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

Liverpool 5-2 Roma – Player Ratings

Liverpool

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

Roma

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

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

Buffon See’s Red, Pep’s City Crash Out, A Greek God in Rome? What’s That All About?

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.

Don’t forget to register your vote for this years Football Blogging Awards – You can vote via Twitter by simply Tweeting the following…

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

Twitter: @sofasportspod

www.sofasportsnews.com

The Banega Effect

Ever Banega has arguably been Sevilla’s most impressive player this season following his return from Inter last summer. A player who’s steadily improved since being sent off in his first league game since returning to the club.  The Argentina international played a vital role in Sevilla’s victory over Manchester United in the last round of the competition, he and Steven N’Zonzi dominated Jose Mourinho’s midfield in both legs. It was that very game against Manchester United where he picked up the suspension that ruled him out of the first leg versus Bayern Munich.

I spoke on this weeks podcast about how I thought Banega’s suspension proved a huge loss on Tuesday night. They lacked his creativity and incisiveness. Banega is a versatile midfielder capable of both playing off of the front man and dropping deep to collect the ball from the centre backs.

Sevilla missed his ability to link up play with the front men but moreover, his absence meant players such as Vidal (before the injury) were forced to play without Banega’s pressing and defensive awareness.  Unfortunately we are unlikely to see Sevila in the Champions League next season, which makes me wonder whether any clubs will turn the head of the 29 year old, particularly if he impresses at the world cup.

Words: Alavi_SSN

Twitter: @sofasportspod

Cristiano El Magnifico

The UEFA Champions League is without question the pinnacle of club competition and a playground for the world’s most talented footballers.  ‘Cristiano el magnifico’ has lifted the famous trophy four times thus far and you’d be foolish to bet against him getting his hands on a 5th in the Ukrainian capital come May.  His exquisite overhead kick in Turin last night left football fans right across the globe in awe and the Portuguese received a standing ovation from the Juventus supporters, an acknowledgement they’d just witnessed something remarkable from one of the greatest of all time.  The debate around who is currently the best player in world football continues and just when you think you’ve finally made your mind up be it Ronaldo or Messi the other one raises the bar with something even more spectacular.

Quite frankly, it’s a debate I’m sick to death of.  As football fans we are blessed to be able to watch these two artists simultaneously and in many ways they spur each other on to continuously deliver football of the highest quality.  Such is the intensity at which they battle for the Ballon D’or each year neither would dare allow their standard to drop from fear of being outshone by the other.  Thanks to advances in satellite TV and the fact the internet has made the world a much smaller place we never have to miss any of the magical moments and for that we should be grateful.  That’s something our parents/grandparents couldn’t say during the days of Pele, Maradona and Cruyff.  The consistency these two men display from one week to the next both in domestic and European competition is like nothing the world of football has ever seen.  The game has certainly advanced both tactically and physically since the days of the aforementioned players therefore its becoming increasingly difficult for the traditionalists to dismiss Ronaldo or indeed Messi when discussing the greatest of all time.

You’ve probably seen the replay of Ronaldo’s overhead kick multiple times by now and the likelihood is you’ll see it repeated in Champions League highlight reels for years to come.  The more I see it the more I’m impressed by his athleticism, the flawless technique and the audacity of the man, to try something as outrageous as that in a Champions League Quarter final requires an abundance of self-belief.  Despite going behind inside 3 minutes Juventus responded relatively well, having a couple of penalty appeals waved away and Gonzalo Higuain forced an instinctive save from Keylor Navas in the first half.  However, a goal of that caliber is enough to force even the most mentally resilient of sportsmen to throw in the towel and the Italian Champions fell apart.

Zizou’s reaction was priceless and with the tie effectively over the second leg will be nothing more than a formality.  Sergio Ramos and Paulo Dybala will miss out next week through suspension but as we saw last night its Cristiano that calls the shots.

