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

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

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