Football 2017-18


Felt so good to be back in front of the tv past midnight watching the game I love so much. And what added to the thrill was that it was an absolute entertainer with 7 goals. A good mix of awful defending, classy finishes and set plays.

Looking forward to grind out the first premier league weekend on the couch. Lacazette was fantastic to watch in the first game. He is a class apart with clarity and purpose in distribution, defensive work apart from being deadly in the box. It’s only a matter of time should the Arsenal team grow up to his quality, then they are an unstoppable force going forward. Of course the backline was in absolute tatters. Xhaka was a total disappointment last night. He was personally responsible for atleast two goals – one for each team. But Leicester played with the freedom we saw from them in the title winning run. Vardy is bang on the money. Gray and ‘nacho on the bench is very formidable to come on. Cech had a howler of a game. He was very fortunate to survive the scares last night.

Overall this builds up to a fantastic footballing atmosphere. Arsenal fans riding through all the emotions that they go through in a season in a miniscule 97 minutes last night! Football – c’est la vie!

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‘Tis April – The Business end of the Premier League – CHELSEA (1)


Usually when we reach the fag end of a season, the Top 4 that is always at the tip of our tongues – Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool (Man City). Well this was not the season where the top 4 were at their supreme best. Stumbles have decided the pecking order, rather than remarkable team form.

The defending champs, Chelsea, started the season with a lot of promise; only to wither mid season due to internal issues and questionable player performances.

Manchester United were driven forward more with the grit and determination of SAF and his troops without ever reaching their peak. Untimely injuries, off the pace legends and lack of quality replacements in the centre of the park have kept them subdued.

Arsene’s Arsenal are a side that is ever improving, but their innate qualities of losing ground when least expected, and the manager’s stubbornness to deviate even 1o from his principles has seen them also staring down another RUNNERS UP season.

2 managers, 2 different outcomes, Liverpool, has shown a lot of fight to rise from the dead after almost battling relegation mid season.

The noisy neighbours, Manchester City, ably lead by Mancini [I say ably, cause he no doubt has the toughest managerial job], are on course to achieve their top4 goal. What happens next, we shall soon see.

Let’s start off with defending champs, Chelsea

Rewind..

  • First 5 games: Beats West Brom and Wigan 6-0 and trumps Blackpool 4-0 – The champs get off to a flyer
  • 8/8: Loses first silverware [Community Shield 1-3 Manchester United]
  • 9/22: Knocked out of Carling Cup [3-4 Newcastle United]
  • 11/11: Departure of Assistant Coach Ray Wilkins marked the downcurve of the Blues progress in the league.
  • Barren run: 11/7 to 12/27 – Chelsea’s form read P 8 W 0 D 4 L 4  – saw them drop out of pole position.
  • January: Roman gets into the act. 2 massive signings – David Luiz £21.3mand Fernando Torres£50m
  • 2/19: Loses to Everton in FA Cup 1-1 [penalties]
  • Feb/Mar: P 6 W 4 D 1 L 1. Resurgence. Ancelotti and Luiz bag the Barclay awards.

Carlo's second this season and Luiz' first.

Road ahead..


Team News

  • 8 games in the month of April, with 3 in the first ten days, a fit squad will be key considering Chelsea have only European glory to chase and having to win all games in the league to exert any pressure on the top 2.
  • Yossi Benayoun‘s return to footballing action last week [20 min, Israel] means he is one more weapon for Chelsea to wield and none other than Torres will be looking forward more.

Round 1

(A) Brittannia Stadium: Following Manchester United’s early kick off at Upton Park, the Blues will battle it out against the Potters (1930 IST ESPN). Any point taken there will be a struggle and well worth it.  I go for a 1-2 with Torres to score the winner. [I see Torres returning to his old self this month – the scene is set for him.]

Next post will be on table toppers and the very likely title winners  – MUFC.

Arsenal 2 – 1 Barcelona


Highlights available here for download

Download HD torrent here

When playing the best team in the world, the opposition has to get the elements right:

  • Tactically well prepared
  • Best squad available to execute the plan
  • The entire squad to have a very good day at the office
  • Good fortune: Eg: injury ridden opposition, few refereeing decisions; world’s best player to take a day off.

