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

Alexis – Like RVP, Nasri & Fabregas before him…

Arsenal suffered another defeat at the hands of one of the big six.

It came as no surprise that Arsene Wenger’s side simply forgot to turn up at Anfield but what did come as a surprise was Alexis Sanchez’ omission from the starting XI.

There wasn’t a Gooner in the world not left scratching his/her head when the line ups were announced.

Our talisman, our best player by a country mile, our top scorer and going into this weekend the leagues joint top goal scorer…benched!

Like many times in recent seasons it was impossible to see the logic behind Wenger’s decision.

When asked why Alexis had been dropped he told the media he wanted the side to adopt a “more direct approach”.

That explains why Giroud started the game but doesn’t explain why the Chilean couldn’t take up the position he’s made a career out of, on the left flank.

A truly mind boggling decision and a mistake that he ultimately paid for.

There is no shame in losing at Anfield and many of the leagues ‘bigger’ sides have suffered when they’ve gone toe to toe with Klopp’s energetic and dynamic Liverpool side.

Missing your best player is always a disadvantage and can sometimes leave you feeling hard done by and disappointed.

However, when it’s self inflicted, your talisman dropped out of choice, for reasons unknown to the fans and the manager has quite obviously just lied on camera the disappointment can turn very quickly into anger.

If we’re to believe the reports, he was dropped after a training ground bust up with a number of his team mates. One can only assume he showed his dissatisfaction at the recent performances of the team.

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Frustration…

Something we as loyal supporters are all feeling. If Sanchez has communicated that in some way to his team mates at least we know someone within the club wants to win!

The born winners in life are always the worst losers. Some would call his reported actions disruptive, I say well done to him. Players, the manager and the clubs leadership have to be held accountable for their failures.

A board, a manager and a squad of players who show no desire to win and a primary objective of balancing the books are a cancer eating away at this great club.

Like RVP, Nasri and Fabregas before him it’s only a matter of time before Alexis ambitions outgrow those of the clubs hierarchy.

The embarrassing performances continue and a lack of progression that has been associated with the club for many seasons will ultimately cost us holding onto our best players.

Sound familiar?

Wenger cannot take this club any further and those who want him to remain in charge must be satisfied with mediocrity.

His legacy is being tarnished and the ill feeling towards him continues to grow amongst even the most loyal of Gooner’s.

Enough is Enough.

Harry

Preparing for Life After Wenger…

Preparing for Life After Wenger…

Monsieur Arsene Wenger, Arsenal Football Club’s greatest ever manager.  The end of his contract is just around the corner and his delay in signing a new deal creates a great deal of uncertainty around the club.  The Arsenal faithful remain divided on whether he is still fit to lead this prestigious club and in recent years more and more Wenger loyalists have jumped ship.  The lack of progress has been the issue and whilst the Gunners finished runners up last year (for the first time since 2004/05) it still doesn’t feel like enough.

At the time of me writing this we sit in 5th place. Whilst our current league position isn’t ideal there are darker clouds of uncertainty hanging over the Emirates stadium at present.

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Ozil & Sanchez

Mesut Ozil finally broke his silence on the ongoing contract negotiations and has only added fuel to the speculation surrounding his future.  The German international pretty much confirmed my theory.  The future of Arsene Wenger will have a huge influence on his own and is further evidence that the clubs stars are behind the boss.

Does preparing for life after Wenger include preparing for life without Mesut Ozil? It certainly appears that way.  Both Ozil and Sanchez have just 18 months remaining on their current deals and whilst I’m sure their delay in signing is partly down to their agents holding out for the best deals possible you cannot ignore the fact that the uncertainty around Wenger’s future is a huge stumbling point.

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Wenger

Arsene was the main factor in the acquisitions of our two star men.  As a club we traditionally refuse to table the sort of money our competitors do and so the opportunity to work with such an experienced and accomplished manager is our unique selling point during transfer negotiations.

Whilst I have the upmost respect for a true Arsenal legend I think you can safely say he will never replicate the success he enjoyed during the first half of his Arsenal career.  His best days are probably behind him and most would argue that can only signify it’s time for a change.

