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Arsenal, a club in turmoil

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Lately, you can't look in the papers without seeing something about North Londoners, Arsenal. The problem for them is, the news has not been very good of late. Some might say Arsenal are a club in crisis, and I would have to agree.

We all know about Cesc Fabregas' high profile move back to him first club Barcelona, but to be honest that move was coming and any Arsenal fan who didn't predict it, was frankly, clutching at straws. With the sales of Emmanuel Eboue and Gael Clichy adding to the departure list, it's safe to say there is something not right in the Emirites stadium this summer.

Who is to blame? I don't think its problem with the board, otherwise we would have heard it from some source. Most of the blame has been put on Wenger, which in my opinion, is fair enough. He has been told over and over again where he needs to strengthen his squad, and instead he buys a mediocre right-back from Charlton, a 17 year old wonderkid who although screams potential, is not the finished article. His only other signing was Ivory Coast international Gervinho, who signed from Lille. A good player yes, but the type of player Arsenal need? No.

Perhaps the most worrying thing for Wenger and his staff is the astonishing lack of support from the fans, but can you blame them? Last weekend during their 0-0 draw with Newcastle a chant from crowd could be heard ''Please spend some money''. There was also some abuse for want-away midfielder Samir Nasri, with Arsenal fans letting there feelings towards his lack of loyalty to the club be known. Tonight's game against Udinese is perhaps one of the most important games of Arsenal's season. A two legged affair. Victory could win back the fans, defeat could see more empty seats at the Emirites for games to come.

So with Fabregas gone, Nasri seemingly destined to make a switch to Manchester (the blue side) and the fans getting sick of Wenger's procrastination in the transfer market, it's safe to say Arsenal are not having their best period. Your
move Mr Wenger, your move.

Why have England fallen short in major tournaments?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

At this time of year, the prospects of the national side are firmly on the back-burner of many fans minds, and rightly so, it’s the exciting start of the new season, full of hope and expectation, which carries many fans along until they meet their more familiar friends of despondency and ennui as their team squanders yet another half-time lead, the referee robs them again of 3 points for 4 weeks on the trot etc, etc, etc…

Yet come the end of the season, attention will turn to the national side as they struggle to qualify out of their group and barely make it to the knock-out stages, normally to be dispatched by a far fitter, energetic, enthused and committed side.

Why is this? Why has England not really turned up to a tournament in any meaningful way since 2002? If we look at other countries, the winter break is an obviously identifiable feature that football in this country lacks and would probably benefit from. But the heart of the problem is something deeper.

The effect of European football’s expansion since 2000 to 2 leagues, the Champion’s (ironic since the last true champion’s league was in 1999) and Europa leagues, that sit above the premier league and have turned the season into not one marathon, but something akin to a triathalon that features a marathon.

The result of which is that a large amount of the games in the premiership are being played in front of reduced crowds, by players who are operating at 80-90% peak performance.

If the FA were serious in setting about winning England’s 2nd major international trophy, perhaps they ought to take a leaf out of the governing bodies of other UK sports?

The England cricket team had similar struggles in international tournaments until recently. They failed to qualify out of their group during the world cups of 1999, 2003 and performed abysmally in 2007. Since 2009 though, England have reached the knock-out stages of every tournament they’ve played in, culminating in that 2010 Twenty20 World cup win in Barbados.

How have they achieved this? Well in part the ECB (the game’s governing body) have made ‘Team England’ their top priority. England players are salaried not to their clubs, but to their national team.

This means that the ECB can direct players to rest and ensure that they arrive at tournaments fit, and hungry for international success.

Whilst those looking at football betting tips don’t doubt the current England side’s desire to perform to the best of their abilities, the current set up of English football is not designed around producing the best quality national side, and it’s been showing for a long while now.

Gunners chase Downing

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Arsenal chief Arsene Wenger has apparently today made an astonishing £18 million bid for Aston Villa winger Stewart Downing. Downing has been with a move away from Villa Park after a rather sluggish season from Villa.

Villa have already lost a key player in Ashley Young, and will be keen to hold to Downing. However, such a high bid could tempt them to part with their English born winger. Arsenal have thus far been very quiet in the transfer market, and Arsene Wenger is coming under increasing pressure to make some signings.

