UCL Final: Reaction


It was supposed to be Liverpool’s big night and given the way they’d stormed through to this year’s final, brushing aside everybody in their path there won’t have been many neutrals betting against the Merseyside club lifting their 6th European Cup.  Unfortunately for those who had made the long, difficult and costly trip to Kiev that wasn’t to be the case.

Despite an encouraging start Liverpool were rocked by the loss of Mohamed Salah after just half an hour.  The Egyptian was forced to leave the field of play with a suspected dislocated shoulder having been involved in a grapple with Sergio Ramos.  Whilst many felt the Real Madrid captain’s actions were pre-meditated I’m not convinced his intention was to eliminate Salah from the game altogether.

Sergio Ramos is in many ways the perfect villain for numerous reasons and in my view that’s what fuels the narrative that he did in fact injure his opponent purposely.  His desire to win often see’s him operating on the peripheries of fair play but it’s that very edge that’s seen him win 4 UEFA Champions leagues, a World Cup, 2 European Championships and 4 La Liga titles during his illustrious career.

Losing a player of Salah’s ability would de-stabilize even the most complete of teams but the injury he sustained that evening highlighted some of the cracks his outstanding individual performances have papered over throughout the season.

Reliance on Mo…

Mo Salah has scored an impressive 44 goals in his first season at Liverpool and has fully deserved all the plaudits and accolades that have subsequently come his way.  On the face of it, having a player as consistent and effective as the Egyptian can only be a good thing right?

However, there is a danger of becoming over reliant on one man and based on the fact the entire Liverpool team looked lost for ideas post his withdrawal it’s safe to say that’s the case at Anfield.  This isn’t down to mis-management and let me clarify that I’m not criticizing Jurgen Klopp for the way his team rely on Salah, this is an issue that arises naturally, over a period of time when you have a standout player heads and shoulders above his team mates.

This isn’t a problem exclusive to Liverpool, we’ve seen similar situations at clubs with far greater resources such as Real Madrid and Barcelona.  It’s totally natural for a team to adjust its patterns of play in order to utilize their star player as effectively as possible even if subconsciously.

The effect Mo Salah’s withdrawal had on the team was amplified by the fact Adam Lallana, his replacement, looked rusty, out of sorts and a shadow of the creative force we all know he can be.  Filling Salah’s boots is a tall order by anybody’s standards and you wonder whether Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain being available from the bench would have made any difference to Liverpools chances?

Karius’ night to forget…

Loris Karius won’t be returning to Kiev in a hurry and if that was to be his last game in the famous Liverpool jersey I don’t think there would be too many complaints.

Liverpools goalkeeping troubles have been well documented in recent seasons and you’d do well to find a supporter confident in Loris Karius or Simon Mignolet.  Both are capable of pulling off brilliant, show stopping saves but equally make costly errors with far greater frequency than a top level goalkeeper should.

Klopp’s loyalty to Karius has ultimately cost him and his team.  There’s no doubt the German goalkeeper has improved as the seasons gone on but his erratic style leaves him prone to such errors. The second mistake was almost certainly a consequence of the first but that’s not the one I take most issue with.

With the ball firmly in his hands, gazing out towards the left wing I was truly mystified as to why a top level goalkeeper would even consider switching the play blindly.  Had he glanced to his right prior to releasing the ball he’d have seen Karim Benzema in close proximity and avoided the entire situation.  The reason I take greater issue with this error as opposed to the second is because this is a case of poor decision making at a time zero pressure was being applied.

We’ve all seen shots slip through a goalkeepers hands and we’re well aware that the modern day football frequently moves whilst travelling, not that I’m excusing the error.  The point being that misjudgment is a bigger crime than the slip of a hand and Klopp is guilty of failing to address a problem area that’s haunted Liverpool since Pepe Reina left the club back in 2014.

For all the brilliant things the managers brought to the table in terms of attacking flair he has struggled to acquire a suitable goalkeeper and that’s something we shouldn’t still be discussing going into his 4th season in charge.

Bale steals the show…

It’s not often Cristiano Ronaldo gets upstaged, particularly in the UEFA Champions League but this was certainly one of those rare occasions.  Gareth Bale has struggled to hold down a place in Zinedine Zidane’s team this season but if the Frenchman had forgotten just how good he is Saturday evening was quite the reminder.

