Archive for the ‘Football’ Category


Why Chelsea need to bring back ‘The Special One’

By Stefano on March 1st, 2013


Simon Poulter of What Would David Bowie Do has a cunning plan for Roman

As every fan knows, the range of tunes on which football chants are based is limited.

You have Go West, the paradoxically camp 70s disco anthem by the Village People which becomes repurposed as “Crap, and you know you are!”. There is the traditional hymn, Bread of Heaven (“Are you Tottenham in disguise?!”); a cheesy Italian Eurovision Song Contest entry from 1958 – Volare (“Vialli – wo-oh, Vialli – wo-oh-oh-ohh”); and a Cuban folk song about a saucy señorita from Guantanamo Bay – Guantanamera (“Sacked in the morning, you’re getting sacked in the morning”).

Frankly, I wish football fans would broaden their base of references. We Chelsea fans, for example, should pay attention to Steely Dan. The arch-70s pedlars of smart arse jazz-rock-soul have within their impressive oeuvre the perfect song on which to base a chant – The Boston Rag, with its chorus “Bring back the Boston rag/Tell all your buddies that it ain’t no drag” can easily be restyled as “Bring back the Special One”.

Because, let’s not kid ourselves, it is José Mário dos Santos Mourinho Félix we want to see back at Chelsea, not some lesser European careerist, or another former Stamford Bridge playing hero who will break our hearts when the inevitable phone call of dismissal comes from Roman’s office.

Life is more fun with Jose

Life was more fun with Jose around. True, the football may not necessarily have been, but no one went wanting for things to talk about. This week we’ve had a timely reminder of just what made Mourinho so special to begin with: it wasn’t his own inflated self-opinion, but his ability to disrupt – in the positive sense.

He’s had a difficult season at Real Madrid, but then life at the top clubs in Spain and Italy is rarely easy for anyone. But Real’s 3-1 Copa del Rey victory over Barcelona the other night was one to savour, not lest of which for the way it has set up the next El Clásico this Saturday night.

The irony is that it should come in the same week as Rafa Benitez – Mourniho’s sparring partner when they were rival managers in England – should emotionally implode once again as journalist bating and fan abuse got to him. But, here, the song should be “Rafa Benitez – we’ve been here before”.

Not for the first time, Benitez allowed emotion to get the better of him when he was interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live last night. “At the end of the season, I will leave,” he heaved, adding sarcastically “[The fans] don’t need to be worrying about me”. To be honest, we weren’t. What Chelsea fans are worrying about is who comes in next – and when.

Countering fan hostility is one thing, but then openly criticising Roman Abramovich for naming him “interim first team manager” was downright stupid, and typical of the half-baked bombast Benitez is, sadly, capable of.

So, rather than facing the prospect of looking for a new coach at the end of the season, it is quite likely that Chelsea may be looking to appoint an interim-interim first team coach more immediately. Of note. come Monday it will be exactly a year to the day since Andre Villas Boas was relieved of his duties and Roberto Di Matteo appointed on an interim basis as well. Still following this?

The timing is certainly unfortunate, yet again: with the Blues facing Manchester United next in their defence of the FA Cup, and through to the final eight of the Europa League, not to mention still chasing the cherished top-four league position, the team focus shouldn’t be getting distracted by speculation about the next Chelsea manager.

Mourinho – who has expressed a desire to return to English football and is expected to leave Madrid in the summer – is currently odds-on favourite to return to Chelsea, although there is fairly decent betting currently on former Chelsea players like Gus Poyet (currently second favourite) and Gianfranco Zola, David Moyes, Cesare Prendelli, Michael Loudrup, even Avram Grant and Carlo Ancellotti (who could also be replaced at Paris-Saint Germain by Mourinho) getting the job.

Russian Roulette

The question is, who would be mad enough to take on the game of Russian Roulette that is managing Chelsea? Mourinho could do it with his eyes shut and we fans would love to see the capricious old sod back at the club. But would he want to go through all that personality nonsense with Abramovich again?

