Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

Football

Thierry Henry back at The Emirates – but will he be as useful this time?

By Stefano on December 6th, 2012

There’s no official word yet, but it seems certain that Arsenal legend Thierry Henry will back in north London in January with a loan move that will run until at least mid-February – long enough for him to star in the next round of Champions League games.

So what do you think? Is this another inspired move by Arsenal? A lifesaver that might kickstart  their faltering season?

On the positive side Henry did make a significant difference last time round. He scored within ten minutes of coming on as sub against Leeds United and added a Premier League winner against Sunderland. He provided a welcome sideshow for the Gunners at a time when their key targets – the Premiership and Champions League - were disappearing from view.

Also Henry maybe a year older but he still seems very fit and he has also enjoyed an Indian Summer at the Bulls this year in scoring 15 times and providing 12 assists in 25 appearances.

However there is a world of difference between the MLS and the Premiership and I wonder if Henry’s return might not be so sweet this time round.

Arsenal are in dire straits. Since the departure of Robin Van Persie, they have looked very flaccid going forward  Olivier Giroud’s goals have helped convince the fans that he is more than a makeweight for Nicholas Bendtner, but without him Arsenal seem to have few potent striking options. The situation will get worse in 2013 to with Gervinho off to the African Cup.

So Henry might find his services are required a great deal more than last time.

Secondly the fans humour is unlikely to be much improved if  the Henry deal is done, but no new strikers – Huntelaar or Ba – appear at the Emirates. The fans were lead to believe by the club that the signings of Giroud and Podoslski were an attempt to strengthen the squad not just give it players who, while great in their own right, are clearly not in the same league as the talismanic Dutch striker.

Thirdly isn’t Henry’s arrival just going to be another distraction  Sure his wealth of experience and winning attitide is sure to help inspire some of the Arsenal youngsters, but the team needs to massively focus on the premiership, and I believe the Capital One cup, and the presence of the Frenchman could prove to be a sideshow too far. Surely Wenger needs to be  not signing the old Henry but finding the new one. I do worry that if things don’t go well Henry could become tainted by the general dis-satisfaction from the fans that is focusing on both Wenger and the board.

If he is coming, then I think Henry’s key role could come in the Champions League. Unlike Huntelaar he would be cleared to play and if thrown on with half an hour to go he could have a very real impact.

So what do you think. Is it great to have Henry back? Or should we relish the memory of last year and think about the future?

 



Football

Forget Europe – Arsenal’s number one priority should be The Capital One Cup

By Stefano on December 4th, 2012

Tonight a significantly under strength Arsenal team gave Olympiacos a run for their money in Athens. Ok, so the Gunners had no answer to the second Greek goal, but there were some encouraging signs for Wenger in the sprightly performance of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and especially the attacking football of Tomas Rosicky, whose direct style they have missed terribly.

On Saturday the Gunners face West Brom in what it already being billed as a win or bust match for the team. Lose that game and the clamour for change at the top will grew significantly louder. Ironically though as important as the Baggies’ visit is it is the game next Tuesday that may prove to be of greater significance for The Gunners.

The Arsenal cup drought now extends to seven seasons. If it is not going to be eight Arsenal will either have to win the FA Cup or the Capital One Cup. I am assuming that any number of European teams will be too strong for them and that the Premiership title really is gone now too.

So the Capital One Cup presents a great opportunity for Arsene to get his hands on some silverware. A win against Bradford, which even an under performing Arsenal side should surely manage, would propel the team into the last four. Of the remaining seven teams the only side that Arsenal really need fear is Chelsea and heaven knows what type of state (and indeed who the manager might be) they will be if they qualify for the semis.

The thing about the Capital One cup is that it does provide a club with chance to feel like they are winners. The current Arsenal squad do not have the look and feel of a team of winners, though many players have actually got any medals to show for their footballing endeavours, including; Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Rosicky, Arteta, Podolski, Giroud and Arshavin. The sad part is that none of them were with Arsenal.

