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.

image

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.

IMG_3769

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?

SSN-Podcast-image2

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

ss2

 

 

 

 

Pep Beaten At His Own Game

Barcelona 4-0 Man City

Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick for Barcelona last night as they beat Manchester City 4-0 in Champions League, while both teams were reduced to 10 men on Pep Guardiola’s return to the Camp Nou.

Messi’s hat-trick came courtesy of 3 well taken strikes of that magical left foot, which leaves many fans (myself included) convinced we are watching the greatest footballer of all time. He now has 16 goals in 15 games against English clubs , notching up his 37th career hat-trick.

As Rio Ferdinand correctly stated after the game “we are lucky to still be watching him at his peak ” before joking that he wouldn’t have minded an off night where he scored a handful of goals.

IMG_3778

There were times when City did get going – the shot count on target for example eight to six in Barcelona’s favour. Guardiola’s decision to introduce Agüero with only 11 minutes to go was slightly perplexing given Barcelona had lost two of their key defenders in Jordi Alba and Gerard Piqué to injuries in the first half

But Guardiola said he selected an XI without a recognised striker in an attempt to match Barcelona in midfield and prevent them from establishing their customary dominance. It’s funny that the critics of Mourinho’s defensiveness on Monday night that caused such a backlash in comparison will inevitably go quiet on this one …..
In the end, though, City produced error after error ranging from Fernandinho’s slip that allowed Messi to get his 1st goal to the loose pass from Ilkay Gündogan that found Luis Suárez, who laid on Messi’s third.

However , mistake of the match came on the 52nd minute from Claudio Bravo, which led to the goalkeeper’s red card. I respect that Bravo was attempting to play the pass, although I’m sure SSN host “row z Harry ” would not have approved of the attempt! People will always like different styles of football ….but I doubt any city fans will justify Bravo’s antics.

SSN-Podcast-image2

Pep’s Approach

Guardiola’s starting formation could best be described as 4-1-4-1 or a 4-1-5 at worst. Adopting a “man for man” press , City’s spare man was effectively goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
Though Bravo is often seen 25 yards off his line to form a passing triangle with his centre-backs, it proved costly this time for City

When City had the ball, Pablo Zabaleta, the right-back, stepped up and inside into midfield, alongside Fernandinho. John Stones, the central defender, too, was encouraged to step up and so were the more advanced central midfielders.

The 3 man defence created when Zabaleta moved forward has it’s positive and negatives. A major positive of a three men defence is to out-muscle and out-number teams which have a hefty midfield .

I guess the lesson for Pep is that if you do try and play Barcelona at their own midfield possession game then don’t lend a helping hand with a catalogue of errors. In the end , ironically , Pep was beaten at his own game at the Nou camp. The one started by Cruyff and mastered by himself. Football is a funny old game.

Alavi

Sofa Sports News

Spurs’ Champions League campaign stays on track in Germany.

Lots to do, but Spurs’ Champions League campaign stays on track in Germany.

After a home defeat in the first game in the groups, and facing consecutive away games, maybe 4 points was the best Spurs could have hoped for at the halfway point in Group E.

Qualification is firmly in the balance but the draw against Leverkusen has meant it’s still all to play for in an even group.

In truth, Pochettino should feel fortunate to have escaped from Germany with the point that has kept them in the top 2 spaces. Despite a good first half performance in which the lead could have been taken two or three times Leverkusen took the game to Tottenham who looked jaded and out of ideas in the attacking third, creating some great chances to score a winner, including a desperate goalline scrambled save from Hugo Lloris. Replays proved that the ball had been kept out, but as impressive as the save was, the finish was directed in the only place a goalkeeper could have any chance of reaching.

It’s easy to accuse a team of being tired when things don’t appear to be going well, but that’s not excuse I like to hear, particularly so soon into the season. Spurs, with the exception of Wanyama, did seem to lack energy though as their opponents dictated the play and dominated the midfield battles. Spurs’ usually breathless full backs barely featured in an attacking sense in the second 45.

Even the introduction of Dembele didn’t improve the fortunes much, as I found myself often watching the clock rather than the match hoping for it to tick down to the full time whistle before the home side made one of their chances pay.

As Dembele entered the game and Jannsen left it, it was a reminder that Spurs had started this game without their preferred spine of Alderweireld Dembele himself and Kane. That considered, maybe this should be seen as a point gained although only qualification will make that so.

Two tough games coming up against Leverkusen again and our conquerors in the opening game Monaco, that also coincide with a difficult run of London Derbies in the league, will be a real test of the squad with the league sure to take priority. We will need to see a minimum of 3 points gained to be taken into the last game if this years champions league campaign is going to have chance to extend into the knockout phases.

I’ll back Tottenham to be good enough to squeeze out of the group, but Pochettino would have hoped to have made easier work of one of the simpler groups in the draw, and will know a lot of improvement is needed at this level should the really big boys come calling.

De Luca

Sofa Sports News

The Theory Behind Wenger’s Questionable Team Selections

As I settled on the sofa to watch my beloved Arsenal take on the mighty PSG I scrolled through my twitter feed to check Wenger’s starting lineup and see what the mood was like amongst Gunners fans.   To say I was surprised with the selection was an understatement.  I had spent the past couple of days defending Wenger’s team selection on Saturday purely on the basis that he was resting players for the Champions League clash in Paris.

So you can imagine my shock when summer acquisition Granit Xhaka and Arsenal’s only recognized centre forward Olivier Giroud were left out for the second time in less than a week.  Wenger opted to go with David Ospina between the sticks despite the backlash that same decision brought in last season’s Champions League campaign.  The Colombian stopper justified his managers show of faith with a solid performance and he made a number of very smart saves – its clearer than ever that Arsenal do really have two top class goalkeepers in the ranks.

SS

The Match

Even the most pessimistic of Gooner’s couldn’t have foreseen a worse start, Laurent Koscielny was caught too high up the pitch with Francis Coquelin chasing shadows and once Serge Aurier broke free down their right hand side there was no catching him.  A pinpoint delivery and an instinctive finish from Edinson Cavani gave PSG the lead and that all too familiar thought of ‘here we go again’ sprung to mind.

Despite having a fair share of the possession in the first half (49% to be precise) we failed to create any chances and PSG were cutting through us like a knife through butter.  Edinson Cavani squandered two fantastic chances, most notably the one where he took the ball around Ospina and shot wide.  Just imagine what we’d all be saying if that was Giroud!

The second half started somewhat more positively and Arsenal were keeping the ball for long periods but there was still no cutting edge.  It was only a matter of time before PSG began pulling us apart and by-passing our non-existent midfield, but for a host of smart saves from David Ospina it would have been Goodnight for the Gunners in Paris.

Thankfully, in what was probably our first meaningful attack of the game Mesut Ozil picked out Alex Iwobi in the penalty area, the Nigerian’s shot was blocked and Alexis was right on cue to rifle it into the bottom left corner. 1-1! It was a strange feeling, a mixture of joy at the equalizer but also frustration as to why it had taken 78 minutes for Arsenal to carry any sort of meaningful threat.

