Kim Kallstrom: Can the Arsenal loanee be of benefit to the title chasers?

You can’t blame Arsenal fans for feeling just a bit unlucky at times. For almost nine long years they have suffered without winning a trophy of any kind, and just as their hopes of finally finding success are becoming realistic, this happens. To put it lightly, the loan signing of Kim Kallstrom from the Spartak Moscow hasn’t gone down very well, especially when they could have had the young up and coming German midfielder Julian Draxler instead.

So just what was Arsene Wenger thinking of bringing in a 31 year old who’s best days are long gone? To be quite honest, you will struggle to find anyone who knows why, even Spartak’s manager Valery Karpin expressed his surprise when he was told that Arsenal had made an offer for Kallstrom.

But if the Gunners want experience, then he is certainly the man. The Swede made his name with Lyon where he reached the Champions League semi finals just a few years back, and if he can recapture any of his past form, just maybe the Arsenal fans won’t be moaning for too long.

If he can recapture his form of old though is a big question. In the summer of 2012 Lyon were willing to release him for just 3 million euros to Spartak Moscow, and ever since, he has done in truth, very little. In 30 league appearances for the Russian club he has yet to set the world alight, and although he more often than not gets in the starting lineup, he makes absolutely no headlines.

What he does bring however is reliability. He may not be a Mesut Ozil kind of player, but he adds physical strength and solidity to the midfield, and every team needs one of such a player. Attacking wise he doesn’t offer an awful lot of goods. From distance he can strike a ball well, as he showed perfectly in September of last year against Zenit Saint Petersburg in the Russian league, but his statistic of 20 goals in his last 234 club games tells you that he doesn’t pride himself on scoring.

The biggest problem right now isn’t his lack of goalscoring, or actually whatever you want to say about his footballing ability. For at least the next six weeks Kallstrom won’t be able to make his Arsenal debut due to a back strain that he picked up at the mid-season Spartak training camp, and it begs the question: just what were Arsenal doing picking up such a player when they themselves knew he was carrying an injury?

Maybe the fact that Spartak will keep on paying his salary while he’s on the sidelines explains it, but nevertheless it’s certainly a strange move. And just what sort of impact he’ll be able to make when he does eventually get on the pitch is under scrutiny.

If nothing else, he brings stability and toughens up the midfield effectively, and for a team that is very young it’s no bad thing. I myself of course don’t expect that he will have much playing time.

It makes in all truth no difference to Spartak now that he has gone, and he’s the kind of player that without too much trouble you can replace. That’s now, though. Just a few years back at Lyon he really made an impact, so much so that even bigger clubs came sniffing around for him, and his ability with a dead ball drew up resemblances with Lyon’s former fan favourite Juninho Pernambucano.

Kallstorm will most probably be used by Wenger to come on at the latter stages of a close game to shore up everything. And I’m pretty sure that Kallstrom is 100% aware of this fact, but very few players are going to turn down a move to a top European club even if their past days have already been and gone.

Wenger himself though was quoted to having said that if Arsenal would have had just a few more days in the transfer window, they wouldn’t have made a move for the Swede. That kind of comment really doesn’t inspire confidence, and Kallstrom himself can’t have been too happy to see such words even if deep down he knows it himself.

He has barely any time to make Arsenal fans remember him with his loan just being until the end of the season, but if he can help guide the Gunners to their first Premier League title in ten years then no one will be willing to complain about him. It’s already been made certain that he won’t play a major role, but every team needs a player who can help see out a close game, a player who can add some well needed physical strength and solidness.

He has bags of international and Champions League experience that he can pass on to the slightly younger players for sure, and if Arsene knows how and when to use him, this might not turn out to be such a bad deal after all. The emphasis being on might.

 

Written by Shaun Nicolaides

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Arsenal: It should’ve been Kim and another name, Arsène

Position-wise, the deal done by Arsenal is good but also bad. No Draxler? That’s also both a pity and a blessing for us.
It has been revealed. The player we brought in this January transfer window is not 20 year old, raw talent Julian Draxler. We get Kim Källström instead. A player that is eleven years older than Draxler –whose transfer situation is created by the newspaper rather by Arsène Wenger– according to the Professor himself.

While FC Schalke 04 man promises us a great talent, Draxler is not the player we need at the moment. Besides, I’m still with my opinion that Arsenal needs his national side teammate and the player who plays for his club’s local rival, Marco Reus, more than him. However, in the January transfer window where the option is limited and the competition is stiff, the former Lyon man is that good of a deal in my opinion. He, in some ways, will help us cope with the February madness.

Playing the deeper role than number ten but more advanced than the holding midfielder, it is clear that Wenger landed him in order to solve the problem we’re facing in the box-to-box midfielder slot. At the moment we practically only have Tomas Rosicky while Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere are still struggling with their injuries, with the latter hopefully can make it to the Liverpool game.

Källström played his last competitive match almost two months ago, in a narrow win against FK Rostov in Russian Premier League where he only played the last eight minutes of the game. Beyond his golden age and only played 715 minutes in total this season, he certainly needs time to adjust with the English Premier League match fitness.