There is also the view that, as in life itself, in football you don’t go back a second time – “I don’t do sloppy seconds”, as Gareth Keenan so gracefully put it in The Office. He had a point. Second time around rarely works – there’s always a reason why it failed in the first place. So, if Chelsea do bring back the Special One, is it destined to end in tears?

Deep within our hearts, we know it would be right. Jose did become a monster of his own creation. He not only challenged Roman Abramovich’s authority but also his place in the pecking order. But, man alive, wouldn’t it be fun to have him back? Wasn’t football an insanely entertaining circus when Mourinho was patrolling the touchline, sliding to his knees when Chelsea scored, or scowling in the stands under UEFA sanction again?

Article originally published here.


If Chelsea lose to West Brom history tells us that Rafa will get the boot

By Stefano on March 1st, 2013

Andre Villas-Boas was sacked following a defeat to West Brom, Roberto Di Matteo was sacked following a defeat to West Brom… so Rafael Benitez would do well to avoid an embarrassing result at home to the Baggies this weekend.

Di Matteo based his Chelsea side around the creative trio of Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata earlier this season, but Benitez has favoured a more cautious starting XI. Ramires was used on the right of midfield against Manchester City last weekend, in order to bring balance to the side; but City actually attacked predominantly down that flank, with Ramires also failing to provide any attacking inspiration.

A home match against West Brom seems the perfect opportunity to use Oscar, Hazard and Mata together behind Demba Ba (Fernando Torres has managed just one goal in his last 15 appearances). After all, since Benitez confirmed he won’t be manager of Chelsea next season, his strategy will probably change. He appeared to be favouring initial caution before gradually becoming more attacking, but with only eleven games of his Chelsea career remaining, there’s no point building for the long term.

Chelsea need points, and with Ba yet to become prolific in a Chelsea shirt, they need goals from the attacking three behind him. Chelsea will certainly dominate possession, and fielding the talented trio of playmakers maximises the Blues’ chances of scoring.

Victor Moses will probably feature at some point, but selecting Abramovich’s three ‘marquee players’ seems natural if Benitez wants to keep his job until the end of the season… which isn’t necessarily the case.

This post courtesy of Pick Our Team is by Michael Cox. PickOurTeam is a new type of football community giving fans an opportunity to have a meaningful say on the formation and selection of their team. PickOurTeam is the voice of the fans – collecting views on who should play where and ratings on how the players, manager, and referee perform each week. Every match the findings are compiled and presented back to the fans. The article was originally posted here.



Why Cazorla is the key man for Arsenal against Spurs

By Stefano on March 1st, 2013

Arsene Wenger has two separate formats for his 4-2-3-1 formation this season. At the start of the campaign, he fielded two wide forwards, Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott, either side of Santi Cazorla, with Olivier Giroud upfront. That gives Arsenal pace on the flanks, and a classic number ten between the lines.

However, in recent weeks Wenger has experimented with Cazorla drifting inside from the left, the role where he made his name at Villarreal. This changes the balance of Arsenal’s attacking department: Cazorla becomes an extra central midfielder and helps dominate possession, while Jack Wilshere can play higher up the pitch, in the ‘number ten’ role.

It’s tricky to guess which system Arsene Wenger will favour for this weekend’s North London derby. Arsenal’s left-winger will be facing Spurs right-back Kyle Walker, who is impressive going forward, but has been poor defensively this season. Attacking him might be wise, but Wenger will also want to guard against his storming forward runs. However, neither Podolski, who jogs back half-heartedly, or Cazorla, who was caught out by Philipp Lahm when moved to the left against Bayern, offers a perfect solution.

Instead, Wenger might look at the midfield zone, where Cazorla’s movement into central positions should allow Arsenal to pass around Spurs’ three-man midfield. If Wilshere and Cazorla can get in behind Scott Parker, Arsenal might cause real problems; and with Cazorla scoring Arsenal’s last three goals from that left-sided role, it seems likely Wenger will continue with his ‘new’ system.

This post courtesy of Pick Our Team is by Michael Cox. PickOurTeam is a new type of football community giving fans an opportunity to have a meaningful say on the formation and selection of their team. PickOurTeam is the voice of the fans – collecting views on who should play where and ratings on how the players, manager, and referee perform each week. Every match the findings are compiled and presented back to the fans. The article was originally posted here.