Arsene Wenger will be pretty pleased with himself, the introduction of Giroud was vital in creating the space for Iwobi and like I mentioned in my last post – just having a forward to occupy the centre halves can make all the difference.  The Frenchman coming on and Alexis Sanchez being able to move back into his familiar role of wide left ultimately made the difference.

The decision not to play a striker was a strange one but I don’t think this is the last time we will see Wenger adopt this approach in the so called bigger games.  Here’s why…

 In all my years of watching the Arsenal that wasn’t the first time I’ve been scratching my head over the boss’ selection and it certainly won’t be the last.  At first, I just thought it was another poor selection and I couldn’t see the vision or indeed the idea behind his selection.  Before I continue, I am not suggesting that this approach worked and it’s important to note we were very fortunate to leave the Parc Des Princes with a point.  However, despite all of that it was clear that Arsene had at least tried to adapt his approach to this particular game – something that we’ve often criticized him for failing to do.

There were a number of differences to our set up. Most of them, I struggled to make sense of, in particular early on in the game.

SSN-Podcast-image2

Coquelin

 Usually the anchor in our midfield, patrolling left to right in front of the back four and putting out fires.  Francis Coquelin was found pressing further up the pitch than normal and on occasions was further forward than even Mesut Ozil!  I can’t for a moment believe that a player who is usually so disciplined would be pressing in the last third unless instructed by the manager to do so.  This had a negative impact on our defensive shape because every time PSG won possession and broke on us the midfield was nowhere to be seen.

Defence

Under Arsene Wenger we have been known to play a high line where possible, pushing up to the half way line and squeezing our opponents in – you could say a good way of sustaining pressure.  While we try to do this as often as possible the fact that Mustafi is playing rather than Per Mertesacker seems to have encouraged us to push that little bit further up the pitch, there is no longer a clear lack of pace in the central defensive department to cause major concern.

However, this issue should be approached with caution.  As happy as I am with the signing of Mustafi its clear for all to see that his understanding with Koscielny will need time to develop and I just feel that playing such a high line leaves no margin for error.  You only need to look at the amount of times PSG broke through the middle of our defence last night to see exactly what I mean.

I am firm believer that in order to have a strong central defensive partnership you require two different styles of centre halve that compliment each other’s games.  Koscielny tends to play on the front foot, often stepping out of the back four to close space and going toe to toe with his opponent.  Over recent seasons he has usually been the one to man-mark the opponents striker.  One of the reason’s he developed such a strong partnership with Per Mertesacker was because their styles did exactly that, compliment each other.  Per will take a calmer approach, dropping off as the spare man and often reading the danger early from his ‘withdrawn’ position allowing him to get his starting position right and move across to deal with it.

It’s not that I don’t like Mustafi but during his first two games for the Arsenal something about the way he plays just reminds me of Thomas Vermaelen – that all action style.  I don’t believe you can get away with having two centre halves wanting to play on the front foot, both constantly committing themselves and stepping out of the back four to make challenges, it leaves you far too exposed and the better teams will pick you off.  Some of you may disagree and I am hopeful they will develop a strong central defensive partnership together but one of them will certainly have to adapt their game for the benefit of the team.

Attack

No recognized striker on the pitch is something we are beginning to see more and more of in football.  To use a Premier League example, Jurgen Klopp has had plenty of success in the ‘bigger games’ by refusing to play a recognized centre forward.  I feel this can be successful for a number of reasons…

  1. It allows you to dominate possession, when necessary the midfield becomes a six and you end up simply over running your opponents in the midfield area.
  2. It allows freedom of movement – as long as a couple of your midfielders are disciplined enough and sit in front of the back four it pretty much allows your more advanced players to be able to interchange positions and makes it almost impossible for your opponents to man mark and keep tabs on them.
  3. There are no passengers in this system (when played correctly!) – When you haven’t got possession of the ball you can fill up the midfield with bodies and the numbers allow you to close more of the spaces and press your opponents effectively.

As I mentioned in my last blog entry we never seem to carry enough of a threat when Sanchez or Walcott for example play as the striker.  Teams tend to load the middle and without a physical presence or focal point in attack we just don’t seem to create very much.

I feel Giroud’s presence and physical strength occupies the central defenders, giving them something to worry about and therefore creating spaces for others to exploit – last night’s goal was a perfect example.  It’s as clear as day for all to see that were not getting any joy playing that way.

image

Is Arsene Wenger silly enough to persist with something that clearly isn’t working or are we seeing a transition as a result of him trying to implement something new? A plan B perhaps?

I think and I hope it’s the latter – it’s clearly something that requires a lot more work but a small part of me was glad to see us trying to adapt ourselves to better cope with our opponent’s strengths.

Time will tell whether it’s something Arsenal decide to persist with and despite the questionable performance I woke up with a smile on my face.  A big European result and let’s hope we can make it past the last 16 this time!

UTA

Harry

Sofa Sports News

UEFA Champions League Final Preview – Alavi

The UEFA Champions League final is just around the corner and once again it will be a side from Spain taking home the most iconic trophy in European football. Atlètico Madrid and Real Madrid will fight for the title, with Real Madrid the betting favourites at 6/4. Atlètico are priced at 9/4 with the draw at 23/10.

Team news:
Real Madrid suffered an injury scare in training on Tuesday when Cristiano Ronaldo limped out of training with a thigh injury. Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane had admitted that the Portuguese had not been in peak condition after an injury forced him off when Real Madrid took on Villarreal back in Mid April.

French centre-back Raphael Varane is definitely ruled out of Saturday’s final with a thigh injury of his own, but James Rodriguez (ankle) and Alvaro Arbeloa (knee) should be available after minor knocks.

Alternatively, Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone has a fully fit squad to choose from ahead of Saturday’s game.

Manager talk:

“The only failure is not to give everything on the day. We have had time to prepare properly so let’s see how it goes on Saturday. It’s not enough just to have the ball. We are playing against a team that not only defends well – people talk about how well they defend – but Atletico Madrid are a very complete side. Pressure is always there when you are Real Madrid manager. I like it. I had it as a player and now it is ven greater as a coach.” – Real Madrid Manager Zinedine Zidane.

“I anticipate them playing like they did against Manchester City. In the Champions League they have played on the break in almost every game. They have used that to get space; tactically, I think they’ve been very good.” – Atletico Madrid Manager Zinedine Zidane

My Prediction:

Although Atletico Madrid have form on their side, they will have to put in performances of a similar ilk to those displayed in their victories against Barcelona and Bayern Munich if they want to get their hands on the trophy. With the midfield condensed, they will be more than happy to allow Real Madrid to get the ball out wide and get crosses in the box. Despite the aerial strength of Cristiano Ronaldo, their centre-back pairing of Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez have more than proved their worth when it comes to defending their penalty area.While Real will aim to wear their opponents down with their possession game, notably controlled by Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, the industrious Atletico side will be a threat on the counter attack. Antoine Griezmann has already proven that he can infiltrate the Real Madrid defence with his pace, and his goal was the difference between the sides when they last met in February. Atletico Madrid midfielder Koke believes that his side are only out to make history on Saturday, but their motivation will be fueled by the events of 2014 final. Their ambition to avenge this defeat may swing the pendulum in their favour, but only just

As a repeat of the 2014 final, which was decided in extra-time, this year’s edition carries history behind it, with the rivalry between these Spanish giants continuing to gain momentum.Arguably the most influential player on the pitch has to be Cristiano Ronaldo. Having scored 16 goals with just two more needed to break his record of 17 goals in Madrid’s 2013-14 campaign, Ronaldo is obviously a severe threat to the Atlètico’s defence.Not to be outdone, Antoine Griezmann has been significant for Atlètico with seven goals at vital stages throughout the competition. Additionally, and certainly threatening due to his speed, terrific ball control and creativity on the outside, Saul Niguez is a player Real need to shutdown. Struggling in this year’s tournament, Fernando Torres needs to lift for Atlètico in the final. Although he has scored just one goal from eleven matches, Torres is the kind of player who could prove vital in a massive tie such as this one.