The Welshman entered the field of play just after the hour and wasted no time in stealing the show with an exquisite overhead kick leaving the global audience stunned and Zizou rubbing his head in disbelief – the greatest goal in the history of the competition?

As Bale wheeled away in celebration his team mates rushed over to congratulate him, apart from Cristiano Ronaldo of course.  The Portuguese casually jogged over with half a grin on his face as though he was pleased they were back in front but also envious of the fact Gareth’s name would be the one on everybody’s lips as opposed to his own.

When speaking to the press almost immediately after the game Gareth Bale had this to say “Obviously I need to be playing week-in, week-out and that hasn’t been happening this season, for one reason or another.

I had a five week injury at the start of the season and I’ve been fit ever since.  I’ll have to sit down in the summer and discuss it with my agent and take it from there”.

From his post match comments its clear the Wales international is open to leaving Madrid in search of first team football and at the age of 28 who can blame him?  He may have only featured for the final half an hour but his instantaneous impact and frank comments will have put Europe’s elite cubs on high alert.

In theory, plenty of clubs would be interested in acquiring Gareth Bale’s services but in reality the transfer fee and the player’s personal demands could prove to be a stumbling point. There aren’t many clubs out there with the resources required to land a player of his status and it remains to be seen what Real Madrid would deem a suitable transfer fee, assuming they were willing to offload him.

With the post match talk being centered on Gareth Bale’s contribution it was time for Cristiano to steal some of the limelight he so clearly craves.  In an interview shortly after the final Ronaldo hinted at a summer transfer of his own, an action that reportedly angered his team mates and he’s since apologized for, well sort of.

Ronaldo is believed to be unhappy with his current contract terms and I suspect his comments were nothing more than an attempt to lure Real Madrid president Florentino Perez to the negotiation table.

The 3-1 victory in Kiev secured Real Madrid’s 3rd Champions league title under Zinedine Zidane and in turn, he becomes the first man to win European football’s top prize three times in a row.  Luka Modric described their run of success in the competition as a ‘dynasty’ and you’ll struggle to find a more appropriate description.

Words: @HarrySymeou

Unai Emery officially unveiled at Arsenal

Unai Emery has been officially unveiled as the new Head Coach of Arsenal Football Club.  The Spaniard has spent the last two seasons at Paris Saint Germain in France where he recently achieved the domestic treble.

During his time in Spain with Sevilla, Emery guided the club to three consecutive Europa League titles putting the club on the map.

When announcing the appointment Ivan Gazidis said the following:

“Unai has an outstanding track record of success throughout his career, has developed some of the best young talent in Europe and plays an exciting, progressive style of football that fits Arsenal perfectly. His hard-working and passionate approach and his sense of values on and off the pitch make him the ideal person to take us forward.

“We conducted a confidential, wide-ranging and rigorous search involving extensive background references, data and video analysis, and personal meetings with all the candidates we shortlisted. All were interested in the position and we were unanimous in our choice of Unai to drive the next chapter of our history.”


Majority owner Stan Kroenke said: “We’re delighted to welcome Unai to Arsenal. He’s a proven winner. We’re confident that he is the right person for the job and that he will work to deliver the triumphs our fans, staff and everyone who cares about Arsenal want.

“Several things stood out during his interview and the entire process; his football knowledge, energy, determination and love of the game. His familiarity with our club and our players, the Premier League and the game in Europe were all very impressive. He shares our vision to move forward, to build on the platform created by Arsène Wenger and help this club enjoy greater success.”

Unai said: “I am thrilled to be joining one of the great clubs in the game. Arsenal is known and loved throughout the world for its style of play, its commitment to young players, the fantastic stadium, the way the club is run. I’m very excited to be given the responsibility to start this important new chapter in Arsenal’s history. I have met Stan and Josh Kroenke and it’s clear they have great ambitions for the club and are committed to bringing future success. I’m excited about what we can do together and I look forward to giving everyone who loves Arsenal some special moments and memories.”

Twitter: @chronicles_afc

What do we know about Unai Emery?

Age: 46

Born: Hondarribia, Gipuzkoa, Basque County – Spain.