Opinion: How a move back to Arsenal could revive Samir Nasri’s career

By Stefano on February 28th, 2013

Ok Gunners fans, stop sniggering. Over the last few days there have been rumours about the next move of one time Arsenal hero Samir Nasri.

After a season in which he has been very poor and only scored twice it seems that Man City have decided that he is surplus to requirements at The Etihad. The player, that they signed from Arsenal for £25 million, is now being linked with a move to French League two side Monaco.

One thing is for sure City are going to have take a serious hit on the player, perhaps selling him for around the £10 milion mark. Nasri’s big money pay days will be at end (well relatively anyhow) as he is unlikely to earn £175k a week anywhere else.

It does beg the question though might a return to Arsenal be a possibility. Well I know the player has burned a lot of bridges with the fans, but does the 25 year old still have the respect of the manager and the team? Quite possibly. Wenger clearly rates Nasri as he was very sorry to let him go. Meanwhile Nasri seems to harbour some affection for the club, even though he has been a little bit disrespectful in tweets. He went to the game against West Ham recently running the gauntlet of irate Gunners fans.

So, and it is a big if, if they management team fancy a reunion what would they be getting? Is he the player he was three seasons ago?

There’s an intriguing article here on the always excellent Squwaka blog which outlines his problems. It suggests that the Frenchman might be being playing out of position at City which has seriously dented his confidence.

He has always dreamt of playing in the hole for a top European club, this hasn’t been the case at Manchester City where he finds himself on the wing in a two-sided role. He is there to create from out wide by cutting in but also to make it difficult for other teams to penetrate through the middle by tucking in when they have the ball. His efforts with the ball have been good, a pass completion rate of 91% is excellent.

However only 54% of these are forward passes, indicating a lack of incisive play. Nasri has created 32 chances this season although mostly from set-pieces where he has an array of enormous men to aim at hence his tally of only 3 assists.

With Arshavin out the door, Gervinho wayward at best and Oxlade Chamberlain not quite capturing his early form Arsenal could clearly use a player who can play behind the striker, but also wide if necessary. I guess he wouldn’t start every game (but at least he would give Santi a break), but I am sure Wenger would find much more use for his undoubted talents than Roberto Mancini.

The Arsenal manager clearly knows how to get the best out of the Frenchman – I wonder if he would like another opportunity. Talented players with this amount of Premiership experience don’t come along at cut-down prices too often.

Wenger was sanguine about the motives for Nasri’s move when it happened and Nasri has recently been praising Wenger.

So Arsenal fans would you take Sami back at a cut-down price and on sensible wages?


Arsenal will finish above Spurs like last year – so says Mikel Arteta

By Stefano on February 28th, 2013

In case you hadn’t noticed there is the small matter of the North London derby this weekend – a game with added piquancy seeing as the winner will not only have bragging rights but also the upper hand in the race for fourth place.

Spurs seem to be favourites at the moment given the form of Bale and their strong unbeaten run – however no one seems to have told Arsenal midfielder and vice captain Mikel Arteta

He has been talking about how he is sure that The Gunners will finish above their rivals

Arteta has been summing up the spirit of the team that finished ahead of Spurs last season. He told a press conference.

“What we’ve learned [from last season] is that you can never put your arms down because you never know what’s going to happen. You keep at it and they may lose points. That’s what happened last year.

“We kept at it, we had an unbelievable run and we ended up finishing third. We have to look at us first before looking at the rest, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

Arteta also spoke about the confidence the team has following their recent victory over Aston Villa.

“When things aren’t going in your direction, like the Blackburn game [where] you analyse the stats of the game, it’s absolutely amazing that we haven’t won the game. In the Bayern game, they had a spell of 25 minutes in the first half where they were much better. Apart from that, I don’t think the difference was that big.

“Saturday was very important for us. We couldn’t lose again at home. It’s four out of five [wins] now in the Premier League so we’re in a good run in this competition and it’s a massive game coming up on Sunday.

“I think we’re doing a lot of things right, but the things that we’re doing wrong are costing us too much in the games. [If] we are able to cut out those mistakes, I know we have the potential to win the games.”