Apart from the single goal conceded due to a defensive lapse of concentration, Arsenal were well worthy of the result.

Teams

There were no elements of surprise in the playing XI with Puyol out injured and Sagna suspended. Both teams went out to play their natural game with their usual formations. Return of Nasri from injury was Wenger’s boost.

First 45

With a backing of a vociferous home crowd, Arsenal started the game with a wonderful tempo, bossing possession and giving a piece of their own football to the best passing team. With hardly 6 min into the game, a late but intentional tackle from behind on Messi, saw Alex Song getting into the book, which in the circumstances was very harsh. This didn’t seem to hamper his game much, as he continued to be involved in a series of small fouls thereafter [4-5] and each time he fouled, the crowd waited with baited breath, hoping the dreaded second yellow wouldn’t pop out.

A couple of free flowing passes in the final third saw some lovely link up between Cesc, RvP and Theo. Nasri seemed to take a bit of time to get into the game, not willing to stretch his hamstrings. This lead to a lot of space opening up for Alves to run behind  Nasri and every movement forward through acres of green pitch on the right, threatened to punish Arsenal.

Twice Villa – Messi duo coupled to beat Arsenal’s high line with through balls, whilst Messi missed his opportunity, Villa didn’t and the score read 0-1. Though in this case, Clichy was culpable for losing shape and playing Villa on. As the half grew on, the possession stats quickly reversed, with Barca homing into easy possession as always and threatening to breach Arsenal’s high line.

At the other end, RvP had a couple of good opportunities to test Valdes, one stinging the keeper, the other abysmally wide, after being sent thru with some lovely quick short passing. When such opportunities pop up we expect, RvP to convert and it seemed like it might come to haunt them.

Second 45’+2

Barcelona resumed services in the second half, but Arsenal looked keener to make an impression and the impressive defensive work by Koscielny to thwart off threats was remarkable. The lad played with a lot of confidence and authority, and seemed to be marshalling the line very well. Jack Wilshere was getting some nifty footwork going in the middle of the park, and was soon finding himself speeding from box to box with an intent to deliver. One such beautiful run, sent RvP through but again he failed to test the keeper. In another he dribbled past 3 players, played a 1-2 with RvP and was denied a goal scoring opportunity by a desperately diving Abidal.

Barcelona were surprisingly getting stifled in midfield with the gritty work by Cesc and Jack working up Xavi and Iniesta. So Pep swapped David Villa for Keita to address some defending. Walcott was hardly given any space to rip down the channel today, so Bendtner came on. Arsene expressed his intent replacing Arshavin for the booked Song. Nasri moved in central, leaving the left wing for the Russian. The Arsenal full backs were making more open runs on the break whenever possible and one such beautiful reverse pass from Clichy, released RvP into the box, who scored a lovely goal from a tight angle between the keeper and his near post.

The impact of the goal and the sudden change in tempo was evident. The Arsenal players had an extra step in their attack, were making more positive runs and soon caught Barcelona on the break where a superb cross into the box was curled in from 15 yards by Arshavin beating the keeper and two defenders. The quality of the strike deserves due credit, for a player who had just come on and made the most meaningful contribution.

Barcelona came close to an equalizer in the dying moments of the game when a soft back pass header from Arshavin almost landed Szcesny in a bit of bother but Arsenal managed to hold on to mark a remarkable comeback.

Final Verdict

  • Arsenal have improved as a unit. Did not let their shoulders drop after conceding. Were defensively very impressive though one lapse cost them an away goal.
  • Koscielny, Wilshere were standout performers for Arsenal.
  • Messi uncharacteristically missed 2 bread n butter chances on goal, and was ruled offside for the one he did net.
  • Will 2-1 help them withstand the barrage at Nou Camp.. we will have to wait and see.
  • It was an eye soothing 1.5 hrs of football and that is why we follow this beautiful game.