  • Emery hails from a football family, his father and grandfather were also footballers, both goalkeepers and his uncle Roman was a midfield player.
  • Emery was a graduate of Real Sociedad’s academy but never managed to break through into their first team and hold down a place so he spent most of his playing career in the Segunda Division, making over 215 appearances before retiring at the age of 32.

Managerial Career:

  • Emery was appointed manager of Lorca back in the 2004/05 season having retired due to a serious knee injury. He immediately guided them to promotion and the club went into the second division for the first time in their history.
  • He almost achieved the impossible the following season when his Lorca side missed out on promotion to the top flight by just 5 points.
  • Emery had begun to make a name for himself in his native country and joined Almeria, guiding them into the top flight for the first time ever where they finished 8th – a remarkable achievement.
  • In 2008/09 Valencia came calling and in spite of the clubs well documented financial issues he was able to qualify for the UEFA Europa League finishing 6th in his first season.
  • 2009/10 – Emery guided Valencia to 3rd place and so ‘Los Che’ returned to the UEFA Champions League.
  • 2010/11 – started the season without David Villa and David Silva who had both been sold in a desperate attempt to keep the club afloat, but even still Emery managed to achieve a 3rd place finish.
  • Emery left Valencia in June 2012 and joined Spartak Moscow where things didn’t quite go to plan and he was sacked that November following a bad run of results.
  • He then returned to his native Spain and took the reins at Sevilla where he won 3 consecutive Europa League titles, Finishing 5th , 5th and 7th in La Liga.
  • In June 2016 Emery expressed his desire to leave Sevilla and the club announced that they would be parting ways.
  • Emery joined PSG, and led his side to the last 16 of the Champions League having finished 2nd to Arsenal in the group stages.
  • His side famously defeated Barcelona 4-0 at the Parc De Princes only to historically lose 6-1 in the second leg at the Camp Nou and crash out.

During his spell with the Parisian club he won 1x French title, 2x Coupe de France, 2x Coupe de la Ligue and 2x Trophee des Champions

Arsene Wenger – The End

Arsene’s reign to end in disappointment…

Arsene Wenger’s farewell tour continued with the latest destination being the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid.  The Europa League semi final second leg offered the perfect opportunity for ‘Le Professeur’ to set up the fairy tale ending his tenure deserves by qualifying for a European final in his home country.  However Los Rojiblanco’s had other plans and in all honesty from a Gunners point of view the damage was done in the first leg when a lapse in concentration gifted the La Liga side an invaluable away goal just 8 minutes from time.

Arsenal made 8 changes from the side that started up at Old Trafford on Sunday but were rocked early on when skipper Laurent Koscielny suffered an Achilles injury putting his World Cup participation into doubt.  The Frenchman was subsequently stretchered off and the Gunners faithful would have been cursing their luck but in fairness to Calum Chambers he deputized brilliantly and was arguably the Premier League sides standout performer on the night.

If truth be told Arsenal seemed fairly comfortable up until the stroke of half time when a lapse in concentration allowed Diego Costa to pull wide undetected, escape the attentions of Hector Bellerin and eventually lift the ball over David Ospina who seemed overly eager to hit the ground.

The Spanish defenders form has been the subject of great debate throughout the season, we’ve seen far too many defensive errors and there is a feeling among the supporters he’s suffering from a lack of confidence based on his reluctance to take on a player and whip a cross in – something he was renowned for in seasons gone by.

In the aftermath, criticism of the teams overall performance has been excessive in my view.  Similarly to the first leg Arsenal controlled possession for large periods, defended well for the most part but lacked the killer instinct in front of goal.  That can be attributed to a lack of quality in key areas of the pitch, this current crop are evidently below the standard required to compete with Europe’s elite and so this was always going to prove a tall order. Perhaps things could have been different had Arsenal taken their chances at the Emirates or had the defense remained focused throughout, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Atletico certainly aren’t the continent’s most technically gifted of outfit’s but what they are is streetwise, well drilled and passionate about what they’re being asked to do.  Those qualities have allowed them to compete with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona for quite some time now and the job Diego Simeone’s done there should be admired.  Top quality players finish when it counts, defend when it matters and concentrate hard when things get tough – if these two fixtures have taught us anything it’s that the mental side of the game should never be overlooked, it can be just as decisive.