However, is Downing the right man for Arsenal? First of all, £18 million is a ridiculous amount to pay for him, that would be more than Man United payed for Ashley Young (a better player), but still less than Liverpool payed for Jordan Henderson if that's any consolation to the Arsenal faithful. Personally I don't think Downing is good enough for Arsenal and if anything, he is not needed

Why a mad summer of transfers has lifted the pressure from Andy Carroll

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

If you have been following the summer of transfer dealings so far, you will know that there is plenty of money changing hands. Some deals are not completed quite yet, but as well as the ones that have gone through, the price tags of some players has surprised many.

There are a few examples. England Under-21 international Jordan Henderson has moved to Liverpool for £20m, Connor Wickham has gone to Sunderland for £12m and England international Ashley Young has completed a £15m move to Manchester United.

This is just three deals for English players and the spending has reached £47m. Quite incredible when you think of it like that isn’t it? Speaking of incredible, it was reported that Stoke City offered £16m to secure the signatures of Birmingham’s Cameron Jerome and Scott Dann.

Where am I going with this I hear you ask. Well, as well as pointing out the amount of money being spent by English clubs this summer, it got me to thinking about another recent expensive transfer.

Football betting pundits will tell you how Andy Carroll moved to Liverpool in January for £35m. This was a lot of money of course, but when put with the transfers going through this summer, it fits quite nicely.

This means that the pressure of being the big money new signing will be lifted somewhat on Carroll in the new season.

Of course he will be expected to perform, but with plenty of other intriguing transfers going through – not least Carroll’s new team-mate Henderson – not all eyes will be on the former Newcastle striker.

Combine this with the fact that the Liverpool crowd took to their new striker straight away last season and it looks good for Carroll to have a very productive first season at Anfield. In fact, let’s go as far to say that it will be the season where he really shows everyone what he can do.

He has all of the attributes to be one of England’s leading strikers and now he has the club, the team-mates, the manager and the atmosphere to succeed.

It is all there for him and with the pressure off slightly following his big-money move, Liverpool could really start to see some reward for their ambitious January signing and one of my many football bets might be for him to hit the 20-goal mark before the season is out.

4 players in demand

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Here is a list of 4 players who I believe are the most in demand in the current transfer market.

1. Samir Nasri - He has been in the tabloids constantly for the past three weeks. Manchester United, Manchester City,Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid are all keen to sign the French midfielders, who showed significant improvement last season. Personally, I think he will leave, but I think Wenger would be an idiot to sell him to any club in the Premier League. It would only make the teams around Arsenal, that much stronger. He only has 1 year left on his contract, and I think Arsene Wenger needs to stop with this nonsense contract policy which has seen him lose several key players in the past.

2. Luka Modric - Speculation surrounding the future of this little Croatian midfielder has died down over the past few days, but I expect it won't be long before the rumours start up again.
Again, Manchester United and Chelsea have been linked with the Tottenham midfielder, who would no doubt love to be playing Champions League football again this season. Will he leave? I doubt it, I can see Tottenham hanging on to him for one more season.

3. Scott Dann - The 6'5 centre-back is very much in demand at the moment, with Stoke, Chelsea and Arsenal all very keen to secure his services. I'm sure that given the choice Dann would prefer to be joining Chelsea or Arsenal, and in my opinion he would be a valuable asset to either club, providing height and muscle at the back, something Arsenal need more than Chelsea.

4. Alexis Sanchez - This is a three way battle between Manchester United, Manchester City and Barcelona. He was apparently close to signing for Barcelona and Man City at one stage, but there is still a chance he will stay at Udinese. I would love to see Sanchez playing in the Premier League, but it would be very, very difficult to resist Barcelona, should they have the funds to afford him.

Where will Neymar end up

Friday, July 1, 2011

As most of you know, Brazilian wonderkid Neymar is currently one of the hottest properties in the World in terms of football. He is currently plying his trade with Santos is the Brazilian league, but several clubs across Europe have signalled their intent to sign the 19 year old.

Apparently, Chelsea are the extremely keen to win Neymar's signature, having had a bid rejected last year and another bid rejected in this summers current transfer market. Neymar has a buy-out clause of £40 million on his contract, and even though Chelsea are thought to have met that clause, Santos remain confident he will not be leaving the club.