1-0 Atlètico Madrid Victory in 90 minutes

SSN predictions

Harry- 0-0 full time. Atlètico to win 1-0 AET

DeLuca- Atlètico to win 1-0 in 90 minutes

Manchester City: Defeat on the night and no sign’s of fight!

Having thoroughly enjoyed Bayern Munich vs Atletico Madrid the night before I was really looking forward to reviewing the clash between Real Madrid and Manchester City.  A tie between two very talented sides, to be played in the ‘holy’ Santiago Bernabeu.  It also saw the return of Cristiano Ronaldo having missed the first leg and a chance for Manuel Pellegrini to take his side to the final in Milan. That would have been a grand farewell for the departing manager.

Sadly, on this occasion the pre-game hype was just talk.  The two sides played out a 0-0 draw at the Etihad in the first leg and so I expected both teams to start cautiously.  After no more than 9 minutes Man City lost their inspirational captain Vincent Kompany to what looked like a muscle injury and they were forced to bring on the ‘walking disaster’ that is Eliaquim Mangala.  I was a nuetral for this one but even I was worried for City when Mangala and Otamendi were now the two responsible for nullifying Real Madrid’s awesome strike force.

The opening quarter of an hour saw Real Madrid dominate possession and begin to pin Man City back into their own half.  Pellegrini’s side were unable to keep the ball for any period of time and the likes of Modric, Kroos and Isco were dictating the play.  The most alarming thing for me was seeing the Madrid forwards come deep to recieve the ball on numerous occasions and being allowed the space to turn on the ball and face City’s back four.  What were Fernando and Fernandinho doing? Here is a better question, what was Yaya Toure doing?

On around about the 20th minute mark Real Madrid broke the deadlock and you can’t say it wasn’t coming.  Gareth Bale’s right footed shot took a huge deflection off Fernando and found its way into Joe Hart’s goal.  Having seen it a few times the deflection proved vital, a huge slice of luck for the home side but based on the opening 20minutes it was probably deserved.

“No big deal” was my initial thought – Manchester City still had to score to progress and so their situation hadn’t really changed a great deal.  Just before half time City showed despite a sluggish, untidy and flat performance thus far they were still well in this tie when Fernandinho cut inside and saw his shot clip the outside of the post.  The effort certainly had Navas scrambling down to his right, a gentle reminder for Los Blancos that a breakaway goal from City could turn this tie on it’s head.

I cracked open another beer and put my feet up for the second half.  Speaking to mates during the interval I kept saying “City need to play this cautiously, if they can hang on in there until the last 20 minutes or so I fancy them to grab that crucial away goal.” Although Zidane’s side dominated possession they hadn’t created much in the way of clear cut chances and so if I was a City fan I’d have taken a huge amount of confidence from that.

Luka Modric missed probably the most clear cut chance of the whole game on 50 minutes.  He took the ball down from a Gareth Bale pass, the keeper spread himself well and managed to get his body in the way.  In all honesty, im pretty certain Modric thought he was offside.  Regardless, that was a huge chance to kill off the boys from Manchester.

I expected City to  rally together and give it one final push in the last 15-20 minutes.  The disappointing Yaya Toure and Jesus Navas had been replaced by Sterling and Iheanacho but even their introductions were not enough to turn the tide blue (or luminous green last night!).  The closest City came to getting the vital goal was from Aguero’s dipping effort in the 90th minute, unfortunately for them it didn’t dip enough to see them through to Milan.

Real Madrid saw the game out with relative ease and now face their cross city rivals Atletico Madrid at the San Siro later on this month.  There is certainly no shame in losing to a team of Real Madrid’s calibre but if I was a City fan I’d certainly be dissapointed at the clear lack of fight and desire on the night.  Even the most die hard City fan would have to be honest and just say “We didn’t do enough on the night.”

A huge opportunity missed for a club relatively new to the European scene.  They need to bounce back quickly and ensure they qualify for next season’s competition, the thought of Pep arriving without Champions League football is the unthinkable but if they are not careful it could become a reality.

Harry Symeou

 

 

 

Harry’s European Football Review & Game Of The Week.

What a week of European football! It’s no secret that over recent seasons I’ve often ridiculed the Europa League and branded it as a ‘second rate tournament’

If the tie between Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Dortmund was anything to go by I may start paying a bit more attention to the competition. Despite some great ties in the champions league this week there’s no doubt the Scouser’s trumped it.

Game of the week…

Liverpool 4-3 Dortmund (5-4 on aggregate):

The night was special even before it began, arguably the longest rendition of Liverpool’s ‘You’ll never walk alone’ gave me the goosebumps. Being a Gooner, a part of me felt guilty that I was enjoying it so much!

The game began and Liverpool were caught cold, the Germans were cutting through them like a knife through butter. After 9 mins I thought it was all over, two great goals from Tuchel’s side and I was tweeting something along the lines of ‘it’s all over’

Liverpool pulled a goal back through Divock Origi but when Marco Rues grabbed Dortmund’s third of the night it should have been curtains. I genuinely believe that had it been any other of the English sides it would have been game over but not Liverpool.

The mother of all come backs completed when Dejan Lovren rose at far post to head home the winner. Pandemonium in the ‘Klopp End’.

Klopp’s reds march into the last four and have a real chance of glory. It won’t be easy with Sevilla, Villareal & Shakhtar also in the pot but after that they must fancy their chances.

The German managers energy, passion and style of football is really starting to rub off on his team & with a few additions during the summer they could become a real force.

It’s rare for me as an Arsenal fan to admit enjoying another premier league teams European triumphs but there’s no denying it this time. A captivating, pulsating game and that’s why I’ve made it my ‘Game of the week’.

Elsewhere around Europe the UEFA Champions league didn’t disappoint either…

Manchester City 1-0 PSG (3-2 on aggregate)

Manuel Pellegrini is determined to end his Man City career with a bang and after an impressive two legs versus PSG he’s certainly given himself a fighting chance of achieving that.

Sergio Aguero missed a first half penalty but Kevin De Bruyne’s second half goal sealed their place in the last four and dare I say they might be starting to believe they can go all the way.

Not taking anything away from City but I have to say I felt PSG were poor on the night and will their champions league exit turn up the heat on Laurent Blanc?