I guess in the depths of my heart I expected elimination the minute the draw was made but taking into account this is to be Arsene Wenger’s last season I hoped maybe, just maybe the players would find that extra level and repay him for the faith he’s shown in them.  There are numerous players in that squad who owe their entire careers to the boss because at any other top level club they’d have been exposed as the soft bellied fraudsters they are, the likes of Bellerin, Welbeck and even Mesut Ozil have been stealing a living at the top level for a number of seasons now – hiding behind the tall and lonely figure of Arsene Wenger.

In years gone by I’ve called the Europa League a Mickey Mouse trophy, labeled it as second rate and accused UEFA of exaggerating its value in order to generate the mass TV audiences that would subsequently line the organizations pockets further.   Am I as distraught as I was when we crashed out of the Champions League semi finals in 2009 for example? Not at all, this feels totally different.  This is more sadness rather than disappointment and that stems from my desire to see Arsene depart with his head held high, unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be.  The club’s greatest ever manager’s will leave empty handed and that’s hard to swallow but our fall from grace has been a gradual glide as opposed to a sudden crash.  It’s been a wonderful story full of ups and downs, we’ll look back on his tenure with fondness in years to come I’m sure but all great things come to a end.

Words: @HarrySymeou


We never do it the easy way – LFC

Imagine going into the semi-finals of the European Cup second leg with a 5-2 lead and coming out on the other side 7-6. Yep, that’s Liverpool for you. As fans we don’t have to imagine. We’ve seen it all before. Liverpool never do anything the easy way.

When you look at the numbers, Liverpool have been breath-taking in Europe this season. Following Mane’s strike last night, he, Salah and Firmino are now the highest scoring trio in UCL history with 29 goals (in second place are Bale, Ronaldo and Benzema who collectively scored 28 in 2013/14). Overall it’s 46 goals in 14 games for Liverpool in the Champions League.

Liverpool have shown that they can score against anyone. They have a 20/30 Minute period where the red mist descends onto the pitch and they score goals. Lots of them. The worrying thing is that they often look like they will concede. This is a long standing issue with Liverpool that needs to be addressed before the final. They only have to look at Bayern, arguably the better team in both legs against Real, but due to missed chances and Real’s efficiency in front of goal, they lost.

However, the very fact that Bayern had these chances is a positive for Liverpool. Real Madrid are vulnerable. I watched both games against Bayern and the games against Juventus before that. I’m sure Liverpool were watching too and no doubt Mane, Salah and Firmino were licking their lips at the prospect of facing the Real Madrid defence.

However, despite their defensive fragilities, which they share with Liverpool, Real Madrid do have an advantage that this Liverpool team do not have and they have it in abundance. Experience. This will be Madrid’s 4th final in 5 years. They’ve won the last 3 Champions League finals they have been in and their squad has remained largely unchanged. Both Liverpool and Madrid play attacking football and both have suspect defences. It is this experience and success in big finals that could well separate the two teams and tip the balance into Real Madrid’s favour.

Nevertheless, you can never write off Liverpool, particularly in Europe. From scoring 3 goals in 6 minutes to win the Champions League in Istanbul in 2005, to winning the UEFA Cup 5-4 in 2001 with an own goal, golden goal in the 117th minute. In football, anything can happen.

On the 26th May, Liverpool will go into the 8th European Cup final in their history. More than all other English top flight teams combined and you can be rest assured that if Liverpool were to go on and win it. History has shown us that the chances of it being a simple 2-0 win are very slim indeed.

As Henderson said last night “We never do it the easy way”.

Bring on Kiev!

Words: @Daniel___James

Arsenal 1-1 Atletico Madrid: Not angry, not surprised but bitterly disappointed

It was supposed to be Arsene Wenger’s night. The scene was set, a European semi-final under the lights and our first in 9 years. The supporters came out in their numbers following the announcement the boss would be leaving in the summer and at least temporarily things seemed noticeably more harmonious. The club provided each supporter with a red or silver flag depending on which block you were seated in, an attempt to enhance the atmosphere and it must be said the place looked awesome as the teams made their way out onto the field.