"In light of continuous speculation in the national and international press about the future of our player, I feel obliged to communicate the departure of Neymar is non-negotiable.''

Neymar himself has not said much on the case, but I'm sure if Chelsea/Barcelona/Real Madrid came knocking with a lucrative contract offer, he would not refuse. Admittedly I have not seen much of Neymar, apart from when he plays with Brazil. However, when I have seen him play, he does look like a very good prospect. One thing which might work against him, particularly in the Premier League, is a lack of strength. He would certainly have to bulk up to deal with the hustle and bustle of the Premier League.

Summer transfer news

Saturday, June 25, 2011

I know I haven't posted regularly for the past 6 or 7 months, but it's summer time now and with the exams over I hope to post a lot more. What better place to start than with some summer transfer news.

First is the transfer of Ashley Young to Manchester United for a reported £20 million on a 5 year contract. In my opinion, a quality signing. Young has proved himself in the Premier League year after year and he has a real shot of breaking into the England team with several solid performances. £20 million might be a bit steep but United have proved they have money to spend, with Phil Jones reported to have signed and Samir Nasri constantly linked with the Red Devils. He will provide another attacking option, but may lead to the exit of Nani, who is reportedly unsettled at Old Trafford.

Second big transfer story is the transfer of Jordan Henderson from Sunderland to Liverpool. Not really sure what the price was, but I have heard it was between £16-20 million. Now, I thought Andy Carroll for £35 million was a ridiculous price to pay for at best, a Championship striker. I think Liverpool have made a big mistake. Henderson is decent, has potential and all that but they have payed way over the odds. I've seen him play a few times and he just looks like an average Premier League midfielder, and his career would probably have been best served at Sunderland.

No other major signing to report. Few tasty rumours though. Porto striker Falcao is keen to follow his former manager to Chelsea, Arsenal are apparently close to signing three players in Ricardo Alvarez, Chris Samba and Mamadou Sakho. Expect more news and rumours in the days to come.

Hiddink is the man for Chelsea; but is Chelsea the club for Hiddink?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Having seen Carlo Ancelotti being unceremoniously dumped from his role as Chelsea boss, most would have forgiven Turkey manager Guus Hiddink had he run a mile as soon as his name was mentioned in association with the role vacated by the Italian.

But rather than seeing the poisoned chalice the hot seat at Stamford Bridge has become, the Dutchman looks likely to take charge of Chelsea and attempt to do what three world class managers have been unable to do – bring the coveted Champions League trophy back to West London. He is currently the Sports Betting favourite to take over Chelsea.

Having splashed £50 million on Fernando Torres and £21.3 million on Benfica’s David Luiz owner Roman Abramovich has every right to demand the best of his employees, and having seen Jose Mourinho, Luis Felipe Scolari and now Carlo Ancelotti all fail, his sword is always placed against the neck of his managers waiting to go for the kill at the sight of the slightest slip up.

But the Russian had made a rod for his own back, and with the impending appointment of Hiddink, who enjoyed a brief spell as interim manager at Chelsea, likely to mean he is judged by the same criteria as his predecessors; no European glory in the next two seasons and he is out in the cold.

Abramovich’s treatment of Ancelotti was even more brutal than that. Not only was he sacked 12 months after winning the double, but was forced to deal with the news of his departure just hours after he had given a dignified speech where he spoke of the need of both parties taking their time and considering their future together.

There was little consideration from Chelsea as they hung the former AC Milan man out to dry in the full glare of the media spotlight, and with Hiddink looking likely to be the next man to put his reputation on the line, there can be little doubt of the severity of the punishment that awaits him should he “fail”.

Hiddink has the slight advantage of his stock being remarkably high at Chelsea after his spell in charge of the club, and will ride a wave of goodwill during his first few months of the 2011/12 season- he also has the trust of the dressing room, something which Ancelotti reportedly struggled with.

Now Abramovich has a problem on his hands. He had set a precedent with his repeated sacking of managers, and looks to be bringing in a manager adored by players and fans alike. Should Hiddink get the same treatment as Ancelotti then the fans may well find their voice in their opposition of the Russian; something which has so far been muted in the face of his big spending.

This is a dangerous time for Abramovich; he has backed himself into a corner. He must watch his actions over the coming months or face discontent from fans and worse, struggling to find a manager willing to put their reputation at stake.