Let’s not forget he is without a shadow of a doubt the greatest manager our club has ever had and so if he is to leave at the end of the current season I and many other Gooner’s fear that  even the top managers around the world would find it an extremely difficult position to fill.

The Board

The thing that scares me about ‘Life After Wenger’ is my lack of faith in our board to make the RIGHT appointment when Wenger finally vacates his position.  They run our club like a business, have hardly any footballing knowledge between them and if you think they will pay top dollar to attract one of the world’s elite managers AND provide him with funds to build his own side you are having a laugh!

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Transition

When the time comes for Wenger to depart a transitional period will be inevitable.  For years, we have taken finishing in the top four for granted and only when we drop out of it will we see the real value of having the ‘Champions League Status’.

Perhaps it’s time to finally start planning for ‘Life after Wenger’…

It’s fine to want a change but only if you can accept all the hiccups that will inevitably come with it.

Fans of my age group in particular probably don’t remember too much about ‘Life before Wenger’ and so when that time comes the feelings of sadness and nostalgia will come over us and even the most stubborn of WOB’s.

3 Premier League titles, 6 FA Cups and countless other great memories that will stay with me forever.

Only Wenger himself and possibly the board know whether he will remain in charge beyond the end of this current campaign but I for one, am preparing myself to say goodbye to Arsenal’s greatest servant.

Harry

@HarrySymeou

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Gunners Suffer Defeat At Goodison Park

The Gunners suffered just their second premier league defeat of the season at Goodison Park and by the over reaction from some of our fan base you’d think the trophy was already on its way to West London.  Alexis Sanchez gave Arsenal the lead through a deflected free kick and based on the opening twenty minutes you’d have backed the Gunners to take all three points.  Unfortunately the following 70 minutes bared no resemblance.

Everton came into the game on a terrible run of form and last night’s victory was their first since October.  I emphasized in the sofasportsnews.com chat room early on Tuesday morning that no trip to Goodison Park is easy, despite their poor recent run of form it’s worth noting the Toffee’s are yet to lose at home this season.

In recent times, Ronald Koeman has been a thorn in the side of Monsieur Wenger.  The Dutch coach seems to have found a formula to disrupt Arsenal’s fluency and turned the game into a good old fashioned scrap, not for the first time versus the Gunners.  Although this style isn’t something you’d normally associate with Koeman his ability to adapt his style and exploit the opponents weakness is a fine attribute for any manager to have.

Losing a game you had the lead in is always hard to stomach; the character of our side is once more being questioned and sections of our support have already conceded the title on social media.  Over reaction? Absolutely!

What went wrong?

There isn’t a sole reason as to why we left Goodison Park with nothing.  I put it down to a number of factors on the night.

Poor individual performances…

The Ox, Theo and Ozil were all below par on the night.  Whilst I can forgive the German, I’m becoming increasingly frustrated by the performances of Theo and the Ox.  The Ox continues to be given opportunities despite not being able to perform on a consistent basis and having been anonymous for most of the weekends win over Stoke I was disappointed to see him in the starting XI.  He tends to drift in and out of games, wastes possession and the fact he’s only scored 18 Premier League goals in more than 5 years at the Arsenal is just one factor proving he is a player who’s failed to develop.

Theo Walcott once again failed to perform, you could argue he could have done more to prevent Baines’ cross leading to the Everton equalizer.  Defensive duties aside, the winger offered us nothing in an attacking sense and despite his impressive goal return so far this season he continues to drift in and out of games similar to the above mentioned Ox.  The goals are there and based on that I can understand why the boss persists with the England international.

It’s not often I dig out Mesut Ozil and I’m probably wrong to do this based on just the one fixture, but I cannot help feeling disappointed in the way he performed last night.  He failed to convert one of Arsenal’s best and only opportunities on the night and during the first half in particular he failed to execute the killer passes he usually makes with his eyes closed.  I don’t want to make too much of it because his form so far this season has been sublime.  Despite it being a one off, it did affect our chances of winning the game and so I decided it was worth a mention.