My personal view is that City are the weakest of the four remaining sides and I don’t expect them to be in Milan for the final.

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Barcelona (3-2 on aggregate)

Two very contrasting styles made for another awesome tie between Spain’s top two teams. Once again there was controversy throughout, cards, dives, dubious decisions and surrounding the referee at every opportunity. Nothing less than I expected to be honest!

Should Iniesta have seen red for the handball? Did Barca deserve a penalty late on when Koke handled? The referee judged it to have been outside the penalty area.

Get video tech in I say, but you all know my views on that subject by now!

Overall Atletico defended brilliantly and were able to keep the MSN trio at bay for most of the 180 mins of this one. Simeone’s men deserve their place in the last four as the Argentine coach enhances his reputation further.

Real Madrid 3-0 Wolfsburg (3-2 on aggregate)

I’ve not got too much to say about this one other than ‘RONALDO’ – he’s been accused recently of not turning up when it matters.

A winner in the recent Classico and a hat trick in this one certainly demonstrates otherwise. When are people going to stop doubting him!?

Credit to Wolfsburg for making a go of it, many had Real Madrid down to cruise through and after the first leg many of us then said Real were crashing out.

This result as well as the recent Classico win has given Zinedine Zidane some much needed breathing space.

Any team with the quality of player Real Madrid possess has a chance of going all the way. The prospect of another Madrid derby along the way has got me drooling.

Benfica 2-2 Bayern Munich (2-3 on aggregate)

Benfica earned a respectable result in Munich and went into the second leg with some belief. Rightly so, they boasted the best defence in the competition going into this one and didn’t by any means disgrace themselves.

It was always going to be a mountain to climb against the German champions but the Portuguese side ran them very close.

Bayern remain one of the favourites and rightly so, having drawn Atletico in the semi finals I’m sure they will feel they can go all the way to Milan.

UEFA Champions League Semi Final Draw:

⚫️ Manchester City v Real Madrid
⚫️ Atletico Madrid v Bayern Munich

UEFA Europa League Semi final Draw:
⚫️ Liverpool v Villareal
⚫️ Shakhtar v Sevilla

I fancy a Real Madrid v Bayern final in the Champions league followed by a Liverpool v Sevilla final in the Europa League. More entertaining European football on its way.

Have your say on www.sofasportsnews.com

Arsenal’s European woe’s continue…Harry compares Arsenal to the ‘benchmark’ that is Barcelona.

Sloppy error’s mean that Arsenal are crashing out of the Champions league and once again the second leg is yet to be played. My beloved Arsenal have had some really difficult draws in the last 16 over the past 6 seasons but its not just down to bad luck. Failure to win our group has put us in a position to draw the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich & Milan (before their demise). Perhaps the most disappointing one of them all was the defeat to Monaco – a side we really should have beat over 2 legs. Once again a disappointing result at the Emirates has left us with too much to do on our travels.

This time around the defeat at home was a harder one to swallow. For the most part of the game we were able to contain the deadly trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar until we (yep, you’ve guessed it) pushed the self destruct button – that’s what is so frustrating.

Being at the Emirates last night and having spoken to many different fans it’s seems this was the failure the ‘Wenger Out’ mob were looking for to cause another uproar.  I still don’t entirely agree with them but I can understand some of their arguments and I guess as paying fans everyone has the right to voice their opinions.

I don’t necessarily think we lost due to employing the wrong tactics.  I actually thought Monsiuer Wenger set us up right and the first 70 minutes of the game supports my view.

Where did it all go wrong?

My conclusion on this one is simple really, you can sit and watch the game over and over again and try to find a thousand reasons as to why we lost but in all honesty you would be wasting your time. The fact is they have a whole team of world class players whereas we have three or four at best.

Comparing Arsenal & Barcelona – As Club’s and Tactically

FC Barcelona – ‘Mes Que Un Club’ (More than a club)…Never has a slogan been so true, they’re not just a football team who have overspent their way to success after years of mediocrity like a Man City or Chelsea. The Catalan club have a philosophy, one that is followed right throughout the club. There is no doubt in my mind the fact that they play the most attractive football in the world is a much bigger attraction for the top players than the salaries they can pay. FCB is a brand and one that doesn’t look like fading away any time soon.

Arsenal – A club of tradition and one of the UK’s largest and successful clubs, since Arsene Wenger took the reigns back in 1996 he has instilled a philosophy and a brand of football that the club are globally recognized for. The move to the Emirates stadium limited the Gunners resources for a number of season’s but the fact they managed to stay in the champions league places through this transition has put them in the strong financial position. Despite all of the off the field positives there has simply not been enough success on the pitch where it matters.

Many would argue that Arsene Wenger’s team are the best passing side in the Premier League but does that mean we are as good as the mighty Barcelona in possession?

Two teams with similar idea’s of how the game should be played but in reality we play in two totally different competitions (The EPL and La Liga). In order to succeed in the EPL you require a higher level of physicality than in La Liga and the game is played at a totally different pace. I’m not saying one is harder than the other and I won’t disrespect any other league, what I will say is there are clearly differences in the attributes Arsenal and Barcelona require to flourish in their respective league’s.

Barcelona must be doing something right, they continue to dominate both domestically and in Europe and overcome talented sides from all over the continent with relative ease. Since 2005-06 they have won the UEFA Champions League 4 times and are probably the favorite’s to lift the trophy for the 5th time in just over a decade. Therefore proving that technical football, played in the right way conquers all. This is the benchmark, to play the game in the ‘Barcelona’ way and be successful is what I call perfection.

At the Emirates on Tuesday night Luis Enrique’s side faced a stubborn Arsenal for the most part of the game. A narrow, compact and well organised Arsenal were able to keep them out but eventually on 71 minutes the resistance broke and the rest is history.

One of the key reason’s Barcelona are such a formidable force is that they are able to completely control the pace of the game, whether home or away they dictate the play. There were some short periods in the game where we had them on the back foot and were able to create the odd chance but whenever there was a sign of the game becoming ‘fast and furious’ they would win possession, slow the game back down and string together 20-25 short passes. The perfect way to kill your opponents momentum.

A criticism I often throw at Arsenal is that when teams come and ‘park the bus’ at The Emirates Stadium we struggle to open them up.  This was evident in the recent draws versus Southampton and Hull.

Barcelona don’t seem to have that problem and here’s why…

• Width – when struggling to open up a compact team I believe you need to try and stretch them as much as possible.  Pull defenders out of position and widen the gaps between the individual defenders therefore creating openings for midfield runners to expose the space.  Barcelona are extremely effective in this.  For example when their GK is taking a goal kick the two full backs pull out to the touch lines and so do the wingers (Messi & Neymar) I’m talking chalk on their boots!!! The starting positions of Neymar and Messi are so wide that they either a) pull the full backs out with them creating gaps between FB’s and CB’s or b) in the case the FB stays tucked in they recieve the ball in space and have plenty of time on the ball. We all know how dangerous that can be.  With both playing on the ‘wrong’ side if you like, them starting so wide allows them to move into space on their stronger feet.