The month of January and all of its Glory


I look forward to January as I get myself the luxury of a wildcard to revamp my struggling fantasy team. While I sit at my desk, rack my head and ring in the changes, weeks – months of planning and strategic transfer bids are made in the Barclays Premier League as teams try to get themselves out of a hole, players get loaned out for play time, some try to do something which could potentially make or break their career while others try to pull of the wonderful last minute deals.

Ever since the introduction of the mid season transfer window in 2003, teams were initially circumspect on the spending and reluctant to tweak their sides, but in recent years we have seen the window getting blown off with some huge transfer currency.

This January a total of £223.47M has been burnt up on permanent deals [excluding the add-on deals]; the highest ever in the history with the top 3 chart busters

  1. Fernando Torres – £50m to Chelsea
  2. Andy Caroll – £35m to Liverpool
  3. David Luiz – £21.3m to Chelsea

Last 5 Windows



Chelsea

October marked a completer U turn to the Blues in the title race. They stuttered, stumbled, fell off the perch in the face of some poor form, untimely sacking of Carlo’s staff; lack of depth in the squad exposed when a couple of injuries and suspensions wrecked havoc. Things got so bad that even Carlo’s future ran the business for the tabloids. Reinforcement was due, Roman obliged.

  • David Luiz £21.3m
    • Relatively unknown to many, this young Brazilian started his career as an attacking midfielder, but now finds his zone in central defence, and can play full back too. A wonderful personality on and off the pitch, he had a wonderful 09’-10’ season with Benfica.
    • His hefty buyout clause meant only the big players stood a chance, with Roman beating the Sheikh to him.
    • Verdict: Excellent buy, could be the ideal player to be a part of rebuilding the side.
  • Fernando Torres £50m
    • He needs no introduction. A proven Club record, a natural all round goal scorer, on the back of a World Cup Victory, his injury streak the only real concern. But to judge his goal scoring capability based on liverpool’s last two seasons would be criminal.
    • Considering the availability of service in the squad, Torres and Drogba are forwards any fantasy manager would play day in day out and to see this happen live on the pitch is a dream every Blues fan will realize come this Sunday. [I really hope Carlo wont bench him.]
    • I have no words of adulation for this fellow, on a personal note, I consider him the best forward in the entire Premier League; he deserves to be playing top football and in a way he did speak out his heart.

Liverpool

Yes Rafa screwed them over when he left in the summer with a dodgy squad for Roy Hodgson to handle. The team never really got to terms with the manager of the season and now we have King Kenny creating something that was not there in the first half this season = TEAM CHEMISTRY. John Henry made promises when he took over the mantle at Anfield, that he would put pool back on the map. Well 6 months down, it seemed like whatever little remaining was also disappearing fast. His splashing of the money gained from the Torres Mega bonanza is POSITIVE.

  • Andy Caroll £35m
    • He is a young promising kid, making waves at NUFC, recently wore the England shirt, but does he deserve to be the biggest British transfer ever at £35m.. IMO, NO!
    • As outrageous as his eventual price was, his claims of not being wanted being refuted by Alan Pardew, is a load of bollocks– after all he is the one who handed in the transfer request.
    • To be wearing the number 9 shirt, to be filling in or rather continue where Torres left won’t be too hard, since Torres has been terrible this season while Caroll is having his best!
  • Luis Suarez £22.7m
    • The cannibal, the cheat, call him what you may, atleast now we get to see some hands on action right here in the Barclays.
    • In the wake of Babel’s exit, the Uruguayan probably was in the scheme of things to pair with Torres, but Kenny has gotta get the Andy – Lou partnership going instead.
    • With Caroll still a few weeks away, we will get a good show of him in the coming weeks.

Manchester City

When you already have a squad worth over £300m, you wonder if there is any more toys left in the shop to buy. The Arab has a lot of expensive toys and he has added one more to it.

  • Edin Dzeko £27m
    • Tevez has been doing a lot of work, captaining the side, scoring all the goals, assisting, inspiring, cribbing about home, threatening to quit, so he could use some help.
    • Dzeko has been already impressive with the couple of games he played, adds spine to a team that is looking to make a mark this season.