Let’s say that he’s ready to play in two weeks time. That means the Swedish international will not take part when we face Crystal Palace, Liverpool, and Manchester United. Ideally, the Boss will hand him his debut in the FA Cup against Liverpool. The decision that will allow Rosicky and Wilshere to catch some breath before Bayern München come to town.

My silly mind tells me that the fact that Källström is more left-footed is another reason why Wenger decided to bring him in. Sharing the same point of view with Mesut Özil, Wilshere, Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and both-footed Spanish dazzler Santi Cazorla, Källström will find it easier to blend with the Arsenal attack force.

As crazy as February madness is, he’s not coming to the red side of North London to play for one B-class match. So where is his position in March and beyond?

If Arsenal don’t make it to the next round of both the FA Cup and Champions League, the fixture won’t be so tight that Wenger will need Källström to step in to give Ramsey, Rosicky, and Wilshere some time to rest.

Even if they did advance way further and face another crazy fixture, Källström will find it hard to take part with Ramsey, Rosicky, and Wilshere all fit for the match. The furthest he can go, if Wenger decides to put his trust in him to play in Premier League, is the home match against Swansea City before Arsenal take a flight to München to play the second leg.

It is safe to say that Källström is a panic buy and a real short term solution to the problem Arsenal currently having at the minute. Only time will tell whether this is a good deal or another Wenger flop.

Until the truth is revealed, I choose to put my faith in whatever Wenger does for Arsenal. In Arsène I trust.

One thing still bothers me, though: Why didn’t Wenger add another central defender to the team?

 

Written by Taufiq Nurshiddiq

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Arsenal: The Gunners need Marco more than they need Julian

Julian Draxler – the German Wünderkind who has been heavily speculated to swap shirt from FC Schalke 04’s blue to Arsenal’s red and white – looks likely to prolong his stay at the Gelsenkirchen as Arsène Wenger brought all speculations to a close, as reported by the Metro.

“It looks unlikely that we will sign anyone. We are not close to anything”.

It looks clear that Arsenal won’t be doing business this January. Yet with several days remaining before the transfer window is officially closed, anything can still realistically happen. And as we all know with the Frenchman, anything can happen and has a tendency of (intentionally) misleading the fans when it comes to transfer links.

Often enough Wenger has successfully surprised us by completing the transfers of some virtually unknown young players and making some big name signings on the deadline day. As we start to lose hope, then boom! Wenger makes a miracle happen, and it happened when we least expected it.

When I heard the rumor for the first time, I couldn’t hide my excitement. Draxler is good and he’s still very young. There’s so much room from improvement. No doubt about it. I would love to see him in Arsenal shirt. I really do. But Arsenal doesn’t have the unlimited amount of transfer funds. They can’t just splash big amount of money to get whoever they want.

Let’s say that Arsenal can only do one big-money signing. Rather than Draxler, I prefer to see Marco Reus completing a switch to the Emirates. Yes, Marco Reus of Borussia Dortmund.

As last year’s Premier League campaign closed to its end I wrote an article for an Indonesian website, titled “Mengapa Marco Reus adalah Sosok yang Tepat untuk Akhiri Puasa Gelar Arsenal” or, in English, “Why Marco Reus is the Key to End Arsenal’s Premier League Trophy Drought”.

Marco Reus. Of all the best performers from last season, I picked Reus to be Arsenal’s messiah. The missing piece of Arsenal puzzle. Not Cristiano Ronaldo, not Franck Ribéry, not even the messiah himself; Lionel Messi. I picked Reus because I thought that he fits so well in the way Arsenal play their football. He’s also a humble player who puts the team’s goal over personal achievement. But above all, it’s Arsenal’s and Reus’ tendencies that make him the messiah for Arsenal.

Last season, Arsenal had the tendency to finish the game as a victor if they scored the first goal of the game. Interestingly, in the same time span, more often than not we saw Reus’ name as the game deadlock-breaker.

As I wrote the piece on the 24th of April last year, Arsenal had recorded twenty-six wins and twenty of which was claimed with the Gunners being the first team to score. Wenger’s men suffered eleven losses and in ten of them, their opponents were always the quickest to find the back of the net. It is fair to say that Arsenal didn’t too well on the back foot.

For Reus himself, last season, he scored twenty-one goals in sixteen different games for Dortmund and the Die Mannschaft. In those matches, he broke the deadlock in all but two matches, which could prove to be handy for the Gunners.

Everything’s different now. It really is. Arsenal is no longer that team that plays nervously if they concede first. Reus isn’t enjoying the same season as he did last term. However, if Wenger decided to add Reus to the team he’s currently having, I would still see it as a good move.

Reus is the type of player that can fit well at any big club. His versatility, gifted ability, constant movement, technique, array of finishing options, burgeoning pedigree, Arteta-like perfect hair and great mental strength make him a lovely fit for the North London side.

He, in some ways, can prove to be Arsenal’s messiah.

 

Written by Taufiq Nur Shiddiq

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Personal Feature: Three top players I wish I had seen in their prime

Football has long played a huge part in the lives of many people, and football players have left many memories for those who have witnessed their talents. Memories that can be passed on and kept alive for future generations.

