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

Carling Cup Final Preview & Odds

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Feb 262011
 

Profuse apologies to my legions of couple of followers. My broadband has been down for the last week or so and all the phone calls in the world couldn’t persuade my landlady to pull her finger out. Anyway, I’m back, and have now put in some measures to ensure I can blog from other locations.

I didn’t miss much, only our only victory against Barcelona in my lifetime… no use crying over spilt internet connections. What a game it was. We hardly dominated – they passed the ball twice as many times as we did, but the win puts us in a fantastic position when we travel to the Nou Camp.

Oh and I missed the game against Stoke, which was notable only for the injuries to our captain and to Theo Walcott. According to the Sun Cesc demanded a meeting with AW to persuade him to let him play in the Carling Cup Final tomorrow, but firstly I don’t believe anything I read in the Sun, and secondly, we’d be stupid to risk losing him for the Barça rematch. Thankfully, according to the Offical Site, it looks like Cesc will miss the Final and the FA Cup replay against Orient. Theo, or the “Bovingdon Bullet” as we say here in Hemel, is less fortunate and will be on the sidelines for a couple of weeks minimum, which will see him miss the second leg against the Catalunians, but possibly feature against ManUre in the FA Cup, assuming we beat Orient at home.

What we need tomorrow is for the squad players to replace Theo and Cesc and play their socks off, something we didn’t see when we faced Orient at Brisbane Road. Our ‘B’ team’s collective failure to beat the East Londoners gives us a yet another replay in an already congested fixture schedule.

So which of them will line up against the Brutal Brummies at Wembley? Diaby, Koscielny and v Persie are back after injury, and I think all three will start. I for one hope that we do see Diaby rather than Rosicky replacing the captain; the little Czech has been rather poor this season.

Cesc’s absence means an extra burden on the young shoulders of Jack Wilshere to step up and provide the creativity. That doesn’t concern me. As the boss says:

He’s had very good games. His confidence has grown, his responsibility has grown, certainly. Our game goes naturally through Fabregas. When he’s not there, it will go more through Wilshere. The way of the game is simple: it goes always through the team’s strong points. So that the game goes through Wilshere is a good thing for him because it means the players around him have confidence in him. He will enjoy this game.

I hope he does enjoy the game, and I’m looking forward to seeing hi sleft-footed passes out to Nasri on the right flank, but how he copes with Lee Bowyer is what concerns me. Bowyer will niggle, leave the boot in, go in hard in 50:50s and generally make life difficult for the young man. It takes a great deal of maturity to rise above such things, and the guy’s only 19. Keeping 11 men on the pitch may be more tricky than usual, especially when you add the giant Zigic into the equation.

So the team I expect is:

Szczesny; Clichy – Koscielny – Djourou – Sagna; Diaby – Song  – Wilshere; Arshavin – v Persie – Nasri

Odds

The bookies have Arsenal as clear favourites, with the odds of us claiming our first piece of silverware in five years a mere 4/7 at best. I’ve gone for a 3-1 Arsenal win at 12/1 with William Hill. 4-2 to us at 66/1 with Stan James was very tempting, but my Arsenally long shot is 4-3 at 150-1 with Victor Chandler. 7/2 on any player getting their marching orders was too tempting to pass up.

As for goalscorers, you’ve got to go for v Persie to score first, haven’t you? Well I did, at 15/4 with Bet365. The odds of Jack the lad finding the net at anytime are 5/1 and that got a few pennies as well.

So – can we lift the first bit of silverware since the FA Cup in ’05? Of course we can. Will we? The answer to that question depends very much on a mature performance from a very young man.

COME ON YOU GOONERS!!!!

Arsenal 2 – Huddersfield 1 Review

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Jan 302011
 

Huddersfield Town are also known as the Terriers and the played like, well, terriers. The feeling of getting through to the next round of the cup is somewhat marred by the injury suffered by Nasri, and the upcoming suspension of Squillaci after the latter got himself sent off for a professional foul.

After the first twenty minutes I thought that we were going to walk it and that my long-shot punt of 7-0 might even come off. Huddersfield sat back and waited for us to attack, in what seemed to me to be tactical suicide. After a few wayward shots from Arshavin and Bendtner we were soon ahead when the latter took a shot from the edge of the area, and it deflected off Peter Clarke into the net.

But it all changed when in about the 30th minute Nasri chased a ball over the top. He pulled up, and we could all see it was his hamstring that had gone. 3 weeks out, I tweeted. That now look optimistic with the news – albeit unconfirmed – that it’s a bad one. That means it could be about 6 weeks. Fantastic, our best player out for at least one of the two Champions League games against Barça. It’s a real shame for Sammy – just as he was finding some truly scintillating form that would certainly have found him back in his country’s national team, he finds himself out with a serious injury. We’ll miss him badly, I fear. Nonetheless, a chance for young Theo to prove his mettle and push for a permanent spot in the team.

Back to the Huddersfiled game. As so often happens when a player leaves the field with a bad injury, we looked shell-shocked, and Huddersfield could have gone two up before the end of the first half.

And just before the interval, things rapidly went from really bad to much, much worse. Squillaci blocked the impressive run of Jack Hunt, and got his marcfhing orders. When I saw it the first time, I called Mark Clattenburg some pretty terrible things, and won a rebuke from my agent for bad language in front of the Arsenally little one. It didn’t look like the Huddersfield player had the ball under control at all, but the benefit of a replay proved that it was, frankly, deserved. No sooner is he back from injury than the Fritalian defender finds himself suspended. Great.

And so the game rapidly swung in Huddersfield’s favour as they made the extra man count, if you’ll excuse the cliché.

He may be having a bad patch, as is so widely reported, but guess who tracked back to put in a last-ditch tackle to prevent a Huddersfield goal – our little Russian! I was impressed with his work for the team, if not for his finishing.

Huddersfield got their equaliser on the hour when Lee headed home a corner. Cue panic at Arsenally Yours, the tearing up of all my betting slips, etc etc. But I cheered up when I saw el capitano warming up, and was happier still to see him come on to replace the clearly rusty Diaby.

Yet again, he transformed the game. His presence alone seemed to calm the team, and we had chances with Koscielny, Arshavin and Bendtner going close.

As the game came to its close, and I was considering how best to rant about having yet another replay against lower league opposition, Bendtner was hauled down in the centre of the area, about 5 feet from goal, by the last defender. Clattenburg did point to the spot – I suppose we can thank our lucky stars for that – but why no red card? It couldn’t have been a clearer goal-scoring opportunity. Idiot. But I didn’t like seeing our captain trying to get said idiot in black to see sense and send the Terrier’s defender off. There’s just no need.

Up stepped Cesc, and slotted the penalty home. Thank God. Once again he saved our bacon, and we saw out the remaining minutes to win the tie and proceed to the next round. We’ll face Leyton Orient at the Matchroom stadium in the fifth round. Should be a great game, and one the Arsenally grandad would have treasured. The O’s were, if you like, his second team, and he’d also check to see how they got on every Saturday. A mate of mine is a fan, so I may well find myself there.

But that’s not for 3 weeks or so. In the meantime, we face Everton at home after a laughably short rest of 1 day. One day? I know they’re all supposed to be professional athletes, but that’s ridiculous. And, it’s worth pointing out, Everton may not be doing wonders in the league, but they managed to get a draw against Chelski.

Despite the win, it’s all a bit depressing, really. Nasri out for up to 6 weeks, our only reserve defender suspended, and no time to prepare for Everton. But how about this to cheer you up – Fulham 4 Sp*rs 0. That’s much better.

Arsenally Yours,

Will