Manchester United made the Andres Lindegaard signing official £3.5m, while Arsenal did nothing and yet is cribbing about others who did!

Here is a summary of the permanent signings.


“We have the experience to go the distance” – Park Ji Sung


The consistency of the Korean captain to bounce back every time he goes through a bad patch, to turn up for the team when it really matters, albeit through a fortuitous deflection, yet adapting to create something out of nothing, eventually decided this richly touted fixture [though united should have sealed the game off with a couple or more].

Arsenal came to Old Trafford on the back of a season where consistency has been more away rather than at home and Arsene Wenger said one thing clearly. “We are here to win!”

Squads

  • Fergie decided to opt for a 4-5-1 | 4-3-3 formation with Rooney as the lone striker packing the midfield with 5. [Scholes being unfit dint figure]To drop a player who has just scored 5 goals in his last game beats logic, but the gaffer has won 34 for a reason J
  • Wenger ‘s surprise card was the man between the sticks, Szczesny, ok the dude Is Polish, and sorry I need time to actually figure out how to spell|pronounce his name ;-). It did baffle me why he did not start Robin Van Persie, and Rosicky chosen ahead of Theo to start.

0-45’

Cautious start by both teams, with midfielders rarely willing to move into more attacking positions fearing a compromise on the counter.  United were invited to have a go at the debutant as and when the opportunity rose. Barring a suspect clearance with his feet, the Polish was fairly comfortable until a half cleared Fletcher cross fell to the inform PortugeseNani who whizzed a half volley inches outside of the far post.

As the half grew on, the visitors kept piling up number of teeny weeny fouls here and there. [SAF did make an effort to let everyone know prematch the gooners are in no way the softies that Arsene claims them to be]

Eventually United persistence lead to a goal when for the first time in the game, Nani got the better of Clichy (or almost did) but unfortunately for the Frenchman, his block deflected Nani’s attempt on goal to Park who was in the right area, but lunging back to loup it past a hapless keeper in to the top corner (41’)

 

46’-90’ [+4]

With the visitors trailing the desire to attack United was more evident, and that suited the free flow move of Arsenal. However United were happy to threaten each time on the counter and a lot of the quick balls were directed to Nani who created himself a brilliant opportunity after winning the ball from Clichy, only to lob it over the crossbar.

Rooney’s frustration was evident and it was surprising he dint get himself into the book but his attempted lob over the keeper is a sign of the things to come. A controversial handball gave a penalty which united did not deserve and rightly so, Wayne smashed it skyward!

Anderson continued his good form coming into this game and almost scored his second in successive games from a through ball from Wayne, but the keeper had a moment of brilliance to smother the chance.

Wenger tried to change things around through Cesc, RvP and Theo, but despite all the good ball possession, Arsenal were not allowed a sniff at United‘s goal. Vidic leading from the front was in full control of the entire game, hardly troubled by the presence of the Moroccan.

One or two inflammatory moments involving Nani, Fletcher, Rosicky and Wilshere were well handled by Howard Webb who had a decent game.

Players

  • Wojcieh Szczesny: is promising, but Arsenal need more than promising talent for silverware.
  • Samir Nasri: disappointed as much was expected of him to create. Couldn’t penetrate a solid midfield.
  • Koscielny|Squillaci: Answered critics with a solid performance.
  • Chamakh: will learn from the game. Vidic worked him up and he got himself booked.
  • Wayne Rooney: left frustrated with himself or god knows what at times, missed a sitter of a penalty, but plenty of positives nonetheless.
  • Nani: He is just turning it a notch up game after game after game.
  • Vidic: the crux of the defence. A very good day at the office for the cap’n.
  • Park: the lone goal scorer, his services as always, 100%. [my MOTM]

Inference

  • Arsenal came to make a statement, Wenger before the game: “We are here to win”; after: “The pitch was really bad”
  • United went about their job just as Fergie wanted, but he will surely grill them for the carelessness in front of goal.
  • Was no way a title decider, but an eye opener for Arsenal as they ponder, “ How is this year any different”.

