Blackpool v Arsenal Preview & Odds

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Apr 092011
 

I wanted to wait until today’s results were in befoe writing my preview. As expected, ManUre beat Fulham at home, or rather the referee and Fulham beat Fulham, and the Mancs lead at the top of the league has stretched into double figures.

Can we stay in the title race? We have 2 games in hand on United, and we face them at home. Chelski also face the Mancs. In theory, we should still be positive about the run-in. If we beat them and Chelski do us a favour, we win the title for the first time in 7 years.

The press thinks we are struggling, even the official website stating it very plainly:

Wenger refuses to accept the result nailed down the coffin lid on their campaign…when asked .. how he assessed this season, he retorted immediately: “The season is not over.”
His point was simple. Eight games represents 24 points and, in this title race especially, that is a massive margin…Yes, having gone five games without a win, Arsenal are at a low ebb right now but this is a season when presumption and prediction have often led to embarrassment. So Wenger is not going to give up now.

I’m not entirely sure what the logic is at the end there. It’s not about embarrassment, it’s about pride.

Elsewhere in the press it’s been reported that four Arsenal players will be on their way out. And that bastion of reliable football news, the Sun has reported that AW “is happy to be second rate”. This is their quote:

As long as you are second in the league, I am ready to sign for the next 20 years. I believe we have done well. We have been hit very hard with big disappointments but we have not lost in the FA Cup or the Champions League against anybody, we have lost against good teams. Personally, I am very proud of the attitude, the behaviour and the quality of our season.

I don’t really believe that he said that for one minute. I bl&%#y hope not.

Seeing trash like this does make you wonder who among the players might be on their way out ion the summer. You’d have thought that for the sake of their careers players like Almunia, Rosicky, Clichy, Denilson, Bendtner, maybe Diaby and Arshavin too might be looking at their futures.

The little Russian just doesn’t seem to fit in at times, in a footballing and psychological sense. He’s seems completely on his own on the pitch, hardly even acknowledging his teammates between play. He does hook up well on the left flank of times, and has popped up with some important strikes, but I wonder if he’s happy at the club.

Nicklas Bendtner certainly not lived up to his own publicity this term and needs to find his shooting boots. Half-chances have not gone his way, his strikes have too often whistled wide.

Rosicky and Denilson have both been injured, and given their places to Wilshere and Nasri. Clichy hasn’t progressed further in the last two seasons, with a fit Kieron Gibbs the natural progression. We need a quick return to form from the young Adam Ramsey.

We need Almunia to show some of his considerable maturity and put aside contracts and concentrate on his responsibility to the club that’s paid his wages for such a long time. And stop flapping.

We do need squad players, but I think unless the current crop can take this title race by the balls, I think they should think about their futures, and I expect AW and the board to bring in some fresh talent.

Players who challenge the likes of Nasri, Wilshere, Walcott, and not be content to be second string. I’m getting sick of hearing about ‘second’ – second place in the table, Wenger settles for second…

The question I’m asking myself about the state of play at the top at Arsenal is whether repeated statements like this find their source in the manager’s stubbornness or intellect:

We’ve had a change in policy to sign younger players. It’s important for football that there’s another way than to just come in, put money on the table and buy a star. The way we are doing things is right. Whether they play here or somewhere else you’ll realise they’re big players.

I think that’s true but we haven’t signed even a slightly big name in a while. We need to bring in another Vieira or Adams. Their is a serious lack of a fit, regular starter who has a big enough vocal presence on the pitch to bring the game to the opposition. I’m a big Vermaelen fan, but he’s missed the whole season.

Buy another player like the Belgian and have two strong physical and vocal players. It would be worth £15-20 million. Don’t we have that kind of money?