So what do you think? Will Arsenal finish above Spurs this season?


Arsenal update: the £100,000 per week wage cap is history

By Stefano on February 28th, 2013

In the light of recent financial news it now appears that Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal board are ready to break the self-imposed £100k wage cap per week the club has for players.

The money is certainly there with the club working at a financial profit, yet also having reserves of over £120 million as well as incoming sponsorship money from The Emirates and other sources – which may total more than £100 million – some of which will be used to buy and fund players.

IB Times, among others, says

The Gunners’ Premier League rivals pay well upwards of £100,000 per week to several key players and, in the case of Ivorian Yaya Toure and Dutchman Robin van Persie (for Manchester City and Manchester United respectively) the bill crosses £200,000 per week.

Arsene Wenger has often been criticised for failing to use the significant financial funding available to him, either to sign big-name players or pay existing talent on par with other clubs.

In the past the club have lots out on many key players – Cahil, Mata and Hazard mentioning just the ones who went to Chelsea – because they either bid too low or didn’t offer high enough wages.

If the club doesn’t qualify for the Champions League as remains a real possibility then they will have to compensate players by offering seriously high wages in order to attract the best talent.

Wenger has spoken of his admiration for strikers like Edinson Cavani, Falcao and Stevan Jovetic but all three would almost certainly demand well north of £100k per week to join the club.


Benitez has a go at Chelsea fans, says Abramovich made a mistake and confirms he is off at the end of the season

By Stefano on February 27th, 2013

In an extraordinary post match interview after watching his team put Middlesbrough out of the FA Cup,Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez has

* Said that the clubs made a mistake by calling him an ‘interim manager’

* Attacked Chelsea fans who sing songs like ‘Rafa Out; saying that they need to back the team and if they don’t they will be watching Europa League football next season

* Confirmed that he would be leaving at the end of the season leaving the manager’s job open to a new boss.

To be honest listening to the interview he gave to BBC Radio Five Live it sounded more like a resignation speech than anything else. This was man who was clearly fed up by the cards he had been given by both the club and the fans.

The interview comes on the back of ongoing rumours about splits in the Chelsea dressing room.

So will Benitez be manager of Chelsea football club tomorrow. I am beginning to think he might not.


Arsenal transfer update: Sunzu confusion, Gonalons linked

By Stefano on February 27th, 2013

There is an interesting story in Here Is The City about the fate of the brilliantly named Stoppila Sunzu. If you remember rightly the Zambian defender Sunzu was apparently all lined up to be Arsenal’s first signing of the window with the association in his own country reporting that a move to North London was imminent.

And then it went odd, very odd. The player seemed destined for Reading and then Sunderland were reported to be interested and then nothing.

HITC asks the question what is going on with the player and puts the blame for the lack of activity squarely at the feet of the player’s team.

It says

The confusion stems around his agents and representatives who appear to have not been doing a very good job of representing their client’s best interests. They had reportedly informed the Zambia international, and any interested suitors, that his contract at current club TP Mazembe was invalid therefore he was eligible to leave on a free transfer.

In fact the DR Congo club, one of the richest football establishments in African football, are requesting a fee of £4 million as his contract is more than legally binding, a fact confirmed by Mazembe’s club president Moise Katumbi in an interview with the BBC last week:

“The matter has been resolved after we went through the contract with everyone and the player admitted his contract was still valid. The problem is that his handlers have been lying to him so that he rebels against us. We suspect they wanted to get all his transfer fees by declaring him a free agent. TP Mazembe is a professional club and we will never stand in the way of our players as long as the right procedure is followed.”

The club are apparently keen to cash in on one of their prize assets and £4 million would be enough to land the player. But it seems that for now at least he is going nowhere.

The Metro has an update on a player who is alleged to be one of Arsene Wenger’s long term targets.

Lyon midfielder Maxime Gonalons has apparently been tracked by Arsenal’s Mr French Football Gilles Grimandi for several months now and has put in a string of impressive performances. He’s a defensively minded midfielder who has only ever played for Lyon. The Metro reckons he will cost the Gunners around £12 million. Arsenal are reported to be tracking several midfielders including Etienne Capoue of Toulouse and Newcastle’s Chieck Tiote.