Win one competition and the trophyless fog that has descended over The Emirates will be lifted for good. Also Arsenal have a bit of history in using the League Cup to kick start a run of success. George Graham’s first silverware was the League Cup Final of 1987 where they beat Liverpool 2-1 with both the goals coming from Charlie Nicholas. Two years later Graham had his hands on the Championship title and the FA Cup and European success, as well as another league title, followed soon after.

Someone else who knows the value of the League Cup is Fergie. Back in 2006 Manchester United overcame a Wigan side to win the trophy, a game which in many ways reignited his managerial career and lead to a run of Premiership titles.

Finally there is also the feeling that the team might bury that awful moment in the 2011 final when a defensive error gifted the trophy to Birmingham City.

So don’t expect Arsene to be playing down the Capital One Cup, it could be Arsenal’s most important competition this year.



Football

Why Manchester City need the Europa League like a hole in the head

By Stefano on December 4th, 2012

So Champions League Group D, aka The group of Death, has turned out to be a bit of a mare for City. With no chance of qualification Mancini’s men will clearly be glad to see the back of it tonight too as they head off to Germany to face group leaders Borussia Dortmund.

Even if it was a game that City needed to win, it would still be a very tough call. Dortmund have been hugely impressive in the CL this year including drawing 1-1 with the Blues at the Etihad Stadium in October.

Bizarrely though City could still continue their European adventure this year as they have an outside chance of qualifying for the Europa League. With Dortmund and Real Madrid having already qualified from the group, City need to beat the German champions and hope third-placed Ajax fail to win at the home of the Spanish title-holders.

Roberto Mancini is certainly playing lip service to the possibility of winning. He said: “We will try, but we need to win in Dortmund and it will not be easy because Dortmund are in a good condition.”There is the Premier League, and the Europa League if we can go in it, and also the FA Cup. The season is long and it is important.”

There is also the chance of a good win sparking off some self-belief in the team, something that seems to be sorely missing this season in spite of the Blue’s impressive home record.

And true to his word Mancini has sent a decent squad over to Germany, unlike Arsene Wenger whose Arsenal squad who play Olympiakos in a fairly meaningless game tonight, features a group of players several of whom are not even regular in the Gunners’ reserve team.

If Mancini has any sense though he will try and play for a face-saving draw or 1-0 defeat. City need the Europa League like a hole in the head. The Premiership is quite possibly still their’s to lose. Their only real rival at the moment are the quieter neighbours and their form has been inconsistent too. Sure the Europa League is still a trophy and it would continue to give City that European experience they so sorely lack. But at the moment it would be a distraction that Mancini really doesn’t need.



Football

Shock stats – If Robin Van Persie had stayed at Arsenal they’d be top and Man United would be 10th

By Stefano on December 3rd, 2012

So says The Daily Mail’s Martin Samuels.

So another difficult weekend for Arsenal in which they were outplayed by Swansea in the first half and then couldn’t find the net in the second only to succumb to two superb late Michu goals.

It was also business as usual – this season anyhow – for Manchester United in going a goal behind and then staging a great fight back to win three points against Reading.

It once again highlights the key differences between the two sides – Mr Robin Van Persie. Just as he scored for fun last season at the Emirates, his goals have propelled United to the top of the Premiership.

Now here’s an amazing statistic. Martin Samuel in the Mail has worked out that had Arsenal kept Robin Van Persie for another season and his goal rate stayed the same then the situation would be reversed. Arsenal would be top of the Premiership and Man United would have been mid-table stragglers.

Martin’s theory runs like this.

United have gone behind to the first goal of the game in 10 Premier League matches and in seven have come back to win. Of those seven, five have featured crucial goals from Van Persie, including the equaliser against Fulham, a hat-trick against Southampton and the winner against Liverpool.