• Pass completion/ball retention – They simply do not lose the ball, their ability to hold possession gives them rest bite when on the odd occasion their opponent is giving them the run around.  Barcelona had a huge 66% of the possession on Tuesday! I thought we kept the ball well!  The truth is Arsenal don’t anymore and it’s proving to be a problem, more so when you face the likes of them.  I mentioned in my blog a few weeks back that I don’t feel we keep the ball well enough without Santi Cazorla in that midfield and I’m only being proved right.  Aaron Ramsey was much more disciplined yesterday and for that I give him credit, he also worked his socks off! Problem is he gives the ball away far too much and maybe at times tries to play that killer pass too early.  On the rare occasions we won possession last night we had to keep it for periods and make it count.

• Dictating the tempo of the game – Arsenal at times on Tuesday tried to up the tempo and really get at Barcelona, unfortunately we couldn’t sustain it for any period of time. At times, when Barcelona wanted to they were slowing the game down so much they were almost walking in possession.  They have that ability to switch it up at any time with such ease.  Once they have ‘passed you to sleep’ they wait for that lapse of concentration, the slightest gap and they’re in!

Finally, back to my original point… They just have a different calibre of player and the likes of Messi only need a chance whereas the Oxlade-Chamberlains, Theo Walcotts and Olivier Giroud’s of this world need far too many opportunities to score a goal.  It’s not just at the top end of the pitch though, Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano at the back fit into that bracket of technically gifted footballers whilst managing to not make the costly errors Per Mertesacker has been making of late in the vital games.  Different class. That’s why they’re winners and those are some of the things we could implement and learn from, I mean we’ve lost to them enough times by now!

Harry

UTA

Kyri reflects on Arsenal’s ‘great escape’ & looks at their potential opponents in the next round.

I’ve never witnessed Arsenal do anything the easy way and this years Champions League group stage was no different.

Arsenal went to Athens last night in search of at least a 2-0 win to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League and put in a great performance.

Some will say it was against a poor team, that’s probably true but going to Athens, a place where there’s a very hostile atmosphere, against a team that beat you on your own turf (some how) a few months ago was never going to be an easy task.

Joel Campbell for the second game in a row worked his socks off and his involvement in the 2nd goal was brilliant, great first touch great feet and a great pass to slip in Giroud to score.

Would have been my man off the match had Giroud not scored a hat-trick.

Well done to Giroud as well who got his first hat-trick for the club, he takes a lot of stick and it’s nice for him to have an evening like that to boost his confidence going into the busy Christmas period.

I know Arsenal scraped through the group by the skin of their teeth but it’s got to the point now where we have to start being serious contenders in the the Champions league.

I love Wenger, always have always will and he’s achieved so much at Arsenal but if there is an area he’s under achieved its in Europe.

In his time we’ve been to a UEFA Cup final a Champions League Final and reached the Champions League Semi-Final twice, when you’ve been in the competition for 18 years in a row that’s under achieving for me.

We might of had a period from 2006-2013 when we weren’t in a good financial position to compete. Now with players like Cech, Koscienly, Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez, world class players who have so much experience, including World Cup winners we should be looking to go far in this competition.

A lot of you might disagree with me on that but I’m not deluded, I know Arsenal are not the best team in Europe I know there’s a level between your Barcelona’s, Real Madrid’s and Bayern Munich’s to the rest but the best in Europe doesn’t always win the Champions League it’s a cup competition and anything can happen.

Were Liverpool who finished 5th in the Premiership in 2005 the best team in Europe? Were Chelsea the best in Europe when they finished 6th and won the Champions League? Even Arsenal in 2006, awful domestically and scraped 4th but beat the Real Madrid team full of players like Beckham, Figo, Roberto Carlos, Zidane, Ronaldo, Fabio’s Capello’s Juventus and went onto the final breaking the clean sheet record! It’s important to remember that even with 10 men we were 12 minutes away from beating Barcelona in the final.

Arsenal have to win the Champions League soon, they’ve been in it long enough and should have won it by now but to achieve that we need to get to those quarter and semi finals. That means beating the big teams along the way to create that belief we can win it.

It’s about time we seriously started challenging the big guns in Europe for that trophy and not just making up the numbers, it’s the one trophy that has eluded Wenger and Arsenal.

As a Gooner words cannot describe how much I want to see my team win that trophy, I WANT IT SO BADLY.

We have to believe we can win it, on our day we can beat any team in Europe. It’s been done over the years we’ve beaten Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan the and the list goes on.

First of all we need to get past the round of 16, something we haven’t done in about 6 or so seasons now. I seriously think we need to get as far as the last 8 maybe even the last 4 this season.

It’s long overdue that we have a good run in Europe at the very least.

Having a good run in Europe will help us believe in future seasons we can actually win the competition, it will help us in signing big players in transfer windows and it will help you keep our big players at the club for longer because let’s face it players like Sanchez and Ozil etc don’t just want to play in the Champions League they want to win it. Going far in the competition even if you don’t win it gives you the believe that you are one of the best teams in Europe and the belief to win it.

If we go out in the round off 16 then we may as well have gone into the Europa League and tried to win that.

On to the knock out stages now and Arsenal
can draw 1 off 5 teams

Real Madrid
Barcelona
Zenit St Petersburg
Atletico Madrid
Wolfsburg

That’s what you get for finishing 2nd in your group.

REAL MADRID

Real Madrid can be got at for me if you play it right. I believe you can get around the midfield and at their defence that’s been a long standing problem for Real Madrid. Sometimes their centre halves can be wreckless and lack concentration so you will get chances against them.

Thing is with Real Madrid they have such a talented midfield and strike force. They possess a load of fire power offensively with the likes of Bale, Ronaldo, James Rodriquez, Modric, Kroos, Benzema and the list goes on. If they keep the ball and pass around the opposition, create gaps they can crucify teams, similar to Arsenal at times because both teams can be so good with the ball but can be sluggish without it. They do have a manager in Benitez that is tactically very good and is good at rotating his squad and that is very important at this level.

ATLETICO MADRID

Atletico Madrid are going about their business quietly so far this season in La Liga and the Champions League, a really good team who two seasons ago came within seconds off winning the competition.

With Antoine Griezmann having a good scoring season so far and Jackson Martinez having settled in well. The two of them along with Fernando Torres can always get goals.

Diego Simeone in charge, a very good tactician and knows how to get the best out of his players but Athetico are certainly not the same team they were 2 years ago. If we had drawn them two years ago I would have said there is no chance we’ll beat them but now I think they are beatable. Having said that, on their day they are still capable of beating anybody in Europe.

We have seen it many times in the past where Simeone pumps his players up for the big games and gets his tactics spot on. His teams become extremely difficult to break down and like to hit teams on the break with pace and aggression, just ask Barcelona and Real Madrid.

They have a few very disciplined and experienced players in Koke, Tiago, Gabi, Godin, Juanfran, Filipe Luiz to name a few. These players can be masters in defending and frustrating teams.

WOLFSBURG

Wolfsburg are a top team and have one of the best home records in Germany and Europe. They finished 2nd to Bayern Munich in Germany last season and they have a lot of good players. They are similar to Arsenal in terms off playing a high line, full backs push forward and over lap and are basically wingers and their wide forwards such as Draxler and Schurrle drift in and cause damage centrally. They are certainly more dangerous than Arsenal on set pieces!