UEFA Champions League Final - Barcelona v Manchester United

Thursday, May 26, 2011

It has been a highly anticipated game, and now it is only two night away. I am of course talking about the Champions League final. Europe's biggest competition has so far been a very fascinating one and now we are about to reach the climax. Barcelona v Manchester United, who will be victorious.

Manchester United have surprised me this season. At the beginning of the season I thought to myself, how are Man United going to challenge this year. They hadn't really strengthened much, looked very weak in midfield and early on in the season their talisman Wayne Rooney wanted out of Old Trafford. Needless to say my opinion was someway off the truth. They really have been incredible this season. Their defence is second to none, the midfield has performed admirably and the revelation of Javier 'Chicarito' Hernandez along with the class of Rooney has made them an unstoppable force in the Premier League. In the Champions league they have also overcome some tough challenges, most notably the victories over Chelsea in the quarter finals. After beating a mediocre Schalke side in the semi's, they now face Barcelona in the final. Can they win? Of all the teams in Europe, I think Manchester United have the best chance of winning. Van Der Sar, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra and whoever they decide to play on the right side of defence are the most capable of dealing with Barcelona's attacking threat. Meanwhile, with Rooney and Chicarito scoring goals for fun, they are in with a very good shot.

Barcelona on the other hand are shaky in defence. At right back Dani Alves is a very good attacking full back, but as far as defence goes he just isn't up to scratch to me. Pique and Puyol are a solid pair but only a fraction as good as Vidic and Ferdinand. Abidal, should he start, is only recovered from a serious illness and will be a slight liability. The attack, however, is a far different story. Not very tall, but what they lack in strength they make up for with pace and willingness to close down. Villa, Pedro and Iniesta all have the ability to produce something magic. Xavi keeps everything ticking in the centre of midfield. I don't really need to explain the threat posed by Lionel Messi, its nearly as obvious as Dani Alves' dives.

It's going to be an interesting game. Barcelona are favourites to win but Man United are definitely worth a punt at a good price. In my opinion, it can either go two ways. One, Manchester United work their socks off in midfield and somehow manage to stop Messi in his tracks. Two, Barcelona dominate possession and end up walking all over their opposition. Who knows?

Can Liverpool become title contenders

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

After Kenny Dalglish was handed a long-term contract as manager of Liverpool recently, following a successful spell in caretaker charge, discussions began amongst football fans regarding how far he can take the team in the coming years.

Some then suggested they could be title contenders as early as next season. There have been some excellent performances under the Scotsman with new-signing Luiz Suarez showing that life after Fernando Torres can be very positive indeed.

The performances at home to Manchester City and away at Fulham have been a particular highlight and it is the team’s ability to play attractive football and score goals when they are in form that has got people talking.

Steven Gerrard needs to come back into the team too, so you can see why people are predicting good things as the team heads into a new era. The love of Dalglish, the impact of the new-signings, the fact that money will be spent in the summer and the style of football being played have all contributed to people talking up Liverpool.

Are they ready for a title challenge though? Probably not. To go from 6th position and fighting for a Europa League place to competing with Manchester United and Chelsea for the title is quite a big jump.

Perhaps the progression should be less drastic. There is no doubt they are heading in the right direction, but the target for next season should be to bring Champions League football back to Anfield. Then, with that in the bag, they can look towards being the team to beat in England once again.

All of this is positive chat though as far as Liverpool are concerned. Things were looking rather bleak earlier in the campaign and even though the 2010 / 2011 ended with two defeats at the hands of Tottenham and Aston Villa, they can go into the summer months in good spirits.

Dalglish’s movement in the transfer market will of course be crucial to what next season can bring. The men wearing a Liverpool Kit next year will be charged with taking the team forward positively, so it is crucial the former Blackburn boss brings in some quality.

Some more players in the Suarez mould would suit just fine. Then, if he can have Andy Carroll fit for the start of the season that will feel like a new signing too. As will the return of Gerrard.

Beyond that, a handful of new personnel are needed if Liverpool are to be one of the top four teams in the country again. Who knows, if a couple of world-class players are added too, the spirit of Dalglish and the feel good factor could even take them beyond that eventually.

One step at a time though.