Words: @HarrySymeou

Follow us on Twitter: @sofasportspod

Spurs break the Wembley curse

Harry Kane’s brace handed Spurs their first win at Wembley and ensured their Champions League campaign got off to a flyer. The 3-1 victory over Peter Bosz’s Borussia Dortmund side means Spurs have a real strong chance of progressing from undoubtedly one of the competitions toughest groups. Heung Min Son opened the scoring inside five minutes when his effort beat Roman Burki at his near post, the Korean international scoring his 7th goal versus Dortmund in 9 fixtures. However it wasn’t long before Yarmolenko leveled things for the away side with a stunning curling effort.

Dortmund to their dismay were only level for 4 minutes before Spurs restored their lead through Harry Kane. The England striker escaped the challenge of Sokratis and fired past Roman Burki who was beaten for a second time at his near post. No doubt some questionable goalkeeping from the Swiss international who arguably should have saved both efforts.

The German side posed a constant threat throughout the game and will be disappointed with the Italian official’s decision to rule out a perfectly good goal from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Tottenham Hotspur once again turned to their talisman to put the game beyond doubt and Harry Kane’s low effort on the hour mark found the bottom corner and sealed the points.

Perhaps the only disappointment on a great night for the hosts was the late red card shown to Jan Vertonghen who was adjudged to have caught Mario Gotze with an arm.

Elsewhere, Real Madrid cruised to a 3-0 victory over APOEL Nicosia of Cyprus meaning they lead the group with Spurs in second.

@HarrySymeou

@sofasportsnews_

Classy Juventus Through To The Champions League Final!

Juventus secured their place in the Champions League Final following an emphatic 4-1 aggregate victory over AS Monaco last night.

Leading 2-0 after the first leg, the Italian champions were hot favourites to qualify in front of their own fans and a Mandzukic goal and a brilliant Dani Alves volley both before half time put the tie beyond doubt.

Juventus had kept clean sheets in their last six Champions League games going into this one and when Mbappe finally broke free of the famous back line on 67 minutes the ageless Gianluigi Buffon was there to divert the attempt wide.

From an attack following the resulting corner Mbappe was finally able to break the Juventus resolve from close range. It was the first goal the Italians had conceded from open play in this seasons Champions League.

The game threatened to boil over shortly after, following an apparent stamp on Gonzalo Higuain but there was little in terms of goalmouth action as the Italians inevitably held firm.

Monaco have entertained in this seasons run to the Semi Finals seeing off Tottenham, Manchester City, and Borussia Dortmund and scoring 22 goals in the process, but The Old Lady of Italy proved too strong and in truth saw this tie off at a canter.

They will head to Cardiff for their second final in 3 seasons as a much more rounded side than the team that fell short against Barcelona 2 years ago, with the balance between defence and attack well and truly mastered and quality players all over the park they’ll be more than a match on June 3rd for Real Madrid, who barring miracles will progress tomorrow night to set up a repeat of the 1998 final.

It’s been quite a rollercoaster journey for Juventus since then and after tonight they’ll be confident of completing their return to the summit of European football, 21 years after they last lifted the famous trophy.

The Next Arsenal Manager?

For the 4th consecutive season Atletico Madrid find themselves in the Champions League quarter-finals. Would I bet everything I had on them lifting the trophy in a tournament still full of “bigger clubs”? No, probably not.

Have they got a realistic chance? Of course they have and it’s largely down to Simeone. What makes him so sought after?

Coping

To put it simply, Ateltico are a selling club. In the same way that Spurs and Liverpool will continue to be for the next few. I don’t mean they constantly sell players, though if a player becomes truly world class, in all likelihood they will move on.

Radamel Falcao left for Monaco in the summer of 2013 and many questioned who would step up as Atletico’s next great striker. A player who had performed well as a second striker behind Falcao stepped up to carry Atletico – Diego Costa.

If anything, Costa did better than Falcao. Simeone then lost three vital cogs of his team in Thibaut Courtois, Luis, and Costa in one transfer window. Nevertheless, they continue to compete regardless of these setbacks with an almost seamless transition. He just gets on with it.

Tactics

Simeone is sometimes labelled as one dimensional, though personally I do not think that is the case. Do people expect him to play Barcelona at their own game and get comprehensively beaten?