Things started positively and the Gunners couldn’t believe their luck when Sime Vrsaljko was shown a second yellow card just 8 minutes after picking up his first.  Atletico Madrid were down to ten men and Diego Simeone’s reaction to the decision saw him sent to the stands.  German Burgos, his militant assistant was fortunate not to be dismissed himself considering he was found almost ten yards inside the touchline during his protests.

Jan Oblak was in impressive form, the Slovenian goalkeeper pulled off a host of impressive saves and further enhanced his growing reputation as one of Europe’s finest stoppers. Eventually, the deadlock was broken when Alexandre Lacazette hung in the air for what seemed an age before diverting Jack Wilshere’s cross downwards and into the right hand corner.

Arsene Wenger’s side continued to dictate the play but only managed to carve out a handful of clear chances in the second half.  With every passing minute Atletico’s defence took another step deeper and their fullbacks another step inside creating a deep and narrow block that seemed virtually impossible to penetrate.

Down to ten men, away from home and confident of overcoming a one goal deficit in Madrid – Simeone’s men reached for the continental textbook of time wasting.  Every free kick seemed to take an age, throw ins would be taken 5 or 10 yards further forward and the home crowd began to grow frustrated.

With just over 80 minutes played I would have said that was Arsenal’s best performances of the season.  Yes, Atletico were down to ten men from very early on and that would have proved a handicap however I’m not sure Vrsaljko’s dismissal altered their game plan all that much.

Despite looking defensively sound for the most part a Laurent Koscielny error gifted Antoine Griezmann with a glorious opportunity 8 minutes from time.  The Gunners captain in his attempt to hook the ball back over his shoulder and out of the danger area seemed to kick it into his face and the ricochet fell kindly for his compatriot.   David Ospina was able to block the strikers initial effort but couldn’t have done much about the second.  Add to that the fact Shkodran Mustafi slipped having managed to get himself back on the line  and this was a real sickener.

Atletico had their precious away goal, it was a real smash and grab and the La Liga outfit now have the advantage going into the second leg next Thursday.


Arsene Wenger has come in for some harsh criticism following this disappointing result but in my view he’s not to blame for what occurred on the 82nd minute.  His team was set up correctly, dominated the game having 20 attempts at goal and over 70% of the possession.  The Gunners simply weren’t clinical enough and ultimately an individual error from one of their most experienced campaigners has cost them dearly.

Atletico made all three of the substitutions available to them whereas Arsenal didn’t make a single change.  However, the Gunners were in full control and in all honesty there wasn’t much in terms of attacking talent to call upon with just Alex Iwobi and Eddie Nketiah on the bench.  Those who have criticized the Arsenal boss for failing to make a substitution are being overly critical and those mutterings have generally come from his biggest critics. Any excuse to have a pop!


Dismissed and sent to the stands but the animated Argentine could have been watching from Timbuktu and his players still would have carried out his instructions perfectly – That’s how well this team are drilled.

The introduction of Gabi in the second half allowed Atletico to grab a foothold in the middle of the park having been overrun in that area for long periods of the game.

Such was the defensive solidity shown by the Spanish side its easy to forget they were down to ten men so early on and for the most part Thomas Partey filled in excellently at right back.  A midfielder by trade the Ghanaian found things difficult particularly in the second half when Arsenal began probing with more frequency down the left hand side.

Simeone to his credit, all be it after they had already conceded identified it as a problem area for his side and brought on former Manchester City defender Stefan Savic, a natural defender to sturdy things up.

Final thoughts… 

Despite the disappointment and the advantage Atletico gained having scored that crucial away goal this tie is far from over.  Arsenal are just as threatening in an attacking capacity but it’s clear we aren’t anywhere near as streetwise.  To blame Wenger seems harsh but the frustration on show is a consequence of poor defending for as long as one can remember and therefore totally understandable.

I’m not angry, I’m not surprised just very disappointed.  We are Arsenal, we were never going to do it the easy way. COYG

Liverpool 5-2 Roma – Player Ratings


Karius 6 – Did well with crosses but can’t be beaten at his near post like that.

Alexander-Arnold 8 – Great performance, two key passes that eventually led to two goals (get him on the plane Gareth!)