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The Referee…

I don’t want this to come across as sour grapes but I find myself ruing a couple of poor refereeing decisions and not for the first time.  The incorrect award of an Everton corner by Mark Clattenburg subsequently led to the Williams goal and ultimately decided the result.

Those of you who read this blog regularly and listen to the sofasportsnews.com official podcast will know I’m in favor of video technology and extremely passionate about it.  Far too many results are dictated by incorrect decisions, I don’t blame the referee’s themselves, I blame the games governing bodies for not providing the support they require as demonstrated by plenty of other sports.

I guess you can sympathize with the officials when they don’t spot the slight deflections, like the one that led to the corner but what you can’t excuse is his failure to see the foul on Alexis Sanchez in the Everton box during stoppage time.  Arsenal should never have conceded that corner and should have certainly been awarded a late  penalty.  No matter how much scrutiny the performance comes under the fact is that Arsenal would have at a minimum taken a point from the game had the officials seen the incidents clearly or at least had the tools available to refer to at their disposal.

It’s a minor setback in our title chase, just our second league defeat of the season and to write us off would be foolish.

Looking forward…

We travel to Man City on Sunday and have a real opportunity to show our title credentials.  A draw at the Etihad would be a fine result but with them playing the way they are of late there’s nothing to say we can’t take all three points. Perhaps this defeat will be the wakeup call we need.  Arsenal have managed to stay with the pack thus far and in my opinion we’ve not yet come out of second gear.

Enough of the negativity, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

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COYG

Harry

Sofasportsnews.com

The Casual Fan Base: Arsenal FC

Arsenal 3-1 Stoke FT

Saturday’s victory over Stoke was by no means the most convincing of Arsenal wins but the Gunners continued their fine form, turning up the heat on Antonio Conte’s Chelsea ahead of their game on Sunday.

Theo Walcott’s equalizer, Mesut Ozil’s sublime header and Alex Iwobi’s calm finish cancelled out Charlie Adams first half opener and sealed the Gunners’ tenth league victory of the season.

I was offered the chance to move seats this weekend and I reluctantly took up the offer.  However, it was an opportunity to sit in what I call ‘the prawn sandwich section’ and view the game from a totally different angle.   I was right on the half way line, dead centre, a few rows behind the away dugout and the view was awesome what more could you want?

It sounds like a dream but in reality it was one of the worst experiences I’ve had at the Emirates stadium.  My season ticket is situated in Block 6 of the North Bank; without doubt the most atmospheric part of the ground.  I can count on one hand how many times I have sat in other parts of the ground and when I have it’s only ever been the odd league cup game.

Despite only moving 6 blocks around it felt as though I was sitting in a different stadium and to be honest, at times it made my blood boil.  We often hear fans of rival clubs calling us a ‘prawn sandwich club’ and if they’re basing it on what I saw this weekend you’d have a hard time arguing against them.

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The Casual Fan Base

As the game kicked off this weekend the four seats directly in front of me, the two to my left and the three behind me were completely empty.  We’ve all been in a situation where the transport around the ground has been an absolute nightmare and so you can forgive the odd fan for strolling in a minute or two after the kick off but this is a far deeper issue.

Since the Gunners moved to the Emirates stadium just over ten years ago we have acquired what I can only describe as a casual fan base.  Football is no longer a working man’s sport due to the sky high prices and to put it simply, half of the spectators in the Emirates stadium are just there for a day out or because a casual season ticket holder gave them his ticket for the day.

The bigger the stadium, the more room there is for the casual fan and it’s an issue that almost every big club suffers from.

The Typical Casual Gooner

 The reality is, these people don’t really care about Arsenal football club.  They don’t share the same love and passion for the club that you and I do.  They turn up ten minutes late to every single game, disappear before the first half ends in search of the bar, and return ten minutes into the second half having gotten carried away talking with their mates inside.

Best of all, no matter what the score is, however finely poised the game is or whoever the opponent they choose to leave ten minutes early in a bid to avoid the crowded trains.