For me, he has the personality to adapt to any philosophy of playing. Notwithstanding the key Simeone requirement- “Every player in the team has to assist defensively and sacrifice individual expression for the sake of the system.”

Atletico like to sit deep in a narrow, compact shape that they only break to press the ball when the odds of success are high.  When the ball is won, there isn’t much side to side passing. Instead opponents are caught out before they can form their own defensive shape.

Simeone clearly knows that potentially losing the ball in the attacking third is less costly than in midfield. Safety first, chances in the final third. He likes to hurt teams with the ball, not just have it for the sake of it. It’s a philosophy that fits the Premier League perfectly. Take note Arsenal.

Passion

He doesn’t just push his players, he stretches them. There’s a key difference. What really impresses me is his ability to do it over time. To come in and have a fiery short term impact is one thing, but to sustain it over time is another.

Guillem Balague pointed out that  “every press conference he ever does has an abundance of words like “humility” sacrifice and “passion””. He has made the players and fans believe in him through this passion and resilience that very few managers, and in fact teams, possess.

High praise

Ranieri explained this week on Sky sports “Madrid play in Italian style. It’s very, very difficult – 4-4-2, very compact, very strong, straightaway go forward. Good players, high quality, high intensity. When I built Leicester, Atletico Madrid was one of the teams I watched.” Ironically it is Ranieri’s former side Leicester that take on Atletico in the Champions league tonight.

No team has collected more victories in the Champions League this season than Atletico Madrid and over two legs they are a match for anyone. I’d like them to win it, for Simeone.

Alavi

sofasportsnews.com

#SSN

Don’t just blame Arsene, blame yourselves!

Before the game it was Arsene Wenger, during it switched to Gazidis, moved on to Kronke, then after it was the players and then Wenger some more. All contributors to Arsenals current plight but the main culprits still avoid mention.
It’s you. You the Arsenal fans who have allowed this to happen. Arsenals fans for accepting a level for over half a decade that are below the standard that this club should be reaching. For being in Complete denial until now.
I told you this would happen, so did everyone, but you refused to see it.

You’ve caused this. By burying your heads in the sand as the downward spiral and stagnation set in and allowing the people who have made Arsenal their profession and business to fleece the club and yourselves further. By believing the dribble that has come out in press conferences following defeats. By looking for stats to defend consistent poor individual displays. By celebrating records that don’t pertain to anything like what the club are used to.

By allowing yourselves to be sold theories about how unfortunate draws have been the key factor behind European underachievement. By attributing shortcomings to a recurring injury list without ever questioning some players’ desire to get fit. By constantly referencing Tottenham when the heat was turned up in situations that were irrelevant and subsequently avoiding difficult issues. You’ve let your club underacheive because you were too proud to accept the demise and so as a result, instead of being one level below you’ve slipped further to 2 or maybe 3.

Other clubs haven’t necessary improved but at least they’ve tried something, and removed managers and players to demand more from their club. Arsenal haven’t even tried, as fans you have not demanded more from your football club. Instead, you’ve looked for an easy target to make yourselves feel better and the slope gets steeper and steeper everytime. The first 5 years is admirable and the loyalty warranted, but then 5 years becomes 10 and then 15 and gets to 20 & then 50 very suddenly, yet the arrogance continues. You’ve never really stopped to ask why the club have stopped challenging. You’ve never stopped to ask fellow fans why they looked down the table for comparisons instead of up. You’ve never bothered to realise the the manager who you say has stuck by his philosophy abandoned his philosophy almost a decade ago.

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You’ve never wondered at what point after 1990 did Liverpool ever imagine they’d go 27 and counting without a title from a greater starting position than yourselves. The attitude that it could never happen to you, has stopped the symptoms being treated.
The only time you have ever challenged anything is when smutterings of your co-supporters have bothered to start to question, and now the group has got bigger and bigger you’ve probably not stopped to wonder if they were actually right when they began, and instead probably think they started too early and the time has come now. You probably still think they were disrespectful.