Lovren 6 – Poor defending for the Dzeko goal.

Van Dijk  7 – Decent enough game, not tested much.

Roberston 8 – Great performance, put in some great balls (cross that Gini missed straight after Roma goal in particular) – unlucky not to register an assist.

Henderson 8 – Thought he was great, had De Rossi in his pocket

Milner 7 – Our new Kuyt, non-stop running. another CL Assist. Very unlucky to concede the penalty.

Oxlade-Chamberlain 5 – Early injury. Gutted for him as hes been playing well and the WC is just around the corner.

Salah 10 – Two goals and two assists in a CL semi final. Nothing more needs to be said.

Firmino  9 – Same as above.

Mane 9 – Thought we has awesome. Missed some chances but always looked dangerous. Still think he’s underrated and harshly criticized. His runs opened up play for Salah and Firmino

Liverpool Fan & Contributor: @Daniel___James


Alisson 4 – Difficult to rate him any higher considering he’s conceded five goals.

Fazio 3– Shouldn’t play in a back three. Question mark over whether he should play at all.

Jesus 3– Error after error. Salah had a field day up against him.

Manolas 5– Got better as the game went on but showing Salah onto his left foot is suicide.

Kolarov 5– As ever better going forward then defensively.

Florenzi – Barely noticed him, but not in a good way

Strootman 4– Failed to get on the ball, Roma will want more for him in the second leg

De Rossi 5– Too slow. A player that usually overcomes this with great positional sense, though that was not the case on the night.

Nainggolan 6- Roma’s star man looked a shadow of his normal self despite being effective during certain periods.

Under 5- A quick and usually dangerous player that didn’t make the second half.

Dzeko 7- Roma’s best player on the night and their only hope throughout the tie.

 SSP Panelist: @Alavi_SSN

Episode 14: Au Revoir Arsene

Host @HarrySymeou welcomes Claude back to the show – we reflect on the news that Arsene Wenger will be stepping down from his position as manager at the end of the current season. We look at some of his potential replacements and discuss whether we’d prefer to go for experience or a club legend. We look back at the victory over West Ham, look ahead to Thursday’s semi final 1st leg and answer some of YOUR questions.

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Will the FA Cup ever be restored to its former glory?

As we approach this weekend I cannot wait for another couple of days of sport as the sun hopefully continues to beam down on us. We’ve got some crucial EPL games, the Monte Carlo tennis masters and a handful of thought-provoking boxing cards. Oh and the FA cup apparently…..

Earlier this season we witnessed Bournemouth resting players at Millwall that saw them go out but I don’t blame Eddie Howe. If a team wins the FA Cup, they earn £1.8million but each club gets £2m per place they finish in the Premier League. In terms of monetary value the three points are potentially more treasured than winning the esteemed trophy. Are Bournemouth going to be thinking about losing 3-0 to Millwall when they visit Old Trafford and Anfield next season?

Common consensus with respect to this competition of vivacious history, is that the biggest blow came in 2000 when Manchester United elected to play in the World Club Championships instead of the FA cup. For me, it happened a few years earlier. The Champions League became “the” competition and in 1997 qualification was changed so winning your domestic league was no longer the only way of qualifying. Out went the European Cup Winners Cup too.

Part of the problem is the scheduling (January to May). The big clubs need to prioritise the EPL and European competition. The Capital One Cup, on the other hand, is done by February. But there are more logistical issues than that which has diminished that feeling of nostalgia. The feeling that “this is the FA-cup” (previously leading to me banging on Harry Symeou’s front door in the mid to late 90s so we could watch the final build up!). It was the last fixture of domestic calendar with the day solely focused on the final until 2011 where Manchester City beat Stoke City 1-0 in the final. Meanwhile, on that very day, Manchester United were playing in one of several EPL fixtures that claimed them the EPL title. Again in 2013 Wigan Athletic went from winning the FA cup to being relegated the following week. Now we see this TV (and global) friendly 5:15 kick off time. If the game goes to extra time or even penalties are fans from the north of the country going to be hanging around for the coveted trophy presentation?

Is there a solution to all of this? Probably not. Although one thing I would do is offer the winner a place in the Champions League in a play-game vs the team that finishes fourth in the league. Whether this would restore any credibility I don’t know. What are our followers suggestions? Or am I the only one apathetic towards the world’s oldest football competition?