Now consider Arsenal with Van Persie’s 10 league goals this season added to their total. Supplement a single goal from Van Persie to the draws with Sunderland, Stoke City, Manchester City, Fulham, Aston Villa and Everton; add an equaliser to the one-goal defeats by Chelsea, Norwich City and Manchester United. That is a difference of 15 points, or the current spread between Manchester United (top, 36 points) and Arsenal (10th, 21).

Ok, so it isn’t an exact science. For starters United would have another striker, and I don’t just mean Hernandez or Rooney – they would have made a big signing. Also Arsenal’s key problem at the moment appears not be actually getting the ball in the box to their strikers. They simply aren’t creating enough chances at the moment.

It does however underline the folly of Arsenal letting their talismanic captain and goal machine go to one of their biggest rivals. Ultimately Wenger could have kept Van Persie at Arsenal and seen him run out his contract. The Dutchman is professional enough (and savvy enough to know that a good season would keep his price tag high) to have continued his scoring  feats even though both sides knew he would be off at the end of the season. There is of course the argument that his presence in the dressing room would have been a major distraction, but then winning so few home games is a pretty serious distraction anyhow.

Ultimately Arsenal trousered £24 million for selling VP, money that is still sitting in their bank account. Failure to qualify for the Champions League will probably cost the side around that figure and at the moment, and unless they invest heavily in the winter, that’s still a big ask. Also Wenger has seven games to go before he can make any changes, on current form they could be closer to a relegation fight than the CL places.

The event that could change this season significantly would be a Van Persie injury, but there seems to be no sign of that occurring.

So is this another call that Arsene got wrong? Would a Van Persie injury scupper Man United’s season? What do you think?



Football

Why defeat to Swansea might be the catalyst that kick starts Arsenal’s season.

By Stefano on December 1st, 2012

On the way home from the Arsenal game today I heard the following exchange between a pair of middle age Gooners. One said ‘that’s it now we can only expect Arsenal to be like they were in the 80s under Don Howe.’ The other fella responded ‘What no league wins, just the odd cup?’

It then struck me that Arsenal had actually been in this position for seven trophy-less years. It is just that the fans are only beginning to realise it… However in spite of the boo boys and the general pessimism in and around the Emirates today I actually think we might remember the Swansea defeat as being the catalyst that kick started Arsenal’s season.

The logic is this. Wenger had gambled on winning today and the next home game against West Brom which he hoped would propel Arsenal into the top four. They would then put a run together and maybe even press the Mancunians towards the end of the season.

What happened to day was that an exhausted looking team – especially Carzola, Arteta, Podolski – failed to get into gear in the first half and then didn’t take their chances in the second. Swansea were the better team for much of the game and ironically had more possession than Arsenal and played in a way that you’d expect the Gunners to play.

We have of course been here several times already this season and it is clear the Arsenal team, although full of good players, is failing to gel in a way that previous Arsenal teams have.

Ultimately what today did though was ensure that come the Winter transfer window Arsenal will have to spend and spend big. Without an investment in a new creative midfielder, one, possibly two strikers and even another defensive midfielder Arsenal will finish nowhere near fourth. Ivan Gazidis must know this now and any arguments between Wenger and Gazidis about whether there is money to spend are surely redundant given the investment from the new Emirates deal. Maybe there will be the odd high profile loan deal too – Fabregas back? You heard it here first!

Quite frankly the one thing that can save Arsenal season is the arrival of some big marquee signings that can add bite to the team and instill confidence in some excellent, but under performing players. Wenger can talk all he likes about the return of Thierry Henry. What he really ought to be focusing on is signing the next Henry.

So, as depressing a result as today is for Arsenal fans it should ensure at the very least some big deals are on the cards. Had the team won today and beaten West Brom the situation would have been less clear. Wenger, not the most flexible of men, would at least have a case foe carrying on with Plan A. Now for Wenger and Gazidis it is crystal clear. That Champions League place really is in the balance.



Football

Premiership preview – Is it time for Arsenal to drop their captain Thomas Vermaelen?