Having been born in 1995, I’d perhaps be considered part of the last generation to have witnessed the greatest players from 2000 onwards, and I would consider myself fortunate enough to be at the age where I am able to pass on some wonderful memories. There’s nothing like football to make you feel old.

Being a kid and growing up learning about football is a truly mesmerising experience. Your eyes open to a world full of professionals who have mastered their craft, transfixed by skill, technique and innate ability combined with the rewards for hard work. Past or present, some footballers have lit up the world more than any player of their generation can dream of. It’s due to the learning of football that I’m writing this.

I have learnt a lot from other people, books, videos, documentaries, and because of that learning I am familiar with some of the greatest players to ever play without ever being alive to see them at their best.

So, as to not digress any further, here are  players that I wish I had seen play

 

3 – PELE

Probably the greatest goalscorer of all the time, the Brazilian scored over 1000 goals for Santos and grabbed 77 goals in his 92 games for his country. Pretty impressive. He is also the only player to ever win the World Cup three times.

During his international career, he helped create Brazil’s synonymy with the beautiful game, taking them to a new level alongside some great teammates. He could dribble at pace, score goals, had skill and a great mind, as proven with his famous ‘runaround move’ around the Uruguayan ‘keeper in the 1970 World Cup.

Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pele was given the nickname “O Rei do Futebol” (the King of Football) and will go down as perhaps the greatest Brazilian footballer ever.

 

2 – EUSEBIO

Alongside Pele, The Black Panther as he was known, took goalscoring to a new level, and the pair were perhaps the Ronaldo and Messi of their time. Two players above everyone else, scoring goals for fun. With so much power and athleticism he became an unstoppable force in Benfica’s quest to dominate Europe, and was a similar feature in Portugal’s National Team too.

After his recent passing, many players who have had the pleasure of facing him spoke fondly. A gentleman in the game, a player who was almost impossible to stop, one of the best ever – many things were said, and all positive. Born in Mozambique, he was signed by Benfica after rejecting a trial from their rivals, Sporting. They missed out on one of the greatest players ever.

He had pace, a powerful shot, strength and many other attributes that propelled him to excellence. Admittedly, I’m not the most knowledgable when it comes to Eusebio, but he’s a player that I’ve enjoyed watching back. If only I could’ve seen him first hand.

 

1 – GARRINCHA

“When he was out there, the pitch was a circus ring, the ball a tamed animal, the match a party invitation. Garrincha nurtured his pet, the ball, and together they created such mischief that people almost died laughing. He jumped over it, it gambolled around him, hid itself away, skipped off and made him run after it. And on the way, his opponents ran into each other.”

Eduardo Galeano, a Uruguayan writer, puts it perfectly. Garrincha played football to entertain; to enjoy himself; for the fun of it. He was not worried about the money, the occassion or the opposition: he would take on any right-back in the world, and beat him. He cared only for football and women.

Give him the ball and he would provide many people with pure joy. While Pele may stand as the greatest Brazilian player ever, Garrincha will always be the most adored. His Botafogo and Brazil team-mate Amarildo, who replaced Pele in the 1962 World Cup after his injury, states that Garrincha is the only player who is loved by every one. Fans of rivals love him like the fans of Botafogo; he belonged to Brazil.

With a turbulent lifestyle and bent legs, Garrincha’s talent was outstanding. However, that turbulent lifestyle ultimately cost him. After retiring from football, he was no longer able to sweat out the alcohol he was drinking and it took its toll, leading to his death. It’s his incredible story that drew my interest in him. Learning of his life and watching old clips of him has been great fun, although it would have been more fun to have seen him live.

Taking on a defender then turning back to take him on again is something not done in today’s era, but done all the time by Garrincha. He was an entertainer, rightly nicknamed Alegria do Povo and undoubtedly a joy to watch. Just a shame I never had the opportunity.

 

Some other names:

Personally speaking, I couldn’t simply pick just 3. That would be far too difficult, but after much deliberation I decided I had to.

However there were some others in the running:
Marco van Basten, a player I fell in love with during Dennis Bergkamp’s testimonial. You could see the class with every touch of the ball, even flicking it over the head of one defender (Steve Bould if I remember correctly) and unleashing a sweet left-foot volley which was saved by Mart Poom.

As an Arsenal fan there are many players I wish I’d have had the pleasure of watching. Liam Brady, Charlie George, Paul Davis and Bob Wilson to name a few, and as a follower of the Brazilian National Team Socrates and Zico spring to mind as well. Puskas is another who has intrigued me. Many great players have graced football pitches over the years, and many have left memories in the minds of fans. Memories to be cherished and passed on.

Divulging into the history of the sport is a pleasure for many young fans, and maybe in 30 years time another teenager will be sitting there wishing they could’ve witnessed the brilliance of Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho or whoever, but one thing’s for certain – players come and go, but great players remain.

Thank you for reading.

 

Written by Ryan Goodenough

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Premier League 2013/14: So far, so very, very entertaining

Liverpool v West Bromwich Albion - Barclays Premier League

The Premier League has always boasted its competitiveness compared to Europe’s other top leagues, although in reality it was only two, sometimes three teams that were really in the title race. So far this season, that has changed quite dramatically.