Manchester United Vs Arsenal Preview Dec 13


Round 1

EPL Standings [up to Game Week 16]

Games played Won Drawn Lost Goal Difference Points
Arsenal 16 10 2 4 16 32
Manchester United 15 8 7 0 19 31
Chelsea 16 9 3 4 19 30
Manchester City 16 8 5 3 9 29

One look at the top 4 of the table, and we realize this Match should be a hi-flyer,  a battle between the current top two teams in the Premier League, on paper at least. But to state this match could have massive implications in the title race would be immature.

With Chelsea dropping points and Manchester United not playing last weekend, Arsenal was able to move to Pole position for the first time this season and they will need to be at their best to hold on away at Old Trafford on Monday night.

 

Manchester United

MUFC

  • Form guide: WWDDWW. Despite being knocked out of the League Cup by the Londoners, United continue their unbeaten streak in the Premier League.
  • Having a mixed week of emotions following contrasting fixtures last fortnight. The 7-1 carnage of Blackburn Rovers, even though eventually a 5 star Berba show, started ringing alarm bells in the rest of the top teams. United were showing elements of playing the sort of football we are more used to seeing from them.
  • The mid week 4-0 drubbing by West Ham against pretty much a second string United team in the League Cup baffled even Sir Alex Ferguson (J. Evans to be loaned, currently in the rumor mill).
  • United racked up another wonderful game against European counterpart Valencia, but the dearth of finishing in the final third, meant not much to show in the final score line of 1-1.
  • Squad strength: Sir Alex will have the luxury of a fully fit squad bar a doubtful Rio Ferdinand [hamstring]; though chances are high he will play.

Arsenal

AFC

  • Form guide: WWLWWL Arsenal has had a very confident start to the season with an added character of Steel (Phil Neville agrees!) already showing in their performances.
  • The rise of second fiddle players to takeover the injured stars’ slots have made their task easier.
  • More prolific in attack than defence, Arsenal depends mainly on their goal scoring capabilities to take them over the line.  [Expect Arsenal to concede for sure]
  • The silverware drought can beyond doubt be ended by the current squad provided Arsene rallies his troops the right way. [We all know what he can do, hopefully he hasn’t forgotten HOW to finish off].
  • Squad strength: Wenger would prefer to play Djourou [thigh]and Cesc [hamstring]; the former more likely to turn up on the day.

Head to head

Manchester United beat Arsenal in both legs last season 2-1 (H) and 3-1 (A)

Pre-match Banter

  • Patrice Evra: “Arsenal is a training centre. I watch them play and enjoy it but will they win the title? That’s what people remember”
  • Theo Walcott: “We must go to Old Trafford and play with no fear. We must enjoy ourselves and express ourselves. Then, our best performance will come out.”
  • Gael Clichy: “We just want to win and make our fans proud. We have been training hard every day and will show them we are up for this game.”
  • Nemanja Vidic: “Against Arsenal we need to have experienced players on the pitch, especially Rio. I hope he will be fine and be ready because that is a very important game.”


Watch out for

  • Samir Nasri: Undeniably Arsenal’s player of the season, this French lad has seamlessly taken up the responsibility of playmaker in the middle of the park in light of the Spanish artist Cesc Fabregas’ poor fitness. Expect him to have a say.
  • Wayne Rooney: He might not have still scored a goal in open play for so many forsaken hours, but judging his performance in the last 2 games, he is beyond doubt the Danger Man.

My Starting XI and prediction

  • Arsenal: Fabianski | Clichy, Djourou, Squillaci, Sagna | Song | Arshavin, Wilshere, Nasri, Walcott | van Persie [4-1-4-1]
  • Manchester United: Van der Sar | Evra, Vidic, Rio, Rafael | Scholes| Park, Anderson, Nani | Rooney | Berbatov [4-1-3-1-1]
  • 2-1 to United [come on, I am a red devil 😉]