Swiss left back Rodriguez and Brazilian centre half Naldo can also strike brilliant free kicks as well.

They have a lot of options offensively in players like Bas Dost, Max Kruse, Ivan Perisic and of course super Nicholas Bendtner so they have plenty of options.

Deiter Hecking has done a great job with Wolfsburg but Arsenal can definitely score goals against them home and away, they have two good (and old) centre backs in Naldo and Dante but Naldo seems to be better at scoring them! Arsenal and Wolfsburg met in the Emirates Cup in Pre-Season and Arsenal won 1-0 but Wolfsburg were quite impressive.

BARCELONA

Then there is Barcelona! The team I really hope we avoid! Although I feel we are definitely capable of beating them in the one off game, I don’t think there are many teams in the world who could beat them over two legs. For me them and Bayern Munich are the top two teams in the world at the moment.

Even when that front three are having an off day they are still capable of destroying defences, how do you stop Suarez, Neymar, Messi?

Not only do they have that awesome front three but behind them are the likes of Rakatic, Iniesta, Busquets.

That three in midfield even off the ball work so hard. They are capable of pressing to win it back or being disciplined in the right shape and positions to not be caught out. On the ball they are so technically good, passing and moving around so quickly that it makes me dizzy watching it. Busquets does all the simple things brilliantly, his positioning is second to none, intercepts the ball and makes it look effortless, a great passer of the ball and he has very quick feet, he’s always been extremely under rated.

Rakatic and Iniesta both have quick feet too and are both fantastic passers of the ball. They can read the game, pick a pass, chip in with goals and can dribble past players for fun.

The front three though are irresistible at times. They move around so much,pass the ball, dribble, and can create goals from nothing. Barcelona have world class players all over the pitch.

ZENIT ST PETERSBURG

I can’t say I know too much about Zenit St Petersburg. I know that Andre Vilas Boas has done a very good job and that they smashed their group with Valencia and Lyon in it winning 5 out of 6 games. They only lost on the last match day so if Arsenal do draw Zenit don’t underestimated them.

Best case scenario: Zenit St Petersburg
Worst case scenario: Barcelona

Champions League dream is still alive, but an opportunity missed in the Premier League? – Harry talks Arsenal

After Saturday’s defeat at West Brom many began once again questioning Arsenal’s title credentials.  The result was not what the Arsenal faithful wanted or perhaps even expected but I for one was not surprised.  An injury hit squad returning from an international break that saw some of our stars (most notably Alexis Sanchez) having to travel half way around the world and play two international games in the space of just a few days,  fatigue was always going to play a part.  With so many key players still out injured Mr Wenger has been forced into picking the same side every week in recent times and I said it after the NLD – ‘Arsenal are running on empty’.

As disappointing as Saturday’s result was its important not to over react,  if you told me we would be going into December level on points with Man City and 12 points ahead of Chelski I would have taken it!  I’m sure most sensible Arsenal fans will agree and I am optimistic about our title challenge this season.  We finally have a top class keeper that earns us points, as opposed to costing us them! Mesut Ozil has finally arrived at the Emirates and Alexis Sanchez continues to be brilliant, why wouldn’t we be hopeful!

Having watched the game on Saturday I thought that the result flattered WBA, we certainly had the chances to get more out of the game and the missed penalty just summed up our day.  Our luck was out and Santi’s slip at the penalty spot was an absolute stinker!

The most disappointing thing and I’m sure many of you will agree was the injury to ‘Le Coq’ – it was the injury we have all been dreading.  Wenger in recent times has pointed out that we have Arteta and Flamini as back up in that position, unfortunately Mikel Arteta was far from convincing when he came on and only increased the pressure on the manager to buy in January.

On came Arteta to concede the free kick that led to Albion’s equaliser, in fairness to the midfielder I personally didn’t think that it was a foul but none the less his defending at the far post was diabolical.  Mikel then scored an OG to give Albion the lead and then went off injured, hows your luck?  Awful day for the Arsenal skipper!  This might sound controversial but it’s a blessing in disguise in my view because I much prefer Flamini in that role for a number of reasons.

A bad day at the office, but I for one felt a hell of a lot better after Liverpool won at the Etihad.

On to Tuesday’s champions league tie at the emirates, a convincing and very comfortable win – just the kind of game I like 🙂

There was a strange atmosphere around the place leading up to kick off.  It wasn’t a negative one, but it was a quiet one, it took a lot longer to get into the stadium due to all the added security checks and as the players emerged onto the field many seats were still empty.  The Arsenal fans seemed relaxed and rightly so, surely we would be strong enough to beat Dinamo at the Emirates and keep the champions league dream alive.  The lads didn’t disappoint!

Brilliant performances from Sanchez & Ozil and good performances from the rest of the team made this a comfortable win.  Was especially great to see Aaron Ramsey get some game time as well – a massive boost at a time where we are desperately short in the midfield.  We have given ourselves a very good chance of progression and I fancy us to go and win by a couple of goals in Athens – not saying it will be easy but we certainly have it in us.  There is a good chance we will have Theo or the Ox available by then as our key players slowly begin returning to full training.

Despite the injury crisis and a few disappointing results of late there is still much to be excited about as a Gooner and I for one am looking forward to the rest of the season.

Coming up:  This coming Sunday see’s us travel to Carrow Road to face a struggling Norwich side live on Sky sports.  No premier league away game is easy these days but I expect us to take all three points and get our title challenge back on course.  The return of Aaron Ramsey is a huge boost and as we begin to get players fit I expect us to find that momentum again and put a decent run together leading into Christmas.

My prediction is Norwich 0-3 Arsenal (a brave one i know!)

Harry

Bayern give the Gunners a Muller-ing at the Allianz Arena

Where do I start? There was so many bad things about that Arsenal performance that I don’t even know where to begin. Obviously you have to take into account that we were playing one of Europe’s elite & of course our injury problems didn’t help at all. Am I making excuses? No way, because regardless of the circumstances a club of our size and with our quality should not be conceding 5 goals against anybody.

The frustrating thing is that on the odd occasions we managed to string some passes together, the likes of Alexis & Ozil were able to carry the ball up the pitch & we did look as though we could create & make things happen. We were barely able to last ten minutes without conceding though as Lewandowski beat the offside trap and headed the ball into the far corner with great accuracy.

I was absolutely fuming! We had set out to defend and play on the break, our whole game plan was based around staying switched on at the back and within ten minutes it had all gone to pot. Bayern were now in front and had us exactly where they wanted us.

In fairness to the players the response straight after the first goal was fantastic. Ozil and Sanchez combined and Monreal overlapped well to deliver a dangerous ball across the 6 yard box. ‘OZIL! GOAL! ARSENAL ARE LEVEL.’ We all leapt out of our seats in celebration! It was short lived though, the camera panned over to Neuer who was protesting towards the extra officials next to the goal. Rightly so & in the end the goal was ruled out for a handball.