Here we are in January and the top 6 places are changing on a weekly basis and it’s nigh on impossible at this point to predict in which order the top 7 will be, come the end of the season.

For the most part, Arsenal have set the pace thus far. The sensational capture and influence of Mesut Ozil, coupled with the excellent form of Aaron Ramsey have helped re-establish what looked very unlikely on opening day, Arsenal as genuine title contenders.

On paper, their squad still looks thin, but on the pitch they’ve contended with a long list of injuries, negotiated the Champions League ‘group of death’ and remained consistent. If Arsene Wenger can find a suitable forward and defender in the January transfer window, then the Gunners could end their long trophy drought with a Premier League crown.

Pre-season title favourites Manchester City and Chelsea have both stuttered at times, but are now ominously gathering pace. City’s away form earlier in the campaign was threatening to derail their title challenge, but with that having improved and being so imperious and scoring goals for fun at the Etihad, they are now many people’s pick to be champions.

Fernandinho has slotted in beautifully next to Yaya Toure and Negredo looks an excellent acquisition, alongside the sublime Sergio Aguero seamlessly. Indeed, they have the best squad and arguably the best team that is gelling so well under the guidance of Manuel Pellegrini that, it could well be their title to lose.

Before the start of the season, I felt Chelsea were slight favourites to be champions with the quality and experience in the squad and the Premier League know-how of Jose Mourinho; however, they looked surprisingly fragile at the back and have often lacked fluidity in attack, but are still within touching distance of top spot.

Oscar often made a difference for the Blues early season and Eden Hazard has picked up his form of late, something that has been vital given that their strikers have barely found the back of the net and their best player, Juan Mata, is bizarrely spending most of his season watching from the bench. Mourinho may lack class with some of his post-match interviews, as he deflects attention away from his team, but he has a knack of winning trophies and Chelsea are certainly in the hunt for the title.

Liverpool are in with real chance of getting back into the Champions League this season, aided by the goals of the magnificent Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan was the best player in the league last season, but the stupidity of biting Ivanovic and his reputation probably prevented him being recognised as such. This year, not only has hebeen almost unplayable at times, but he’s also cleaned up his act and been a huge part in Liverpool’s often scintillating attacking play.

Daniel Sturridge has also weighed in with goals, Jordan Henderson has been outstanding and Raheem Sterling is looking a much more mature player. With the experience and quality of Steven Gerrard and the creativity of Coutinho, Liverpool have continued their progression throughout the calendar year of 2013 to put themselves into contention.

Merseyside rivals Everton have been a revelation under arguably the manager of the year so far, Roberto Martinez. The Toffees had a squad primarily set up to be functional, hardworking and difficult to beat. Martinez has taken the handbrake off, allowing players to express themselves more and introduced a more patient build up to their play. Seamus Coleman being played as an attacking right-back has been a masterstroke, as has having the faith and confidence to play Ross Barkley in the key attacking midfield role.

Loan signings Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku have been pivotal in a very impressive season, but the lack of depth to the squad does raise the question whether or not Everton will be able to maintain their top 4 challenge to the business end of the season.

After a sticky start, Newcastle have got going pretty well, influenced by the talented Yohan Cabaye and the goalscoring prowess of Loic Remy. The lack of Europa League football has no doubt helped them and although a European place looks beyond them this season, the Magpies are set for a satisfactory campaign.

Southampton’s start was fantastic, a win and clean sheet away at Anfield was just one of many eye catching performances that lead to Adan Lallana and Jay Rodriguez rightfully gaining international recognition with England. Luke Shaw is continuing to enhance his growing reputation and Dejan Lovren has been stellar at the centre of solid defence that combined with a good passing style, has seen Manager Mauricio Pochettino’s list of admirers grow. The behind the scenes unrest however, does threaten their stability.

After selling Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for £85m, Tottenham spent over £100m on a promising centre-back, 2 central midfielders, 3 attacking midfielders and a striker, but bizarrely ignored their glaring weakness at left-back. Last season I felt that Spurs tactics were essentially to give the ball to Bale and hope he did something, meaning Andre Villas Boas would have to be more imaginative and expressive with his impressive looking squad this term.

Instead, they lacked a fluidity often suffered by teams trying to integrate too many new players at once and with the below par performances came a lack of confidence leading to the 6-0 hammering away to Man City and the 5-0 thrashing at home to Liverpool which ultimately cost Villas Boas his job. His replacement, Tim Sherwood, may not have the tactical prowess of Europe’s top managers, but he has employed a much more attacking style that has Tottenham back in top 4 contention.

Whoever took over as Man Utd manager after Alex Ferguson was always picking up a poisoned chalice, so to speak. They would inevitably either fail to live up to expectation or have success attributed to taking over an already successful team. I, amongst many others, was surprised at David Moyes selection as Ferguson’s successor.

Moyes built a good reputation at Everton, but his teams were very functional and his record was built mostly on finding bargains and over-achieving. Taking over at a club with money to spend and a higher expectation of success is a different challenge; one which only time will tell if Moyes is up to.