Words: @Alavi_SSN


No to VAR & a look ahead to the FA Cup Semi Final weekend – feat Keith Hackett

Host @HarrySymeou and panelist Dan De Luca are joined by former top level referee & former manager of the PGMOL Keith Hackett to discuss at length the Premier League clubs’ vote against the introduction of VAR next season.  We also look ahead to this weekends FA Cup Semi Finals: Manchester United vs Spurs & Chelsea vs Southampton.  As always Keith provided plenty of insight, shared his honest views and doesn’t hold back in his opinions.

Check out youaretheref.com for more of Keith’s excellent analysis.

Twitter: @sofasportspod

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Who cares about the Premier League anyway?

Host @HarrySymeou is joined by sports informative @c11davison and football documentarian @jecook to discuss our progression in Europe, the Europa League draw and our 11th Premier League defeat of the season.
Please vote for our sister podcast the @sofasportspod in the Football Blogging Awards by Tweeting the following:

“I am voting in the @theFBAs for @sofasportspod in the category #FBAPodcast #FBAs”

Follow us on Twitter: @chronicles_afc

The Battle for Survival

On our most recent podcast the panel, hosted by Harry Symeou, discussed the relegation battle in the EPL. Let’s take it as given that West Brom are down, the bookies (as it currently stands) believe that the table will stay as it is, which advocates that both Southampton and Stoke will join West Brom in the Championship next season.

In my opinion, Stoke will be relegated. Paul Lambert’s men haven’t won since his opening game in charge at home to Huddersfield on January 20th , and still have to go away to an in-form Liverpool at the end of this month. The Staffordshire based outfit became the first team to concede fifty goals in Europe’s top five leagues this campaign; stressing a defensive frailty in the side to say the least. Lambert has failed to instil any more defensive nuance and instead seems to be relying on Shaqiri, who for what it’s worth is the second best player outside the top six (after Mahrez) for me.

Southampton have enough combat and quality in their squad to stay up. We saw that on Sunday against Arsenal where they were unlucky to come away empty handed from the Emirates. I’m impressed at how they bounced back against West Ham and they seem to have got that fight in them. They’ve got to go to Manchester City on the last day of the season so they need to acquire as many points on the board as possible before then! With Chelsea focusing on the FA Cup, Southampton could get something this weekend in the early kick off, but they’ll be relying on someone to slip up…..

From the day the season started I’ve maintained Huddersfield will go down and nothing has made me more confident than the fact that Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson yesterday backed the Terriers to stay up. I’ve got a feeling they are going to miss the chance of taking all 3 points against Watford on Saturday. As well as having the second-worst goal difference in the league (-28), they haven’t won since beating West Brom back in late February. However, Paul Merson jokes aside, the foremost reason for tipping them for the drop is the unnerving away trips that lie ahead in their final three games.

Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal with two of those coming away from home. A squad consisting largely of Football League stalwarts and German imports, I just feel their lack of experience at this level will cost them. They simply don’t score enough and the fact that only two Huddersfield players scored more than four league goals last season should have been a sign of what was to come.

Words: @Alavi_SSN

Gunners rally late but the performance wasn’t great

CSKA Moscow 2-2 Arsenal FT

Arsenal made it through to their first European semi final since 2009 but not without a scare.  The Gunner’s progression was in real doubt when they found themselves two goals down on the night having played just 50 minutes.  At that point the Russian side were just a solitary goal away from turning the tie on it’s head and in a week where remarkable comebacks had become something of a theme the Gunner’s faithful would have feared the worst.

Nacho Monreal seemed to get caught under the ball when a cross came in from the left hand side and although Petr Cech made a fine save down to his right from Kirill Nababkin’s header he was unable to prevent forward Fedor Chalov from turning in the rebound.  Slack defending has been a problem for Arsenal throughout the season and shortly after the break it was Petr Cech’s turn to gift CSKA a goal.  Aleksandr Golovin’s shot was on target but should never have caused the veteran goalkeeper anywhere near as much difficulty as it did.