By Stefano on November 30th, 2012

It has been a difficult start to life as Arsenal captain for Thomas Vermaelen. The Belgian has been a popular figure at the club since his signing in 2009 and was handed the armband in the summer after the departure of Robin van Persie, but has performed disappointingly so far this season, making a couple of high-profile errors.

In stark contrast, Per Mertesacker has started the campaign very well, defending reliably and scoring his first goal in English football, the crucial equaliser at home to Tottenham. Meanwhile, Laurent Koscielny is probably the best partner for both players: Mertesacker needs a quick player alongside him, while Vermaelen appreciates the Frenchman sweeping up if he loses challenges.

This presents Arsene Wenger with a selection dilemma: Mertesacker is the first centre-back on the teamsheet at the moment, and Koscielny is his natural partner. That wasn’t an issue when Kieran Gibbs was injured, because Vermaelen could move out to left-back. But now Gibbs is available again, and offers a more reliable attacking threat from full-back. At home to Swansea, Arsenal will need someone who can stretch the play, and also a quick player against Swansea’s wing threat.

Vermaelen was omitted from the side that drew at Villa Park last weekend, but with Arsenal facing three league fixtures in eight days, that could be explained by squad rotation. Wenger leaving out his captain for a second consecutive weekend would be significant development; but on form, it’s Mertesacker, Koscielny and Gibbs who deserve to be in the side alongside Bacary Sagna.

This post courtesy of Pick Our Team. 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.



Football

Will Chelsea fans ever love Rafa Benitez? Or are has Roman marked his cards already?

By Stefano on November 25th, 2012

Rafa is in for a rough ride says Simon Poulter of What Would David Bowie Do?

With his scruffy little beard and penchant for cheap-looking nylon leisurewear, the multi-billionaire Roman Abramovich doesn’t exactly cut the image of a prototypical James Bond villain.

He may not (to my knowledge) possess a white Persian cat, which he strokes for camp and menacing effect, but like 007′s nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Abramovich is clearly capable of dispatching underlings whenever the whim takes him.

So here we are again. Another November, another dip in form, and another Chelsea manager looking for work. Roberto Di Matteo took a decent and dignified stride in his brief managerial tenure at Stamford Bridge. But from the moment he was euphemistically installed as “interim first team coach” he knew he wasn’t exactly the anointed one. He may even have been another ‘dead man walking’, as Victim No.1, Claudio Ranieri, referred to himself.

Go back two managers, which in Chelsea years means to last March, and Abramovich had grown impatient with his bizarre gamble – football’s very own Charlie Buckett, Andreas Villas-Boas – and in looking for a replacement was desperate for Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola. But with the 41-year-old Catalan making clear he was, at season’s end, taking a year’s sabbatical in New York with his family, the unemployed Rafa Benitez was being fitted up for a temporary spell in the manager’s chair.

But when Benitez threw one of his customary hissy fits at the prospect of being a mere seat warmer, Abramovich had no option but to install, quickly, the popular old boy, Di Matteo. The club’s history of appointing from within has not always gone well: Ruud Gullitt and Gianluca Vialli both fell foul of Ken Bates over money, while Ray Wilkins felt the sharp end of Abramovich’s sword for, it would appear, looking at the Russian the wrong way.

Di Matteo – a club hero still for scoring the fastest FA Cup Final goal after 47 seconds of the 1997 final – had been AVB’s assistant, fulfilling a role similar to that Wilkins had been employed for at Carlo Ancelotti’s side – a link to the club’s history for both fans and players.

But in being condescendingly titled Interim First Team Coach, it was clear that Di Matteo was only installed by default.

How embarrassing, then, that he should go on and end Chelsea’s desperate hunt for the European Cup, land yet another FA Cup trophy at the same time, and galvanise a fractured dressing room.

Perhaps Chelsea had to accept a moral obligation to give Di Matteo the job full-time after all that. Drop him then and Chelsea’s reputation for lousy manager management would have made the club toxic for anyone else to become interested – least of all, Pep Guardiola.