You probably think the fans of other clubs have no right to comment, and you’re probably right in that it’s not really their business, but you’ve certainly failed to acknowledge that all football fans have a right to share an opinion as an inheritance of being a fan of the beautiful game in a similar way, that you will do when a new manager takes over a big club and doesn’t hit the ground running. More importantly you’ve not ever conceded that they’re actually right this time, and that supporting a team that doesn’t win things doesn’t win as much as you did in the early 2000s and through your history doesn’t weaken their ability to interpret a situation, in fact it probably enhances it.

You’re probably reading this thinking that this is just a bitter fan of another club putting down the mighty Arsenal, and you’re right, except for the bitter part. No one else is bitter at all, they are just able to detach themselves from the emotion and see a situation for what it really is, using their wider range of footballing experiences from situations that they have seen before. I am putting down the mighty Arsenal, and I’m right. The underachievement has gone on far too long. You should be taking that as complement to the football club yet you’re probably not as there is still a bit of you that refuses to treat other teams fans as equals as the pedestal your club once sat on was so high.

What you’ve created is a culture of excuses, a culture of justification and a culture of doing the easy thing. Where looking down and laughing has taking priority over looking up and aspiring to improve and be better. A culture of doing the bare minimum, and the manager and the club and the board have taken the invitation and lined their pockets whilst never needing to improve as the level that was being reached was celebrated there was no requirement to invest or to risk.

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You’ve convinced yourself there was no suitable alternative when managers have been and gone who all with the squad Arsenal have had would have made a better fist of a title challenge and a European campaign. Spurs have replaced managers who have achieved their record points total, Chelsea have sacked the special one, Liverpool have removed the man so close to bringing them the title, City have sacked two title winning managers, United sacked their manager one day after winning the FA Cup.

They all wanted more, whilst you didn’t want to change, they may not have achieved their wishes yet or may never will but they and their fans have still demanded the bar be set higher, you wanted to get to this point before the penny dropped. Now it’s gone to far, and the risk becomes bigger, at a time when the foundations for a new leader a weaker, and it could and should have been easy. A club now with divided fans that will make the next guys job nigh on impossible as with every knock he takes there will be the group of die hard wengerites still insisting he shouldn’t have gone.

The wedge has been driven by you as you’ve dismissed the group who saw the trouble first and now it may have to get worse before it gets better. Now is the time to accept you were horribly wrong and not allow yourself to sink back into the mindset that will undermine Wenger’s replacement or the recovery of the team to the top of English football will be daleyed even more, and the 12 will become 15, 20 then 50 in the blink of an eye.

All the while a great club servants reputation and legacy is pounded, he’s like a boxer taking punishment round after round but you sit in the corner not throwing in the towel. He’ll be gone next year and only then can the club start to properly move forward again, the board will have to act as, like you, their belief that the Champions League target will be achieved no matter what has waned.

If things stumble and splutter it had to be worth gambling with something that even the most delusional soul in north London can now see just isn’t going anywhere. So bad has it got that even a 2nd place finish and an FA Cup win is not enough to justify the last decade. You see that now, I know you do. A change has to happen, a risk has to be taken.

Whatever happens, Stick it out. Appreciate the parts of the game that you have not been exposed to for 20 years now. But do not blame anyone else. You’ve sold yourselves and your club short for too long. You’ve let them get away with it. You’ve let him reduce you to this. Deep down there’s no one to blame but yourselves.

Dan De Luca

Deja vu at the Emirates

Deja vu at the Emirates as we suffered our second 5-1 defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich in the space of just 3 weeks.

There’s no doubt even prior to last nights kick off the tie was dead and buried and even Tom Cruise couldn’t have dreamt of completing this mission impossible.

A handful of Arsenal fans participated in yet another pre-planned, half hearted protest regarding the boss’ future and having seen it first hand it was nothing short pathetic.

Before I continue, I’d like to clear up a couple of refereeing decisions that have left sections of our support outraged and given the clueless ones an excuse to latch onto as to why we were dumped out of the competition.