Last season, the under-performance of Man City and the goals of Robin Van Persie, particularly up until the festive period, probably masked the deficiencies in the Man Utd squad. Deficiencies that without Ferguson at the helm and big changes to the coaching staff, have become all too prevalent this season.

One positive this season though has been the marked improvement in goalkeeper David De Gea and with players like Van Persie and Rooney in the team, Utd have to be fancied for a top 4 spot. Their real difficulty will come in replacing an ageing defence, especially if there is no Champions League football for a club carrying heavy debts and huge expectations.

Before the start of the season, I fancied Chelsea to just win the title ahead of City. Although City look the team to beat, I have a feeling Chelsea may still edge them out in May.

Whilst the top 2 will probably be what many expected back in the summer, the tightness of the top 7 has been a pleasant surprise in what has been an entertaining season so far.

 

Written by Andy Wales

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Julian Draxler: Should Arsenal pursue him this January?

We’re nearing the fulcrum of the January transfer, and so far it’s been very quiet. With a dearth of quality strikers and defenders available for sale, most clubs are reluctant to enter the market in January.

The short span of this winter transfer window means the competition is stiff, players are more uneasy about moving mid-season, and prices are higher. By the end of it, almost no one sees out the end of January completely happy with what transpired.

In Arsenal’s case, the best case outcome I can foresee would be adding a striker, and a young central defender to make up the numbers. The more pressing issue is definitely up front. Olivier Giroud can’t play 60 games a year, and Nicklas Bendtner isn’t the best backup to ask for.

While he’s not completely incompetent, and has shown promise this season, I’d be much more comfortable with another striker who can complement either Giroud or Bendtner, as well as lead the line by themselves.

Versatility is a must, as we’re affected by injury so often and almost always losing multiple players within a week of each other. The player we bring in has to be able to play two roles comfortably, or at least be able to replace Giroud as the best striker at the club.

He’s not the only solution, but let’s talk about Julian Draxler, the next from the German conveyor belt of mind melting talent. The 20 year old left winger has made a name for himself over the past two years with stellar performances in the Champions League, as well as agitating publicly for a move abroad.

“I have always said English teams are very big clubs and Arsenal is of course one of them. Of course I sometimes speak to Mesut (Ozil) or Per (Mertesacker) about the team, about the club, and they always have good words and they tell me nice things,” Draxler said.

“You never know what happens in the summer but Arsenal is a very, very nice team. They always have very young players, they play attractive football and that’s what I like.”

It’s obvious Draxler has his mind set on a Schalke exit, but he won’t leave cheaply. The latest word on his situation comes from Norwegian journalist, Jan Aage Fjortoft.

According for Fjortoft, Draxler’s contract could spark a similar saga to Luis Suarez’s contract row with Liverpool over the summer. Technically, a bid over his current release clause should legally allow him to leave.

The specified amount, if any, is unconfirmed. either way, is he worth the hefty price tag? I’m not a fan of his willingness to run to the media, but I do know he’s got the potential to be spectacular.

Anybody who can literally pass to himself has got to be worth a punt, no? When you consider the fact that Mesut Ozil’s transfer from Real Madrid was a similar amount, paying that fee again for a younger, less refined player does raise a few eyebrows. However in today’s market, Ozil’s fee can be seen as a steal, when the likes of Edinson Cavani can go for upwards of 50m Euros.

While a left winger might not be what we need on paper, I think Draxler could be the perfect signing either now, or in the summer. His addition means Alex Oxlade Chamberlain can move deeper in midfield – where Arsène eventually see him playing permanently – and gives Lukas Podolski a crack at starting either alongside or instead of Giroud.

He would be the first inside forward to play on the left since Gervinho, and I personally believe he’s got it in him to play up front later in his career. His physique, balance, skill set and general playing style suggest he could eventually lead the line for our club.

Do the pros outweigh the cons of signing Draxler? Yes. Is his price tag exactly bargain-worthy? No. is it justified by his potential? Most certainly.

Overall, it’s down to Arsène Wenger; whether he wants to push for him in January and pay through the nose, or wait for the summer and risk losing him to a team with deeper pockets remains to be seen.

Either way, remember the name: Julian Draxler.

 

Written by Anders Marshall

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Arsenal: Tonight’s London Derby is a Cup final for the Gunners in disguise

The fairy tale start to the season for Arsenal is still well, on. Infact, its quite absurd to call it a “Fairy Tale ” opening. The Gunners have worked very hard to earn that top position status, and if there is any team who deserves the league come end of season, its them.

Albeit, they still have their negative enigmatic traits in them. Despite positives oozing around the Emirates, the same old Arsenal has had its cameo this season.

Games against both Manchester clubs, Everton, to name a few has illustrated the same old Arsenal who tends to shoot itself on the foot.

After scoring against Everton courtesy of Mesut Ozil, had the Gunners held on to that score-line, they would have been 7 points adrift and made tonight’s encounter more of a bragging rights affair.

The aberration score-line at the Ethiad further illustrated a team that dies often before the funeral. They were moments where Arsenal could have equaled the scores or gone ahead, but due to silly and avoidable errors, they were battered by an industrious Manchester City side that is gifted with depth.