The next 17 mins of the game were pretty decent. I mean Bayern were still dominating possession & Petr Cech had to make a few saves as you would expect but I genuinely thought ‘we are definitely in this’. But then just before the half hour mark another piece of slack defending allowed Muller to fire a shot in off Mertesacker and put the ball beyond Cech’s reach. Then the onslaught began, constant pressure from the Germans and pure dominance. They controlled the game and went on to put 5 past us and make it a night to forget.

It was as if their players had a shield around them, we just weren’t getting close enough. We all know you can’t afford to leave players of that calibre in so much room and you certainly can’t give them that sort of time unchallenged. This was most evident in the build up to Bayern’s 5th goal where Douglas Costa was allowed to run right through the heart of our team before teeing up Muller for his second of the night.

The defending was attrocious last night, simply not good enough for a team aspiring to be champions of England. Particularly the performances of Mertesacker & Debuchy for me were among some of the worst on the pitch. To be fair to the French international though he was a bit, just a bit better in the second half where he made a few important challenges. Most notably the one where Cech was rounded by Arjen Robben and he got back just in the nick of time. De ja vu of the Gomis chance at Swansea?

image

The only positive from last night was Olivier Giroud’s sensational goal at 4-0 down. We conceded a mixture last night of sloppy goals and some classy ones (Alaba’s one springs to mind) but overall as a team the defensive display was poor and as Monsieur Wenger said himself ‘we were not at the races’. A ‘Muller-ing’ at the hands of the Germans and we now head into the NLD this weekend without a load of key players, with Kos & Bellerin likely to miss out as well the pressures really on.

Spurs are a side in form and haven’t been beaten since the opening day of the season. They come to the Emirates full of confidence and although I still expect us to take all 3 points it may not be as straight forward as we would like.

The injuries continue & the door to the last 16 of the champions league slowly closing on us…

But I have faith we will just sneak through and all will be forgiven.

Onto the small matter of the derby!

COYG!

Harry Symeou (AFC)

Bayern Munich vs Arsenal Preview – from Kyri Christodoulou

Arsenal travel to the Bavaria on Wednesday night in very good form, Arsenal have won 5 out off the last 6 in all competitions including a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich at the Emirates last month.

Both teams had very good spells in the game at the Emirates and the game could have gone either way really.

Just like at the Emirates last month Arsenal have to accept that Bayern will dominate possession for most of the game and Arsenal will have to be well organised and have a good shape off the ball just like they did against the Germans in London.

Petr Cech had to make 2 top saves from Bayern’s Thiago and Robert Lewandowski in each half, Arsenal dug in and took their chance with Giroud’s goal coming from an unusual Manuel Neuer blunder.

Football - Arsenal v Bayern Munich - UEFA Champions League Group Stage - Group F - Emirates Stadium, London, England - 20/10/15 Mesut Ozil celebrates with manager Arsene Wenger after scoring the second goal for Arsenal Action Images via Reuters / Tony O'Brien

Arsenal went on to win 2-0 in the end with Mesut Ozil’s effort crossing the line in injury time despite Neuer’s efforts to stop it crossing the line.

Maybe what helped Arsenal is the fact they had to beat Bayern or it was curtains as far as the Champions League is concerned…similar situation in Munich this week.

I still feel if Arsenal loose in Munich they could still scrape through but what a difference a point or even 3 would make for the Gunners.

Even though Bayern are arguably the best team in the world at the moment Arsenal shouldn’t go to Germany with any fear, or what would be the point?

Why bother being in the Champions League if your going to fear Europe’s elite (your in the Champions League to play these teams). Bayern Munich will want to make a statement in the Allianz Arena after getting beat in London.

Arsenal’s record in Munich stretching back as far as 2001 is P4 W1 D1 L2 but the 2 defeats coming at the old Olympic stadium, Arsenal have played twice at the Allianz Arena and have won and drawn but you could argue both them games were in the 2nd legs of knockout ties and both were probably over after the 1st game.

Arsenal’s record in Germany since 2006 has seen them play there 6 times and lose just the once to Dortmund last season. So if you believe in records, Arsenal stand a chance on Wednesday. The German teams have done better against Arsenal in North London though.

I’ve seen Arsenal play against some top teams domestically and in Europe, home and away but the 2nd best team I’ve seen at Arsenal (After Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team) was Jupp Heynckes Bayern Munich who came to the Emirates in February 2013. In that first half they absolutely played Arsenal off the park and it was fantastic football to watch I have to admit. They ended up beating us 3-1 on the night and that side went on to win the treble so they were pretty good.

Bayern Munich’s start to their season has been ridiculously good they set a new Bundesliga record by winning their first 9 league games in a row including two 5-1 home wins against a high flying Dortmund and a very good Wolfsburg side who’ve shown what they can do to good teams in their own back yard. Also beating Wolfsburg 3-1 away at the Volkswagen Arena, a place they don’t loose very often in the DFB-Pokal Cup (Wolfsburg a team that finished 2nd in the Bundesliga behind Bayern last season.)

They did however drop their first domestic points of the season on Friday being held to a surprise 0-0 draw against Eintracht Frankfurt.

Bayern had a starting eleven off Neuer, Rafinha, Boateng, Benatia, Alaba, Lahm, Thiago, Robben, Muller, Costa, Lewandowski.

Robben is back from injury and it will be interesting to see if Guardiola starts the Dutchman after coming back from injury only a week ago.

Bayern still have Ribery and Goetze on the sidelines but have Badstuber back in the squad with Arsenal still missing Arteta, Ox, Walcott, Ramsey, Ospina, Rosicky, Wilshere, Welbeck so the squad is a little thin currently and may have to play the same team that started at Swansea on Saturday.

This is the third time in 4 years the two sides have met in this competition and as a Gooner I’m sick off playing Bayern Munich, mainly because they have beaten us over two legs in the last two meetings. Having said that they have always been great games for the neutrals to watch including the game at the Emirates two weeks ago.

After Arsenal’s first two group games this season in the Champions League it looked like we were heading into the Europa League after two shocking defeats and we still might do but beating Bayern at the Emirates has given the Gunners a chance and a victory in Munich on Wednesday and Arsenal somehow have a chance of winning the group stranger things have happened in football.

If Arsenal have a chance off getting a result in Munich then Wenger has to get his team and tactics spot on like he did at the Emirates.
It’s going to be tough considering what he will have on his bench on Wednesday night so we can’t afford any more injuries or tired legs.

Arsenal need to put in a proper European performance and you can’t play a pressing game away to a team like Bayern Munich because they have the ability and quality to drag you out off position open up gaps and pass rings round you, Arsenal will have to sit back in a shape and be organised without the ball and play on the break.

The players that worry me are Robert Lewandowski he’s gone two games without a goal (that’s his longest goal drought this season). Douglas Costa who has settled into that Bayern team from day one this season and gave Hector Bellerin a hard time in the first half at the Emirates, obviously Thomas Muller and Thiago who’s a very good technical player with quick feet, them three are probably the key three to try and keep quite but with Xavi Alonso and Arturo Vidal in midfield it shows the Bayern team is just full of fantastic players.