How would you spend Arsenal’s cash? Check here.

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Arsenal’s top transfer targets – How Arsene Wenger should spend that £70 plus million

By Stefano on February 26th, 2013

Yesterday Arsenal issued its latest financial update - and guess what, the club is in pretty rude health. Profits might have dropped a little, but just look at that whopping £123 million reserve in the bank. And there’s also sponsorship money to be added, plus season ticket cash and maybe even Stan’s idle millions (dream on…).

So the money clearly is there and in the summer the rebuilding programme needs to begin in earnest.

The big question for Arsene Wenger is how much re-building is really necessary? Are we looking at a wholesale clear out of the Arsenal team, or just some minor pruning but with some big name additions?

The rather huge sized elephant in the room is whether Arsenal will qualify for The Champions League? Not qualifying will lose Arsenal possibly as much as £20 million – thought I have seen it quoted as much more.

The more worrying thing would be trying to attract players to a club that aren’t mixing it with Europe’s finest. However Liverpool and Spurs have signed some pretty impressive players in the knowledge that they will be busy on Thursday nights rather than Tuesday and Wednesday.

So, Arsene, here is my take as to how you should spend your cash. Of course I personally think it unlikely that you’ll spend more than £40 million (0ne striker, one midfielder and a keeper), but we can all dream…

My little spree would come in at £120 million with most of that cash going on Cavani and Di Maria and that is assuming we have CL football next year. If we don’t then it comes in at about half that figure. Maybe the latter is more realistic anyhow…

Btw I think we should cash in on Vermaelen as well as losing fringe players like Arshavin, Fabianski, Mannone, Bendtner, Chamakh and possibly Gervinho too – which could generate as much as £30-40.

So what do you think? Who should Arsenal sign?


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Ok, so he has made mistakes this season (but then again so has Joe Hart) but for me Wojciech Szczesny should still be an integral part of Arsenal's future. I think the dip in form is temporary and besides has he really been that bad? Arsenal do however need to sign another keeper to replace Mannone and Fabianski both of whom will probably be off in the summer. I think buying a number one keeper like a Reina (who has also been indifferent this season) is not the right move. His stats don't actually compare to the Pole. Instead Arsenal should opt for Sunderland's Simon Mignloet - who would be a snip at around £5 million. Or alternatively sign a keeper with plenty of experience that they can share with the Pole. After Monday's performance West Ham's Jussi Jääskeläinen would be a good bet. So that's £5 million gone already.



Too late for Arsenal? David Villa told he can leave Barcelona by club’s VP

By Stefano on February 26th, 2013

Here is yet another thing guaranteed to set Arsene Wenger’s teeth on edge this morning. After spending days chasing the player in the transfer window only to be told that the club wouldn’t let him go, it now transpires that Barcelona are willing to let David Villa leave.

Talk Sports is reporting that he will not be kept at Barcelona against his wishes, according to the club’s vice-president Josep Maria Bartomeu.’

As you may remember Wenger was desperate to sign Villa in the window and it is pretty clear that Arsenal’s lack of firepower (and the not too clinical finishing from Gervinho and Giroud) might be the thing that prevents them from securing a Champions League qualification place.

Talk Sports says that

In an interview with BTV, Bartomeu said: “The coaches hope he is here next season but we will not retain any player that is uncomfortable. In that case, we will talk to him to seek a solution.”

So are Arsenal likely to renew their interest in Vila in the summer? I wouldn’t have thought so. He would have been a perfect fit at a time when the club had a very real (and still unaddressed) problem. Come the summer and Wenger will have a lot of other options to look at (Jovetić, Cavani, Benteke) and a player who is pushing 32 and has been wracked by injuries probably isn’t going to top his list.

He might want Champions League football too – and that may or may not be an issue for Arsenal.


Arsenal update – Wenger to stay, even if Arsenal don’t qualify for The Champions League

By Stefano on February 26th, 2013

So why did Arsene Wenger get so upset the other day when a journalist quizzed him about extending his contract? thinks it knows why. The website is running with a story today that suggests that the Frenchman is ‘at the very heart of the club’s short and medium-term plans.’