Walcott Penalty Appeal

At the time of the incident, I called for a penalty. I was convinced that Xabi Alonso made zero contact with the ball and simply took out Theo.

I’ve watched it back more than ten times since and whilst I now think the referee got this wrong, the fact it took me so many replays to decide means I won’t be using it as a sole excuse for our exit.

Verdict: Incorrect Decision, but at full speed a tough one to call.

Bayern Penalty & Koscielny Sending Off

Laurent Koscielny made no attempt to play the ball and by the rules he was correctly shown a red card. The confusion came when the referee firstly brandished the yellow card and then proceeded to show a straight red just seconds after.

I initially thought Koscielny may have said something out of line and that was the reason for his dismissal but it has since come to light that the referee was correcting his initial mistake.

Here at SSN we have been receiving messages stating that Koscielny’s dismissal was wrong based on the current rule around “denial of a goalscoring opportunity”

Below is the up to date rule and so the officials were within their rights to dismiss the Arsenal defender if they adjudged it to be a foul.

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There is certainly a case that Lewandowski was offside, that’s a whole different argument and isn’t up for debate so once again we can feel hard done by.

Verdict: Incorrect decision. Lewandowski is in an offside position initially and so the rest of it isn’t worth debating.

In reality, those two moments are not the reason we lost this tie, wake up Gooner’s!

As I mentioned above, the tie was done and dusted before a ball was even kicked tonight.

We are a side who lack belief in our defensive capabilities and the heavy beatings we’ve taken at the hands of our rivals in recent years have contributed and are evidence to this.

Some may call me negative but having conceded the equaliser and accepted the fact the tie was over my priorities would have been completely different.

There comes a point where as a manager you need to accept the tie is over, shut up shop, get a draw out of the game, a positive result you can build on going forward.

On the night, decisions went against us and the tie was over, as a manager there’s nothing you can do about that.

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However, you can do your upmost to ensure your team get a positive result and then take those positives to grow and improve for what’s left of the campaign.

In true Arsenal style we did the complete opposite and capitulated. This great club has suffered another damaging and embarrassing defeat.

Ten goals conceded on aggregate, sealing our place as the number one laughing stock of Europe.

Football is a confidence game and that only comes from positive results. We may have it in abundance as an attacking force but the fans nor the players believe we are capable of defending competently when it matters.

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Both Wenger’s and his players attitude was nothing short of appalling once Bayern equalised.

It’s as if to say who cares, I can just blame it on the decisions. There’s always somebody else to blame. Once again, no accountability amongst players or manager for our capitulation in BOTH fixtures.

Wenger slumped further into his seat, a beaten man and as the pressure on him mounts I wouldn’t be surprised if he announced his departure in the coming weeks.

Prior to this fixture all I wanted was to see Arsenal fight and get a positive result on the night. Sadly that was only evident in the first half. I was the first to praise them on their first half display so I have every right to criticise their second half showing.

Harry

Domestic Cup’s versus Euro Qualification – Sofa Sports News

Domestic Cups vs European Qualification

Being a lifelong Arsenal fan and for the most part through the Wenger-Era I’ve become accustomed to seeing my team qualify for Europe’s premier competition – the UEFA Champions League.  In recent years the Gunners have been accused of a lack of ambition and branded as underachievers.  For a club with the infrastructure, financial muscle and history of Arsenal is simply qualifying for the tournament enough?

There is an ongoing debate at sofasportsnews.com around whether as fans you would prefer to win one of the domestic cups or finish in the top four, meaning Champions League Qualification.

Matt Le Tissier (Ex-Southampton player) was quoted on sky sports last night as saying he would have preferred to walk out in a cup final for his beloved Saints than qualify for Europe and I’m sure there are plenty who would share that view.

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As supporters, we all love a trip to Wembley and watching your team win a final, lift the trophy and create memories is what football is all about.  The harsh truth is that the average football fan won’t remember the team who finished 4th and qualified for the group stages of the champions league but they will certainly remember the trophy winners.

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Prior to me writing this piece I read a number of convincing arguments from both sides.  It’s been a hot topic of debate in the ‘Football Fan Network – sofasportsnews.com’ Facebook group and rightly so.