I hope that they prove me wrong and dispel the gathering media gloom around the Grove. I want them to succeed and put us right back in the title race at Bloomfield Road tomorrow. I expect:

Almunia; Sagna – Koscielny – Djourou – Clichy; Fabregas – Wilshere – Ramsey; Nasri – v Persie – Arshavin

Odds

No team have kept a Premier League clean sheet at Bloomfield Road but Blackpool have scored in every home game. Blackpool are also the only promoted side we’ve beaten this season, the 6-0 romp at the start of the season. A few Arsenally pennies left my account on 3-1 to the Arsenal, widely available at 10/1. The optimist in me like the idea of a giving the Tangerines a 4-0 drubbing at 19-1 with Unibet. The highest odds on a Blackpool win are 15/2, with us the clear favourites to get the three points at 4/9. As for first goalscorer, v Persie is a clear favourite at 10/3 with William Hill and others. That got a few Arsenally quids, which are in drastic short supply. If Koscielny scores first, I’ll be up at 33/1, but such trying times called for a small punt.

I’m well up for the game tomorrow, and can’t wait to cheer the boys on. A turn-around in form is more than possible against a Blackpool side that have shipped 63 goals this season.

Let’s hope that just like his horse, Fergie’s side fail to finish this season. But we need maximum points tomorrow to kick off this critical league run-in. We can’t finish as poorly as we did last time around.

COME ON YOU GOOONERS!!!

Arsenally Yours,

Will

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 2 Arsenal 0 – Review.

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Mar 132011
 

In my preview I wrote of what impact of a win would have on our confidence, the rest of our season, and the race to the Premiership title. I also wrote that a draw would also give us belief, and that we’d likely beat ManUre at the Grove to progress in the cup.

Well, we lost, going out of the third cup competition in the space of just two weeks. We didn’t collapse at Old Trafford; we didn’t play terribly badly. We had much more possession than United; we had several shots on target. We just didn’t have enough composure in front of goal, and United were able to catch us on the break.

The team looked jaded. In fact, they didn’t look much like a team at all. There didn’t seem to be a lot of mental strength, and the injury to Djourou robbed us of whatever resilience and fighting spirit we had at the start of the game.

Diappointed Wenger at Old Trafford

Not again!

The manager attributed our lack of oomph to the crushing defeat at the Nou Camp:

Subconsciously I feel the disappointment of Tuesday [against Barcelona] played a part in the game. You could see something has gone, not in our effort or attitude, but confidence-wise.
But I don’t feel like the season is slipping away. I believe we can do it. It is a good test for us now to show we can regroup and show the mental strength and togetherness quickly.
We will have to answer this kind of question in the next two or three weeks. We have to show we have an answer.

Whether or not we do find an answer, whether or not we fight for the title, and whether or not this season ends up like the previous five – trophyless and disappointing – depends very much on our back five.

According to the official site
, Djourou will miss the rest of the season after suffering a dislocated shoulder against ManUre. He will be sorely missed. His performances this season have shown that he has come a long way, and has become the defender that we’d previously only seen in glimpses in seasons past. He’s been solid, and formed a great partnership with Koscielny at the back in Vermaelen’s absence.

Speaking of whom, where is he? I’d been given the impression here on the official site that he’d play for the reserves before the end of February. That hasn’t happened.

Even if Cesc and Robin stay fit, they still need support in the form of a good reliable keeper, a strong defence, and good defensive players in the middle of the park. Assuming Song returns, that’s the latter sorted. But if Vermaelen doesn’t return soon, we’ll be relying on the services of Ignasi Miquel. With the greatest respect to him, I don’t know that he’s up to the job at such a tender age, and with so little first team experience.

Although Almunia played well against Barcelona, he flapped when Rooney scored, and I don’t think he has the confidence and backing of either the team or the manager. Our goalkeeping Poles, both threatening to establish themselves with the No. 1 jersey when they got themselves injured, will be missed. Will James Shea stay on the bench till the end of the season? That doesn’t inspire me with confidence.

Wenger now has a chance to really earn his wages. He must motivate a deeply disappointed squad. He must find an emergency keeper. In short, he must inspire his team to fight for what remains of the season.

We were in a good position at the end of last season. We could have won the title, but defeats to Sp*rs and Wigan allowed Chelski to lift the title as we collapsed with a distinct lack of confidence. It may not feel like we’re doing well, but in terms of the most important competition, we certainly are. Wenger must make the players realise how much we can still achieve. Only 3 points separate us from the league leaders, and we have a game in hand.

We can still win something this season. The title, the most important prize of all.

Arsenally still believing,

Will