The loss at Old Trafford exposed the lack of mental strength, often. The manager stated after the game that he felt his side didn’t have that mentality to win at Old Trafford. Title contenders in the BPL should be  installed with belief to grind out results in any stadium- and he knows that.

In contrast, the performances against the likes of Southampton, Liverpool, Crystal Palace and Cardiff showed the resilience disposed in this squad and capability to get results even when they are second-best.

Tonight, however, all this would be history. With the home crowd cheering on and the players well rested, Arsene’s boys should be fighting to win and nothing else.

Losing at home to Chelsea would be disastrous. Not alone does it dampens their title aspirations, but Wenger risks losing a Champions league berth and ending the season trophyless.

Monday night, Arsenal’s defense would come under scrutiny by an attacking Chelsea outfit. It’s quite unfortunate to lose Koscielny to injury, but saying Vermaelen can’t fill the void is false; he’s a top player with experience, and his introduction at the Ethiad showed he’s still capable and fit.

Wilshere is another key player who is set to miss the London derby due to an ignorant middle finger sign at the Ethiad. In as much as I disapprove such gesture from Wilshere, I find it ludicrous that the FA would hand a two game ban for an incident that wasn’t in anyway damaging. The diminutive midfielder missing the game however is a chance for other top players in the squad to get a run in. Tomas Rosicky has continued to show his brilliance when picked, his pace, vision and sublime passes would be useful.

Welsh Jesus Aaron Ramsey is expected to be influential in this clash. The midfielder who has had a scintillating start to the season, on his day, would cause problems for Jose Mourinho’s men.

There has been rumors about Arsenal finding another striker in the January transfer market. Olivier Giroud has not been bad. Infact, he’s one of the orchestrators of most of Arsenal’s slick attacking flair- his layoffs, ability to holdup play are almost to perfection. He’s going to be the target man for Arsenal against a well drilled Chelsea defense without a shadow of doubt.

The significance of this game know no bounds. A win for Arsenal would be comforting and certainly refresh that title contenders mentality, anything less would erupt a volcano amongst the faithful and club itself. I hope not.

 

Written by Femi Hilekaan

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Manchester City vs Arsenal: Match Preview

Arsenal’s title credentials will be tested to the limit when they travel to Manchester City on Saturday in the midday kick-off. Arsene Wenger’s men will face a City side unbeaten at home in the League and brimming with confidence after coming from 2-0 down to defeat Bayern Munich 3-2 at the Allianz Arena.

The defending champions went 2-0 up within the first quarter of an hour, until David Silva, Alex Kolarov and James Milner came up with the goals Pellegrini required to be victorious over Pep Guardiola for the VERY FIRST TIME in his managerial career.

City have been in dominant form especially at home in the League, winning all seven fixtures and scoring 27 goals in that stretch. They have only let in 2; one of them a fantastic free kick by Wayne Rooney in the 4-1 clobbering of Manchester United. Recently, it was Spurs that collected a sound thrashing. Kun Aguero, Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo all had their names on the score sheet in what still remains one of the most one-sided matches I have ever seen.

Arsenal task has been made the more difficult judging by their last performance in the Champions league where they were beaten in Naples. City are yet to be prevented from scoring in 60-odd home games and it will be difficult to see how Per and Kos stop the Kun-Negredo combo from netting at least one goal.

The North Londoners sit five points clear of the chasing park and are aware that there is no room for lapses in concentration. With the big London derby coming up next, anything less than a draw could be detrimental to the lingering hopes of finally ending their EPL title drought.

PROBABLE LINE-UPS

MANCHESTER CITY

Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Toure, Silva, Nasri, Aguero, Negredo.

Possibly the strongest starting eleven Manuel can put out with injuries to Richards (wouldn’t have started ahead of Zabaleta anyway) and Gael Clichy. It is not the Chilean’s fault that Dzeko is rotting away on the subs bench. ALVARO NEGREDO has been possibly the best purchase made by City in the last three years. The Spanish attacker has proved his worth in four months and cannot be benched on current form.

We all know who the chief supplier of goals is and he has returned to the set-up after an injury ravaged start to the season. David Silva is surely assured of a starting place ahead of anyone in the playmaker slot.

Samir Nasri has done very well this season and should start against his former club and Sergio Aguero must lead the line as usual. Vincent Kompany was swept aside effortlessly by PABLO DANIEL OSVALDO in last weekend’s 1-1 draw at St Mary’s, but he is still the Leader of the team and strongman of the defence.

He should get the nod alongside the vocal Demichelis. Both should be comfortable against Olivier Giroud who is goal shy away from London. The Fernandinho-Toure midfield is as assured as any other in World football and should show that on Saturday. The presence of Fernandinho has allowed Gnegnery to maraud further up field and cause some damage.

It has yielded the right results for the recently crowned BBC AFRICAN FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR and his club. He returns after sitting out the Bayern victory through suspension. Joe hart remains an able deputy to Roman shot-stopper, Costel Pantilimon. Role reversal.