Football has become a huge business right around the globe and to an extent you could argue that it’s beginning to lose its identity.  The importance of tradition and history are gradually fading away and as a result clubs priorities have shifted drastically.

Take the Premier League TV deals for example; the benefits of the lower end clubs surviving in the Premier League outweigh that of winning one of the domestic cups.  The same can be said at the top end of the table, Champions league qualification is more financially rewarding than winning either of the domestic cups or even both together!  At the end of the 2015/16 season the Premier League published the earnings of each of the 20 clubs from the domestic and overseas TV revenues.  The figures were crazy!

Click here to see the Premier League Clubs earnings 2015/16

These figures are set to rise with the Premier League having secured a record breaking £5.136 billion deal for Broadcasting rights concerning the period of 2016-19, they sold for 71% more than the previous deal (2013-16).

The Premier League really is the promise land and so survival will inevitably be the priority and the main objective for the majority of clubs therefore devaluing the domestic cups further.

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Prize Money

We’ve already established that money makes the football world go around and so let’s compare the financial rewards for winning either of the domestic trophies against those of qualifying for European competition.

FA Cup Prize Money: £2m (winners)                              

EFL Cup Prize Money: £100k (winners)

UEFA Europa League: €2.3m (Group Stage Participation)

UEFA Champions League: €12.7m (Group Stage Participation)

Even the purist of football fans would have to admit the difference in financial reward is staggering! Still surprised that certain clubs would rather finish in the top 4 than win one of the two domestic trophies?

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Conclusion

As fans we all want to win things, enjoy a day out, celebrate a final victory and we don’t have too much interest in the financial affairs of our clubs.  However, when you consider all of the factors in the modern game it’s clear that European Qualification must be prioritized in order to keep up with your rivals.

Supporters think with their hearts whereas, club owners and shareholders think with their heads!  From a business point of view (which football has become) its a no brainer and this goes a long way in highlighting the disconnect between the fans and their clubs in the modern era.

Harry

@HarrySymeou

sofasportsnews.com

Is it happening again?

Is it happening again?

It looks as though once again, Arsenal will finish the Champions’ League group stage as runners up behind PSG.  In recent campaigns the Gunners have often failed to win their group and as a consequence been drawn against the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the last 16.

Arsenal tend to throw the tie away in the first leg with a disappointing home performance, thus leaving themselves with an almost impossible task going into the second leg.  The second leg arrives and free from the weight of expectation the Gunners often produce one of their strongest performances of the season.

Flirting with the possibility of completing the mother of all comebacks, yet just falling short.  Sound familiar?  Well it should do by now because it’s been happening for as long as I can remember.

Let’s not forget we still have match day 6 to come and so it’s not unthinkable that we could still top the group.  However, with PSG welcoming Ludogorets to the Parc Des Princes and us travelling to Basel I wouldn’t bet on it.

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Arsenal have failed to perform anywhere near the levels we are capable of in the last 3 fixtures.  Consecutive draws with Spurs, Man Utd & PSG are respectable results in isolation but it’s the performances that are a cause for concern.

Our spark is missing, there’s a lack of creativity and the fluidity you associate with Arsenal is no longer there for the neutral to admire.

The imbalance in our midfield is clear for all to see.  The absence of Santi Cazorla has had a far greater affect than anyone could have imagined.  Despite having a number of options in Xhaka, El Neny, Coquelin and Ramsey, none of the aforementioned players posses similar qualities or attributes to the little spaniard.

It’s hard to judge Granit Xhaka completely until he has a consistent run of games in the side but what I can tell you for certain is that none of the others mentioned are comfortable enough on the ball and all of them are lacking in terms of creativity.

We are missing our deep-lying playmaker and I fear if he remains sidelined for too much longer we could see our title chances fade away.

Hector Bellerin put a smile on all of our faces this week by committing his long term future to the club.  Without doubt the best full back in the league and certainly one of the best in Europe.  He’s no doubt been a huge component of our recent success and we are evidently missing his ability to join in the play and carry the ball down the right hand side.