Abramovich had been making overtures to Guardiola again in the run up to Di Matteo’s sacking. But this obsession with landing him is turning the Russian into the greatest stalker since Max Cady came after Sam Bowden and his family. And he’s done it before: so the story goes, Abramovich fell in love with football by watching AC Milan, and set about buying the club. With that not possible, he set about recreating the club by buying Chelsea and installing Andrei Schevchenko, the rossoneri’s star striker, while trying to lure Carlo Ancelotti as coach,

He didn’t, but then he got Jose Mourinho, and that didn’t work out too badly. Or, at least, until Chelsea’s results started to go “in the wrong direction”, the self-same excuse given for firing Di Matteo. Like Mourinho, Di Matteo delivered silverware and good times for the club. But as soon as things started to cool off – i.e. results went against them – they were summarily fired by the itchiest trigger finger since Dirty Harry.

Abramovich, then, has a totally unrealistic level of expectation. But he also appears to lack strong leadership and footballing advice around him. There’s a reason why Manchester United are the most successful football club in history – it’s because they’ve had the same manager for 25 years, who has built, invested and reinvested in consistency and excellence. Personally I loathe the old Scottish git, Alex Ferguson, but you could never knock his record, or indeed his club’s ongoing support for him.

For Chelsea, eight managers in as many years is not only inconsistent, it’s an embarassment. We want success and we’ve had success. We want our club to be led by a dynamic manager whom we can get behind. We had that in Mourinho, we had that in Guus Hiddink, we had that in Ancelotti and we could have had that in Di Matteo.

But, from now until the end of this season (and, it is claimed, with an extension to next season if “mutually acceptable”), Chelsea will be managed by the most divisive managerial appointment it would have been possible to appoint: Benitez.

You may, already, sense some antagonism towards Benitez. That’s because many Chelsea fans consider him a tactical fool, more interested in defensive formations and squad rotation than anywhere near the attractive, free-flowing attacking football Abramovich himself is said to desire.

It’s also because he spent an inordinate amount of time as Liverpool manager winding up Chelsea fans and, especially, Mourinho, and then behaving like an emotionally challenged teenager whenever things went wrong. He’s been out of work for two years, with only a short spell at Internazionale since leaving Liverpool. That speaks volumes.

Abramovich has, at times, treated Chelsea like a plaything. When he’s pumped more than £1 billion into the club since 2004, that’s his prerogative. But you wonder whether he has always had the best advice. Did the club really need a physically crocked Andrei Schevchenko, or a mentally and physically crocked Fernando Torres, each for vastly inflated transfer fees and equally inflated wages?

The problem is impulsiveness and impatience. If Roman wants a bigger yacht, he orders it. Bigger mansion? He knocks through the rest of the street. This has been the ‘see it, want it’ nature of his ownership of Chelsea (which isn’t that dissimilar to the way many Premier League players splash the cash around). More than just an oligarch, like some emperor acquiring lands at will, he has made some ridiculously rash decisions at Chelsea.

Benitez is going to have to endure six months of indifference and hostility from Chelsea fans. Even after Di Matteo had been appointed in March, Chelsea fans still let it be known at Di Matteo’s first home game in charge that Benitez wasn’t and would never be welcome. And so here he is, like the frog in Peter Gabriel’s song Kiss That Frog “all puffed up, wanna be your king”.

At any other club, the sort of success Di Matteo brought in just 167 days in charge would have had his name emblazoned above a new stand at the stadium. But not at Chelsea. This is a club which, for all you or I know, may have fired Benitez before he’s even begun, and hired – and fired – his replacement.

Benitez has a rough ride ahead of him. Even if he does well, he’ll be out on his ear as soon as you know it. Pep Guardiola knows it too. Just as Ancelotti was the coveted one, once, there is no life expectancy at Chelsea. And if he has any sense, Guardiola would give Chelsea one almighty swerve.

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