 

ARSENAL

Szczesny, Jenkinson, Kos, Per, Gibbs, Arteta, Flamini/Wilshere, Ozil, Ramsey, Cazorla, Giroud.

Pretty much the same as we have seen from Arsenal all season. Aaron Ramsey is set to start after being rested in midweek as well as the imminent return of Jack Wilshere whose sore ankle must have healed in time to face the blue army. Lukas Podolski is set to return to the team after almost four months on the sidelines, but Bacary Sagna is still out with a hamstring injury.

Mesut Ozil is set to battle it out with David Silva in a tale of two excellent lefties with some of the most unique passing skills ever witnessed/seen. Silva is no slouch and Ozil is different class. Aaron Ramsey can add to his 13 goals this season on Saturday which will further push his case up the ladder for him to be crowned PFA PLAYER OF THE YEAR cum May ’14.

On current form, he is among the best in the World in his position-which is currently unknown as he is deployed to several in every match. Mikel Arteta, who has assumed full responsibilities as team captain, since the ouster of club captain, Thomas Vermaelen, from the team, is accumulating too many red cards this season. Nevertheless, he is one of the most effective players in the League can be relied upon to give the midfield the needed balance.

Wojciech Szczesny has been very dependable this season but almost brought back memories of his over confident self in the first half of the game in Naples. Luckily for him and Arsenal, the mistake amounted to nothing.

With Pantilimon between the sticks for City, they have kept a few clean sheets along the way. Joe Hart might be facing deja vu. Roy Hodgson might be forced to look elsewhere for a replacement to the England first choice goalkeeping jersey if this current situation does not change soon.

 

CONCLUSION

A game that pitches two of the best sides in Europe against each other. It is the viewers’ dream to anticipate and finally watch some of the greatest footballers in the world slug it out for bragging rights. IT could be nine points-advantage Arsenal or three points-gap trimmed by City at the end of proceedings.

What is required of us is to wait as events unfold. Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs and Everton will keep a close watch on this game as it has a bearing on their current positions in the League.

As for Manchester United, this is beyond their reach at the moment. Focus should be on how to gather enough points before the new year. Who knows? Arsenal might be the first team to inflict on City, its first home loss. In football, nothing is certain.

 

Written by Ohireime Eboreime

Follow Ohis on Twitter @ohiskaka1990

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Napoli vs Arsenal: Match Preview

Recently, the warriors of Naples have fought many battles and lost the important ones. The 3-0 spanking by Juventus and the 3-1 loss at the Signal Iduna are results that have not gone down well with the Sky Blue army. Matchday six of the UCL is the biggest game of the season for Rafa Benitez and his men.

In the lead up to the game, problems have arose between the gaffer and team captain, Paolo Cannavaro’s agent, with the latter accusing the former of ignoring his client and declaring him unsuitable for his team.

In fairness, the younger brother of former Azzurri skipper, Fabio, has done little to prove he merits a place in the starting eleven. In the away fixture v Roma earlier in the season, he was sent off for one of daftest challenges you’ll ever see. An action which effectively ensured that the sky blues left the capital without a point.

Cannavaro is set to depart the club in the January transfer window since he has found opportunities hard to come by. Miguel Britos and Federico Fernandez are doing a great job alongside Raul Albiol and only injury/suspension can deny them a place in the starting line-up

Visitors, Arsenal are the early pacesetters in the English Premier League. The gunners have lost only two games in domestic action this term and lead the chasing pack by five points. They were six minutes + stoppage time away from extending the advantage to seven, only for Barcelona loanee, Gerard Deulofeu to pop up and score a beauty for Everton in the 84th minute to level matters.

Arsene Wenger is aware of the task at hand and is confident that his wards will qualify. It will be an astonishment of epic proportions if Napoli cruise past Arsenal with the much improved Per-Kos partnership present at the San Paolo.

Benitez knows what is required to qualify for the next round. Although they have made it difficult for themselves, they have one last chance to put things right in front of their fans and on their turf. Irrespective of the opposition, the Paolo is a scary place to visit and the Partenopei fans will make life unbearable for Arsenal from the stands.

The burden rests firmly on the shoulders of Gonzalo ‘Pipita Higuain- the Argentine attacker is 26 today and will want to get one over a team he almost joined in the summer before De Laurentiis stepped in. It would certainly be one of the best birthday presents ever if he scores the goals required to enable Napoli qualify for the Round of 16. Something previous South Americans like El Diego and Cavani would have happily done.

Pipita’s job is tougher because Marek Hamsik is injured. The Slovakian playmaker will not take part in the Club’s most important game yet and that is a big blow. Another ex-Real Madrid player, Jose Callejon has been in good form this season. His goals and work rate deserve commendation. Napoli have a good chance to qualify if Jose and Pipita raise their game.

For Arsene Wenger and Arsenal, it has been a jolly good ride so far. The first tough game in the December run-in ended in a draw on Sunday and the same result will ensure that they don’t only qualify, but top the group as well. Giving the excellent form they currently are, there’s nothing to be afraid of.

The mission is simple: don’t concede at all. Even if you do, let it not be more than three and if you manage to let in three, score at least one. Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil have been scoring the goals of late and will look to continue in that fashion.