I think it’s going to be another fantastic game to watch for the neutrals and even though Arsenal are capable off pulling off great European nights every now and then Arsenal will be facing an angry Bayern Munich side who will want to make a statement . My gut says to me Bayern Munich will edge a close game 2-1 but I do predict Arsenal to get through the group by the skin off their teeth.

Thanks for reading @kyrigooner #UTA

The Typical Week of a Gooner… By Harry Symeou

The typical week of a Gooner…

After last Wednesday’s win in the league cup away to our bitter rivals Spurs & then an emphatic win on Saturday away to the premier leagues only remaining unbeaten side I’m sure we all thought ‘that’s more like it.’

Starting at the lane, it was a pretty solid performance from the Arsenal in my view. A magical performance from Monsieur Flamini having the game of his life & scoring not one but two goals! The second of which I’ve probably seen 15-20 times and still can’t believe he’s produced that! Arsenal stayed strong and defended pretty well overall I thought. Bringing on Sanchez after the Spurs equaliser definitely was the push that got us over the line in the end. Constantly causing panic, picking up the ball in good positions and running at the Spurs back line seemed to peg them back at a time they will probably say they were on top.

Apart from the obvious positive of Flamini’s performance I want to make the point that Calum Chambers looked a lot more assured at centre back and had one of his better games. I know he scored an own goal but how many times have we seen a centre back stick his leg out in reaction to a cross and it end up in his own net. It can happen even to the best.

On a less positive note I thought Mathieu Debuchy looked completely out of his depth! Constantly Spurs were pushing down our right hand side & giving the Frenchman a hard time. Every time Spurs picked up the ball I always thought his starting position was too narrow. This was something I mentioned in the opening ten mins, Chadli & Rose in particular had the pace to constantly get away from him. A friend I was watching the game with made the point it could be his fitness? Perhaps it was…but I was baffled as to his positioning. Having seen it again, he looked both unfit and positionally all over the shop. Bottom line ‘Not good enough’ – fortunately we got away with it on this occasion.

Now onto the weekends game at the King Power – away to Claudio Ranieri’s unbeaten Leicester side. This was never going to be a walk in the park and after going a goal down il be honest, I feared the worst. Up steps Theo Walcott to make his claim to be the no.1 striker. The debate will continue as to whether that role is best for him or not but he’s certainly scoring goals when he’s given the chance. Sometimes he needs 3/4 chances and that is where the uncertainty comes from but his goal record speaks for itself.

A cool left footed finish from the England man put us level and from there on we were playing some irresistible stuff. Alexis came up with a hat trick having not scored all season and announced himself back at the King power. Fantastic performance and between the Chilean and Theo they were a constant threat on the break. Credit to Leicester though they went for us and probably should have scored more than the 2 goals they got on the day. Offensively… Arsenal in full flow. Defensively… Well probably the less we say about that the better. Probably to an extent papering over the cracks but if we go and score 5 away from home then we shouldn’t really have too much complain about.

Now onto the champions league, the one we’re all dying to discuss. As Arsenal fans we are very quick to criticise the manager and to an extent I agree with it. Before I go into the reasons I believe we lost at home to Olympiakos let’s look at the whole picture.

We were drawn in a group with arguably Europe’s top team at the moment and with two sides from Greece & Croatia respectively. Do we have the right to walk through this group? Not in a million years is what I’d say to that. Olympiakos have dominated Greek football for as long as I can remember and have a number of talented South American players in the ranks including Esteban Cambiasso (who regardless of his age brings pedigree to the team).

Dinamo Zagreb – Croatian champions, went the whole season unbeaten last year and have a few talented and very useful players themselves.

Peoples response will be ‘but they play in weak leagues’ – in my opinion people who use that excuse are naive and really don’t understand the game they are watching. Ever heard the saying you can only beat what’s in front of you? Every club in the champions league group stage is there on merit and are there because they are of a certain standard. People live under this illusion that the premier league is by far the best standard in the world – well wake up mate because it’s not. And before people start going crazy I’m not saying that the Greek or Croatian leagues are. I’m making the point that the premier league clubs don’t have this devine right to beat everybody else.

Because these sides don’t spend £40-50m on single players doesn’t mean they can’t compete over 90 mins with the likes of Arsenal or any other club for that matter. England are in danger of losing the 4th champions league spot – this tells us that English clubs haven’t been dominant for a while – it’s not under threat on the basis of one season. Yet the majority of plastic fans think we should still be battering everyone and anyone across Europe home and away.

Moving onto Tues game specifically it was an under par performance from the whole team! Yes I said it, the whole team! Not just David Ospina.

I was at the Emirates and watched us ease off after creating a couple of half chances and let the Greeks grow into the game. You could see it from the stands they were gaining confidence as the mins passed. Cambiasso pulling the strings in the middle of the park and keeping his team focused and organised. A true leader. Where was ours?

A smartly worked corner, a weak shot & a weak attempt to block the shot from the Ox led to them taking the lead. As the Olympiakos players ran over to the scorer in celebration my eyes were glued to Esteban Cambiasso who calmly walked over and made a gesture to the whole team to ‘calm down’. Again…the leader, the most experienced player in the side taking it upon himself to take ownership of the situation.

Fortunately their joy was short lived as Theo broke away and a howler from their goalkeeper Roberto gifted us the equaliser. Now we were level, 10 mins to go to half time. Where was our leader to say ‘right lads were level after a scare, let’s keep it tight go in at half time and re group’…. Nothing. No instructions from Arsene who went straight back to his seat after the goal. The next goal we conceded was a howler from Ospina – nothing more to say about that, an individual error.

Wengers been highly criticised for his selection but having said that. I bet you all thought we were gonna win comfortably and I’m sure nobody can think of times where Ospina has let us down before. So why doesn’t he deserve to start? Yesterday’s poor display was more than just one error from Ospina and he’s been made the scapegoat for it. Me personally, I’d have played Cech because I always wanna see our strongest side in the champions league. But I don’t make the decisions.

65 mins gone and Sanchez pops up with a well placed header to level it… 2-2 & Olympiakos surely now are thinking ‘right boys lets hold on to the point and get out of here’. But don’t worry lads Arsenals naivety kicks in again – where were the leaders (plural) to say ‘right lets be patient here we have 25mins to find the winner’ – ‘concentrate on not throwing this away again and push them back onto the edge of their 18 yard box and we will create something’

Obviously I can’t be sure that nobody said that but if they did my god nobody listened. Typical Arsenal …headless chickens leaving gaps every where and once again gifting Olympiakos the third and what turned out to be the winner. This is the champions league and it goes back to my previous point… There aren’t any sh*t teams in this competition so you can’t be so naive and go around gifting people opportunities. They will punish you at this level.

image

Truth is I could sit & talk about why Arsenal fail in big games for hours & hours. I’m not a Wenger out man just yet but its his players that he picks and that he has brought to the club that are forever letting this huge club down.

We now realistically face the prospect of failing to qualify for the last 16 and it’s because we simply haven’t been good enough.  Is it time for a change at Arsenal? Will we keep falling short with Wenger at the helm? It’s a serious question – even for the Wenger In crowd!

From highs to lows in the space of a week – the typical life of a Gooner!

Harry Symeou – AFC FAN