In spite of the manager’s unpopularity with a section of the Arsenal faithful Wenger is still the man for the board and Goal reckons that they will reward him with a contract extension. He will also get that sizeable war chest of cash to buy new players too.

And Goal reckons that is even of he Arsenal finish outside the top four.

There’s no clear source for the story – so what do you think?

Personally I think that the website probably has it bang on.

Wenger clearly wants to carry on managing Arsenal and feels that he has much to prove. His family is settled in north London and I just don’t think he fancies PSG or any of the other jobs that he has apparently been linked with as he feels he has work left at The Emirates.

If Arsenal qualify for the Champions League then Wenger will be in a very strong position again. Sure there will be pressure to massively strengthen squad and if that doesn’t happen Arsenal’s fans will be hugely disappointed, but within a few months, if things go well, Wenger would be again good position to secure a contract extension.

If Arsenal don’t qualify for the CL, the manager could fall on his sword. But I wonder if he would feel that this would be a new challenge. Maybe he would see the restructuring of the squad – with that huge war chest playing its role – and the biggest challenge of his career. If Arsenal spend big and do well in the Premiership, then even without CL football many of his critics might be silenced.

Incidentally it is worth noting that Wenger is 63, significantly younger than his opposite at Man United.


Why Jack Wilshere should be Arsenal’s new captain sooner rather than later

By Stefano on February 24th, 2013

As every Gooner knows the Arsenal captain’s arm band is cursed. Pop it on to your shoulder and with a few months you’ll be off playing elsewhere in Europe. It happened to Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie and now we hear that Barca are sniffing round Thomas Vermaelen.

Now there is a school of thought that suggests that Arsenal should cash in on the Belgian. His form, like his fellow central defenders, has been poor this season and there is a theory that being captain has affected his game. It has also caused problems for Arsene Wenger too because, to be frank, there have been several times this year when Vermaelen hasn’t really merited a place in the team and Wenger has picked him rather than dropped him.

Given the issues faced by Arsenal captain then the news that Arsene Wenger is considering giving Arsenal’s outstanding midfielder Jack Wilshere the armband, might not be universally welcomed by Arsenal fans. But to be honest it makes sense and needs to be done sooner rather than later. Firstly it may help Vermaelen. I personally am not too bothered whether he stays or goes – and part of me thinks that a wholesale clear out of the central defence is must for Arsenal to push forward – but it will take the pressure off and will help to concentrate on his game and hopefully recapture the form that propelled him towards the role in the first place.

As for Wilshere, well it is clear that he is the hub round which Arsenal work. His central midfield position is the perfect place for a leader to play. He is the future for the club.

There is also a precedent for Arsenal having a young captain too. Cesc Fabregas was of a similar age when he took the arm band and Tony Adams was just 21.

What Arsenal desperately require at the moment is leaders and Wilshere is someone who will drive the team forward. He is very mature for his age, will start every game and had a huge amount of passion for the club.

If, as seems likely, Arsenal don’t make the Champions League next season, then there will be a transnational year ahead and maybe the re-building starts with Wilshere taking the reins.


Should Stoke play Kightly or Walters out wide against Fulham?

By Stefano on February 23rd, 2013

So far this season, Stoke City manager Tony Pulis has utilised two separate systems. He can use three central midfielders and play Jon Walters on the right, or he can field only two players in the centre, push Walters behind the main striker, and play two proper wingers.

It’s surprising Pulis has used the former so frequently in recent weeks: the use of that system coincided with a run of five matches without a victory. The fixtures against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were clearly difficult games, but an aggregate score of 0-8 from those matches hardly suggests the system was working. With Michael Kightly fielded on the right, and Walters another aerial target in the penalty box, Stoke look much more potent going forward.

So what will Pulis do this weekend, away at Fulham? Left-back John Arne Riise has been reinstated to the side after a disagreement with Martin Jol, and Pulis will be contemplating whether it is more useful to attack Riise in the air through Walters, or on the ground with Kightly. The latter seems more useful, with Walters moved inside to help Peter Crouch battle against centre-back duo Philippe Senderos and Brede Hangeland in the air.

