour of that game to keep them out and then they missed chances when they eventually opened them up in the last 30 minutes. 

United are guaranteed Champions League football for next season and that's an improvement on last season, but they must still hold some hope of finishing above Arsenal too. Third place means no final qualifying round for next season's competition and it's a hurdle both teams would like to avoid. If United win they will be a point ahead of Arsenal even if Arsenal have a game in hand and they will give themselves a chance of finishing third. A draw for Arsenal would more or less guarantee third place and might be enough to keep their chances of second place alive depending on the City result.

The defeat on Monday night brought Arsenal's great run in the league to an end, but they really should have at least taken a point from that game. The players have to show today that they aren't affected by that result and go out and play their game against United. This United team is far from the finished article and with the injuries they have they will be all the easier to beat too. 

Of course Arsenal will have to be aware of the threat posed by Marouane Fellaini, but Francis Coquelin had a great game against him in the cup match and I expect more of the same from Coquelin in this game. He has made himself such an important player for the team since circumstances saw him come into it and he's the one player you expect to always be at his best. If he can help to win the battle in midfield I think Arsenal will gain enough of a foothold to win the game. 

I suppose I would be happy enough as long as they don't lose considering how long it has been since they won a league game at Old Trafford. That cup victory was the template for what they can achieve in this game though and more of the same would be very welcome. Ideally I would love to see Arsenal win after City have failed to do so earlier in the day and make themselves favourites to finish second for the first time in 10 years. We don't always get what we want though, but it is more than possible today and the optimist in me thinks it might just happen. Even if Swansea don't do their part I think Arsenal can still beat a United team who have been far from impressive for most of the season and in recent weeks in particular.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.