It’s clear to see the gulf in class between Bellerin and Jenkinson and you’d be silly to underestimate the impact this is having on our attacking play.

Olivier Giroud has been in fine form of late and although he got his name on the score sheet again, his overall performance last night was disappointing.  There’s a clear lack of mobility and he’s inability to press allows the opposition to settle on the ball in defensive areas.  What he does give you is a target, somebody that can hold up the ball and an aerial threat of real potency – assuming he gets the service.

Who should start up front versus Bournemouth on Sunday and what should the midfield pairing be?  These are the big decisions Wenger faces going into the weekend and he cannot afford to get it wrong versus a useful Bournemouth side.

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Check out the latest episode of the sofasportsnews.com podcast by clicking on the image above.

Is it happening again?

Arsenal are a side lacking ideas and it appears as though some of our stars are running on empty.  We need to find some inspiration from somewhere and despite failing to win in the last 3, I have to agree with Mr Wenger, it’s a bit early to panic and say ‘It’s happening again!’

There is still a lot of football to be played this season 😉

Harry

sofasportsnews.com

Juggling the Champions League & A New Stadium

Transition…

It’s no secret that Arsenal’s move to the Emirates stadium was a painful one.  During a tough period stretching over a number of seasons Arsenal were a club under great financial strain, struggling to build a competitive squad on limited funds and facing a constant battle to keep their own star players due to them not consistently challenging for the games major honors.

Recent years have seen the Arsenal splash the cash on the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Granit Xhaka.  This is now possible at Arsenal due to the stabilization of the clubs finances.  Arsene Wenger managed to steer Arsenal through a turbulent and challenging time and now the club are reaping the rewards.  One of the countries biggest clubs, a talented squad, state of the art stadium/facilites and the ability to compete financially with MOST clubs.

During that period Champions League qualification was an absolute MUST and the financial reward of that is essentially what got the Gunners through this challenging period relatively quickly.  Arsene Wenger deserves a lot of credit for that.

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History repeating itself?

Now, ten years later we are seeing the same cycle just a few miles down the road.  Spurs find themselves fighting for Champions League Qualification whilst battling with the financial implications of redeveloping White Hart Lane.

Last night saw Spurs crash out of Europe’s premier competition in the group stages and it seemed to me as though Pochettino’s eyes were firmly on their EPL clash with Chelsea this weekend.

My view prior to the start of this years Premier League campaign was that Spurs’ squad did not possess the depth nor quality to maintain a title challenge whilst participating competitively in the Champions League.

That view hasn’t changed and based on Pochettino’s selection last night you would have to question whether he believes in his fringe players as much as some of the supporters do.

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He is a smart, innovative and brave young manager but by the same token he is fully aware of his squads limitations and thankfully for the club he recognizes the longevity of this project.

Spurs will have to remain patient and understand that they too will face similar challenges to those overcome by their fiercest rivals.  A lack of funds will be compensated by the promotion of youth and their lack of strength in depth will be compensated by prioritizing certain competitions.

A development as costly as a stadium expansion can be a long and painful transition but without this period of suffering the club will never progress to the level of Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool etc.

Pochettino will be kicking himself.  I’m sure hes beginning to recognize the squad required further strengthening over the summer, given the step up in European competition.

Perhaps with the stadium coming the funds just simply were not available?  Remind you of another club in North London?

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Football is a business…

Spurs supporters have often accused Arsenal of turning into a business. The reality of it is that Spurs will have to focus all of their efforts on making the Champions League year in year out because the financial reward and the status of being a Champions League club is the foundation on which the club can grow.

The buzz of travelling with your team to places like the Bernabeu, the San Siro, the Allianz Arena etc and competing with the worlds best teams is what the Champions League is all about.  To say you don’t crave that as a fan is to disbelieve in the magic of the game.

The sad thing is, a clubs objectives are set out in line with their business interests as opposed to achieving just their footballing goals.  Spurs may have gone out of the group stages with a whimper but their only real goal is to qualify for next years competition.

Harry

sofasportsnews.com

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