Wojciech Szczesny now seems assured in goal and that has made Wenger’s decision to bring in Viviano, laughable. The Pole has to remain solid and impenetrable to stop the Callejon-Pandev-Insigne-PIPITA quartet.

 

PREDICTED LINE-UPS

NAPOLI

Pepe Reina, Maggio, Fernandez, Albiol, Reveillere, Dzemaili, Inler, Pandev, Insigne, Callejon, HIGUAIN.

Pretty much the expected team selection from Rafa. Hamsik aside, everyone walks straight into the starting 11 except that Pandev is often the strike option if/when Pipita and co fail to shine. The Macedonian captain has a lot to offer when he is called upon.

Raul Albiol and whoever partners him in defence must be watchful of the exceptional skills set of Ozil-Ramsey-Giroud-and Santiago Cazorla. Well, Gokhan Inler must play his part too.

 

ARSENAL

Szczesny, Jenkinson, Kos, Per, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Ozil, Roiscky, Walcott, Giroud/Bendtner.

There’s this strange feeling that Wenger might like some width tomorrow, hence the inclusion of Walcott in the first eleven. Tomas Roiscky is a genius when fit and ready and we all know the numbers Aaron has posted this season. Any position you ask him to play, he does unbelievable things.

In fact, due to his leading role this season, some have boldly opined that he is better than the peerless ARTURO VIDAL. Ozil has been very impressive for the Gunners with timely goals and assists since he came from Spain. The Germany playmaker extraordinaire is probably the best attacking midfielder in the Premier League.

Arsene might want to give Nicklas a chance to prove himself yet again after that rare goal v Hull last week. Wilshere will be required to rest his ankle in the aftermath of what happened on Sunday and Flamini should miss out through injury.

 

Conclusion

The San Paolo will be rocking on Wednesday night and everyone is anticipating a spectacular match between two great clubs slugging it out for a place in the last 16 of the UCL. Victory for Napoli might not be enough which is bizarre because it would take them to 12 points.

If Dortmund win at the Velodrome and Arsenal avoid being thrashed 3-0, then both Klopp and Wenger will be delighted to sail through what was dubbed the ‘GROUP OF DEATH’ when the draws came through. If Napoli achieve the impossible, De Laurentiis might just open his chequebook for reinforcements to be brought in to bolster the ever improving squad.

It is first in England v third in Italy. If the gunners were in Serie A, they would have been third behind Roma and Juventus points wise and if Napoli had been a premier league club this campaign, they would have been 2nd behind Arsenal. Tight game in prospect as both teams are doing quite well domestically.

Stalwarts like Higuain and Ozil have one or two points to prove on Wednesday night. How weird it will be for both players who as early as May, were playing together for one club. We await showtime.

 

Written by Ohireime Eboreime

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Arsenal: The Gunners keep marching on

After the shaky display at Old Trafford, Southampton was tipped by rivals to get something tangible out of their visit to North London. And surely why wouldn’t you? A team sitting third and coming into this game with also one of the best defenses in the league shouldn’t be written them off.

With the league table looking similar to the Snake and Ladder type of game, for Arsenal the equation was simple; win and extend the gap at the top.

The fifteen minutes postponement before kickoff in no way helped the anxious faithful- rivals wanted to see Arsenal play again, and had they slumped at home, they would have concluded they are not title contenders.

Southampton who are accustomed to pressing high up the pitch, had to respect the vibrant passing game of the home side and defend, or they risked getting exposed.

Jack Wilshere’s effort that slammed the woodwork shortly after kickoff illustrated the Gooner’s blood thirst for all 3 points.

They missed again and again, and again, and just when you thought another “again” was coming into the picture, Soton’s goalkeeper Boruc made a mess of himself to allow Giroud to score one of the easiest goal of his footbaling career – Arsenal were ahead.

Despite the avoidable blow to his side, Mauricio Pochettino rather calm nature was in full display again. Surely, he wouldn’t give credit to Boruc for conceding such a cheap goal- but he was aware of the uphill task to beat an in-form Arsenal.

Still, the visitors didn’t lose composure- they in fact had their moments in the first proceedings, and had Nathaniel Clyne avoided too many touches, combined with luck, a positive first half outcome was always inevitable.

With 20 minutes left in the second half, and the Gooners yet to extend their lead; Southampton grew more believe to securing a point, while the old Arsenal script was reminiscent amongst the Arsenal faithful and Arsene Wenger. Yes, the old Arsenal could have slumped to a draw or probably lose, so seeing Arsene pacing and worried in the touch-line was typical.

But they showed maturity to protect their lead and determined to extend it; however, Jose Fonte shirt pull on Merteshacker resulted in a penalty for Wenger’s men, Giroud made no mistake for a brace – 2-0 Arsenal it ended.

Afterwards, Wenger made a sarcastic reply when asked if he cautioned Szczesny to avoid a similar Boruc-error, he said “I told him to kick it to me on the bench.”

They barely played the superb Arsenal way in the next game, in fact allowed Soton into the game in the second half, but still resolute in gaining all three points somehow- title contenders I must remark.

 

Written by Femi Hilekaan

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