West Brom v Arsenal Preview & Odds.

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Mar 182011
 

There’s a strange mix of good and bad news before this West Brom game. Some bookies have us favourites to lift the title, with ManUre preoccupied in other competitions. We have a better run in to the end of the season than that Northern lot. We have a game in hand, albeit against Sp*rs.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that we’ll miss two defenders and two goalkeepers until the end of the season. Szczesny may return right at the end, but it’s unlikely. Djourou is out till September, despite the best attempts of the Swiss FA to defy reason.

The really bad bit of all that really bad news is that Thomas Vermaelen will not feature for us until next season. And even that, by the sound of it, is not certain at all:

I relapsed six times. Every time I had a goal to come back, but that was then broken again and again. At first they said I would need four or six weeks after the operation. But it soon became apparent that it would last longer.
I feel no trouble in the Achilles tendon itself, but the muscles around it still need to be made stronger. I do not know when I will be back.

That’s bad news. Really bad news. He suffers from the same problem that Owen Hargreaves has. Need I say more? There’s a real possibility that he will not play for us again in any meaningful way.

That terrible news is made even worse by the fact that the player who has stepped into the breach, showed his qualities and begun to perform at the level we all hoped for, Johann Djourou, is also out for the season with a dislocated shoulder. Our season now rests squarely on Squillaci’s shoulders. And that does not fill me with confidence.

But before we can even consider thinking about the end of the season and titles, there are some baby steps to take in the form of West Brom away. Baby steps? Hardly. I respect Roy Hodgson hugely, and I reckon we’ll be in for a tough afternoon at the Hawthorns. Apart from the back five, we’ll be without Song, Fabregas, and Walcott.

Regular readers will know that I’m not a big fan of Rosicky, certainly not this season anyway. We’ll need him to put in a big performance alongside Diaby and Wilshere in midfield. Up front we have Bendtner back – err… hooray? – but much more importantly, v Persie will be leading the line. I expect:

Almunia; Clichy – Koscielny – Squillaci – Sagna; Diaby – Wilshere – Rosicky; Arshavin – v Persie – Nasri.

As long as Diaby and Rosicky have fair-to-middling games, then the combination of our front three and Wilshere should ensure that we create and convert chances. We must prevail. Our season depends on it.

The emergency goal-keeper signing was a bit of a surprise. At 41, no one can say that Lehmann doesn’t have experience. I can only speculate about how the dressing room will be affected by his relationship with Almunia, which we all know was about as sour as it can get in football.

The German is a complete nutter, but in his prime, a great keeper. He’d make sure that the opposition strikeres knew he was there, all right, usually by standing on the toes, if not, with the occasional karate kick.

I hope he turns out to be a positive influence on the squad. They could learn a thing or two about getting underneath an opponent’s skin. To celebrate his return, here’s a video of his finest moments:

Odds
The bookies seem to think that we’ll recover our form and beat the Baggies, with us at 17/20 and them at 4/1 for the win. I’m aware that I’m well down for the season, and so I’ve plumped for 2-0 to the Arsenal at 9/1 with Unibet. BoyleSport had 4-3 to us at 150/1 so that got a few pennies.

As for goalscorers, v Persie to hit the net first at 4/1 with Coral was too good to miss, as was Squillaci to get one anytime at 14/1 with Bet365.

Tomorrow, ManUre are at home but without several key players against Bolton. I’ll have my fingers crossed that Owen Coyle does us a favour.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that this game defines our season. If we play to our potential, then we should walk it, and send a message out to United that we’ll be chasing them all the way. We need confidence, and we need it now. A good win, even a scrappy win on the back of a good performance, and we’re in with a chance at the only title that matters.

Arsenally yours,

Will

Man Utd vs Arsenal in the FA Cup – Preview and Odds

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Mar 122011
 

The result today is not just about the FA Cup. Success today will lift the players’ spirits, and show that we can beat United in their own back yard, and catch them up in the race to the Premiership title. Not having a replay would also give our title campaign a boost, while other teams in the League will take heart that ManUre can be beated, even at home.

Draw, and our confidence will still be lifted. We’ll show ourselves, and other teams in the top flight that United aren’t invincible at home. We’ll have the upper hand in the tie, and we’ll face West Brom next week with renewed optimism and determination to beat anyone.

Lose, and I would be concerned for the rest of our season. That would mean we’d have gone out of three cups in a fortnight. ManUre would still be difficult to beat in our minds, and their Premiership campaign would be given a boost, not ours.

So which will happen. I’m not full of confidence in a win, as much as I’d like us to thrash them, and see Ferguson’s face turn into a chewing beetroot. A feel a draw may well be on the cards. It seems obligatory for us to have cup replays this season.

We have to consider that a wounded ManUre is a dangerous, smelly beast. Having been not so much beaten as humiliated by Liverpool and given the league’s chasing pack a boost, I imagine a strong response from them in a competition that means much to the red-faced Scot. They haven’t won it since 2004. We’ve even won it since then, in 2005.