But maybe Pulis needs to consider his side in isolation, rather than looking at the weaknesses of the opposition. Fulham aren’t a side that require a reactive approach, and as a side based around height and aerial ability upfront, fielding wingers on both flanks appears the more natural system for Stoke.

This post courtesy of Pick Our Team is by Michael Cox. PickOurTeam is a new type of football community giving fans an opportunity to have a meaningful say on the formation and selection of their team. PickOurTeam is the voice of the fans – collecting views on who should play where and ratings on how the players, manager, and referee perform each week. Every match the findings are compiled and presented back to the fans. The article was originally posted here.



How Aston Villa can counter Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere

By Stefano on February 23rd, 2013

Charles N’Zogbia has returned to the Aston Villa side to great effect in recent weeks, collecting three assists and one goal in five games, for a Villa side that lacked inspiration and creativity. Deployed in a ‘number ten’ position behind Christian Benteke, with Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann providing pace on the flanks, N’Zogbia’s direct dribbling has proved useful for connecting midfield and attack.

But few managers play their usual style at the Emirates, with many choosing to sacrifice attacking ambition in order to stiffen the backline or midfield. Paul Lambert is a serial formation switcher and a difficult manager to predict: he played two upfront at the Emirates with Norwich last season, but that was towards the end of the campaign, with Norwich’s mid-table position assured. With Villa still fighting relegation, Lambert might opt for more caution.

He’ll remember the excellent job Barry Bannan did in the first fixture at the head of the midfield triangle, playing an energetic role and pressing as soon as Arsenal’s defenders played the ball into midfield, meaning Arsene Wenger’s side struggled to get the ball forward.

The presence of Jack Wilshere, rested in that game, will make this more difficult, but also makes it imperative that Villa aren’t outnumbered in midfield.

Against an Arsenal side with three talented passers, it would be a huge risk for Lambert to field only two men in the middle. Pushing N’Zogbia wide might be an option, but three proper central midfielders makes sense for Villa this weekend.

This post courtesy of Pick Our Team is by Michael Cox. PickOurTeam is a new type of football community giving fans an opportunity to have a meaningful say on the formation and selection of their team. PickOurTeam is the voice of the fans – collecting views on who should play where and ratings on how the players, manager, and referee perform each week. Every match the findings are compiled and presented back to the fans. The article was originally posted here.



Forget Reina and Valdes. Stats show that Wojciech Szczesny’s is Arsenal’s number one

By Stefano on February 22nd, 2013

There has been a lot of talk this week about Arsenal players who are apparently not good enough to play for the club. One of the more surprising names on that list is Polish keeper Wojciech Szczesny.

Szczesny, once rated as one of the finest young goalkeepers in the world has apparently become so unreliable that Arsenal are now considering buying a replacement in the guise of Liverpool’s Pepe Reina, Sunderland’s Simon Mignolet or Barca’s Victor Valdes.

Szczesny’s critics point to an indifferent season blighted by industry. Some even suggest that the player’s difficulties stem from the Euro 2012 competition where he was sent off in the opening game against Greece and didn’t feature again for his national side. He hasn’t been the same player since.

Personally I don’t buy it. I am with Wenger on one thing and that is Arsenal needs a British core at its heart built around Wilshere and Waclott and I would include Szczesny on that list too. Sure I know he is Polish, but he has been at Arsenal since 2006 and in many ways he is a core part of the young British clique at the club.

Also I don’t get a lot of the criticism of the player. I think the weakest part of his game is his distribution which is admittedly poor, but this is a small part of being a goalkeeper and is something that he can work on and improve.

Where I think he has suffered this season is being the last line of defence with an indifferent group of players in front of him. he has certainly been busier than previous seasons and that may have made him look like a weaker player.

TalkSport have compiled stats for Szczesny and compared them to Reina and Valdes. In almost every area the young Pole more than holds his own. His shot stopping is very good and his record at catching the ball as good as his rivals.

Ultimately what Szczesny needs is better protection and that means Wenger looking again at the form of his trio of centre backs.

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