Peter Cech seemed to beat the shot down into the ground but once again a CSKA attacker was on hand to pounce.  This time Kirill Nababkin found the back of the net but questions will undoubtedly be asked of the goalkeeper for his involvement and not for the first time this season.  His failure to divert the ball away from the danger area proved costly and all of a sudden CSKA began to believe.

Twenty five more nervous minutes passed before Arsenal scored the goal they so desperately needed.  A fine move both started and emphatically finished by Danny Welbeck – the first sign of any real quality from the Premier League side and you could feel an over riding sense of relief in the way the 500 or so travelling Gunners fans and the players celebrated.  The pass that split CSKA’s ageing defence was provided by Mohamed Elneny, perfectly weighted, exquisitely timed and at first glance you could have been forgiven for thinking it had been played by Mesut Ozil.

The Egyptian international now keen to steal Ozil’s title of assist king laid on another sublime pass right at the death but this time it was for Aaron Ramsey to race onto.  The Welshman continued his excellent form in front of goal, beat the onrushing Igor Akinfeev with ease and levelled things on the night.

In my opinion Arsene Wenger deserves a great deal of credit for the way he managed the game this evening, the introduction of Callum Chambers and his decision to switch to a back three succeeded in changing the course of this fixture.  The change in system allowed both Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal to play in slightly more advanced roles as wing backs and as a result nullify the threats of  Kirill Nababkin and Kuchaev on the opposite flank who had caused the Gunners plenty of trouble up until that point.

The standout player on the park this evening was without question the Russian international Aleksandr Golovin.  He’s certainly one to keep your eye on during this summers World Cup tournament.  Despite being just 21 years of age he displayed a composure, a maturity and a truly magical touch.   He possesses the vision, awareness and intelligence required to compliment his outstanding technical ability and the sky is the limit for this young man.

Ahead of the game there was much talk regarding what impact the political tensions between the two nations could have on the fixture and those travelling to the Russian Capital.  However, despite many people’s concerns there were no reports of any disturbances between the two sets of supporters.  CSKA Moscow provided each Arsenal fan in attendance with a complimentary Russian style hat in order to protect them against the cold.  A nice touch indeed and one that highlights the willingness of the hosts to put politics aside and let the football take centre stage.

The Gunners will need to improve in the semi finals if they are to make the final in Lyon, I think thats obvious.  Given the way they had cut through CSKA with such ease and regularity in the first leg the fact Wenger’s side failed to register a shot on target for more than 70 minutes came as a surprise to most.  Atletico Madrid, Salzburg and Leipzig are all potential semi final opponents for the Gunners but they’ll feel as long as they can avoid the Spanish giants they have an excellent chance of progressing to the final.

Player Ratings:

Cech 5/10 – At fault for CSKA’s second goal.

Bellerin 6/10 – Average performance from the Spaniard.

Mustafi 5/10 – Fedor Chalov pulled off of him to open the scoring and the German international looked sloppy particularly in the first period.

Koscielny 6/10 – Despite some shaky moments in the early stages he improved as the game went on.

Monreal 5/10 – One of the worst performances I’ve seen from him in an Arsenal shirt.  Improved when the manager changed the system after Callum Chambers’ introduction.

Elneny 8/10 – Worked tirelessly and provided the assists for both the Gunner’s goals.

Wilshere 3/10 – Poor from the very first minute, caught in possession far too often, physically off the pace and the team improved significantly once he was withdrawn.

Ramsey 7/10 – Put in a good shift as usual and continued his fine run of goalscoring form.

Ozil 6/10 – Showed glimpses of his ability but his decision to pull out of clearing a ball from fear of getting hurt almost led to CSKA’s third goal at the point they were 2-0 up.

Welbeck 8/10 – Scored the vital goal by finishing off a move he started and worked tirelessly throughout.

Lacazette 5/10 – Anonymous for the most part, failed to have any impact on the game.

Words: @HarrySymeou

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Host @HarrySymeou is joined by regular panelists Simon Alavi & Dan De Luca. This week’s special guest is the host and brains behind the fabulous @shootthedefence – Stel Stylianou. The panel look back on a whole load of Champions League drama, a disappointing week for City, we try make sense of the relegation battle and take a brief look at the current situation in Serie A as Juve and Napoli continue to fight for the Scudetto.

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