In terms of who starts for us, we’ll be without our captain Fabregas, Alex Song and Theo Walcott. Szczesny will be out for about six weeks, so James Shea will understudy Almunia, while the hunt for an emergency keeper goes on. I have concerns about the midfield, and if Rosicky starts then it’s crucial he has a good game. Diaby played well against Barcelona and I espect him to continue in Song’s absence.

So I expect:

Almunia; Clichy – Koscielny – Djourou – Sagna; Wilshere – Rosicky – Diaby; Arshavin – v Persie – Nasri

Odds

The bookies have the home team as firm favourites at odds only slightly better than Evens. We’re 11/4 with most bookies, which has got a few Arsenally pennies. In terms of correct score, I think the game will be close and the scoreline will reflect that. We’re 12/1 for 2-1 and 40/1 for 3-2 with Coral. The half-time/full time split gives good value on the comeback, with ManUre/Arsenal 39/1 with Unibet. I might go for a line on 2-1 with the half time/full time split as above. I’ll update you when I discover what odds I can get on that.

As for goalscorers, I’m down for Nasri to score first, widely available at 9s. We’ve been fairly effective from set-pieces; Djourou is available at 20/1 with Bet365.

Let’s book our place in the semi-finals. Let’s stay in one cup this fortnight. Let’s regain our confidence and beat the league leaders. Let’s take this season by the scruff of the neck before it threatens to run away from us.

COME ON YOU GOONERS!!!!!

Arsenally Yours,

Will

Barcelona vs Arsenal Preview and Odds

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Mar 072011
 

Well folks, it’s the big one. The league may be our bread and butter, but for the last 7 seasons we’ve enjoyed the chocolate pudding that is the knockout stages of the Champions League. And tomorrow night, as if I have to remind any of you (!), we take a 2-1 lead to the Camp Nou.

The big news is that Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas will be in the squad at least for the game. I suspect that the captain will start, but that we’ll see the Dutchman start the game from the bench. For all AW’s assertions that “I am very bad at mind games”, whether our in-form striker will start will give Guardiola something to think about.

It will certainly be a great game for the neutral, with Barcelona needing to score, but whether it’ll be a good game for the gooner depends very much on our use of the ball, if and when the Catalunians decide to give it to us.

We simply cannot afford to gift possession back to them. But if we play to our potential, we certainly will have chances at their end. With Puyol and Cesc’s mate Pique out, they’ll have Abidal and Busquets at centre half, by all accounts. That could give us an edge. If they’re not used to their positioning, we may even get a few half-chances. We must take them.

For me, whether we take our chances or not depends on whether v Persie is on the pitch. I don’t want to rant about our other strikers lack of form here, but suffice it to say I think it’s crucial for our chances that he at least gets on the pitch at some point.

One thing scares me, and it’s not just their little Argentinian. Just one goal from Barça means that they go through. Just one.

As was noted below in the comments, we haven’t had the rub of the green recently, at least from the referee. With a bit of luck, some good passing, and a chance taken, who knows what can happen? A good defensive performance coupled will exorcise the ghost of the Carling Cup Final. A win, and the spectre of the 2006 CL Final will vanish into thin air.

Who starts? Will AW go with Denilson or Diaby in Song’s place. Whoever starts needs to put in a massive shift. I’d like to see the Frenchman get the nod. He can be excellent when he’s on his game. Let’s hope he’s up for it.

So I’m expecting:

Szczesny; Clichy – Koscielny – Djourou – Sagna; Diaby – Wilshere – Fabregas; Nasri – Bendtner/v Persie – Arshavin

Odds
It’s hard to find decent odds on an Arsenal victory, but seeing 8/1 on us coming up trumps got some of my hard-earned straight away in my local Coral. The Half Time/Full Time choice of Barcelona/Arsenal is a ridiculously tempting 69/1 with Unibet, which got a few pennies. They also have Arsenal 5 Barcelona 3 at a frankly ludicrous 999/1. But not even I’d throw money away like that!

Back on this planet, first goalscorer gives me a bit of a conundrum. I’d go for v Persie, but he’s not even on the bookies’ list which worries me. Theo’s on there, but no Robin. Hmm. The 7th player down the list is Nicklas Bendter at 12/1 with BlueSq. If he does score, I’ll never moan about him.

As Simon noted in his comment after the Sunderland non-result, we’ve hardly had the best luck when it comes to refereeing decisions. We do need a good slice of luck tomorrow, but with graft, desire, and a bit of footballing magic we could do the unthinkable and beat them in their own back yard. We’ve done it to Real and to both Milan clubs – let’s add the Barcelona to that list.

COME ON YOU GOONERS!!!!!!!!!!!

Arsenally on the edge of my seat already,

Will