Is there any point in even coming!?

I’m sure every Arsenal season ticket holder can think of at least one person around them who fits this description.

The Impact

Having a stadium plagued with casual fans can have a detrimental impact on the team and causes divide amongst fans.  The club itself will never see this as an issue as long as they’re balancing the books..

I am a firm believer that a vocal crowd can give the players performance an extra 10-15%, can carry a team through a difficult period in a game and can influence refereeing decisions.  These factors, especially in the big games can sometimes get the team over the line but what kind of atmosphere can you generate when the ground is half empty at kick off, before and after half time and ten minutes from the end?

During the course of last season I witnessed a number of clashes inside the ground between our own supporters.  In particular when our title challenge began to de-rail.  There is no better example of the division in our support than the Wenger IN/OUT debate.  The casual fans acceptance of just finishing 4th in recent years has distanced them further from the real Arsenal hardcore.

Sadly, it’s the direction modern football is heading in. Inflated prices, casual fans and even the most historical of clubs are beginning to lose their identities.

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Harry

sofasportsnews.com

 

‘Nacho’ typical November

‘Nacho’ Typical November…

The Match:

After three straight draws the Gunners finally registered their eighth league win of the season.  Steve Cook’s calamitous back pass allowed Alexis Sanchez to break free and calmly slot the ball past the onrushing Adam Federici.  A slightly fortuitous start for the Arsenal but even still, this was by no means an easy victory.

It wasn’t long before the Cherries were level, Callum Wilson leveled from the spot after being brought down by a clumsy Nacho Monreal.  Some argued it was not the clearest of penalties but here is how I see it.  If you raise your arms into an unnatural position, make contact with the striker who has managed to get the wrong side of you and fail to make any contact with the ball the referee has every right to point to the spot.

It’s not the first time Nacho has found himself in this kind of situation and his recent performances are nowhere the levels he reached last season.  Perhaps it’s time Kieran Gibbs got the run of games his patience has deserved.

The Bournemouth equalizer seemed to turn the tide and Eddie Howe’s side grew in confidence.  They are a side that play the game in the right way and deserve a lot of credit for their ‘ballsy’ approach.  It’s not very often you see the  so called ‘smaller’ teams come to the Emirates and play expansive, attacking football in search of all three points.

Bournemouth spurned two good opportunities to take the lead when Adam Smith headed over and Brad Smith’s shot was saved by Petr Cech.  Alexis Sanchez fired a shot from a tight angle just on the stroke of half time which he saw crash off the bar.

The Gunners lead was restored on 53 minutes when Theo Walcott ‘rose like a salmon’ and headed home a Nacho Monreal cross.  By no means an unlikely goal scorer but let’s just say it’s not the type of goal you associate with Theo.  The England forward, whose wife gave birth to their second child this week registered his eight goal of the season and continues to impress back out on the right.

The man of the moment Senor Monreal almost conceded a second penalty of the afternoon when he appeared to handle Simon Francis’ pass.  I think it’s clear that it wasn’t intentional but when your arms are dangling all over the place you’re just giving the referee an opportunity to call it.  Bournemouth will feel hard done by, particularly with that decision and who can blame them.

Thankfully, Ozil, Giroud and Sanchez combined in the 91st minute to seal the points and ensure Arsenal moved to within three points of the top spot.

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Final Thoughts:

Hardly a spectacular performance but there were signs, flashes if you like that Arsenal are beginning to click again.  There’s been a real lack of creativity lately and Arsene has struggled to find the right balance in the middle of the park.  Granit Xhaka impressed in the second half and made a real claim for a place in the side at West Ham this weekend.

Having not won in three games, it was imperative we took all three points yesterday all be it under slightly fortunate circumstances.  I still don’t know who our best XI is and the midfield area concerns me.  With Santi missing we struggle to find the right balance at times and our fluency has suffered as a consequence.

The sooner we get Hector Bellerin back the better, it was a real shame to see Debuchy limp off so early on but throwing him in after so long on the sidelines always had an associated risk.  One thing is clear, neither Carl Jenkinson nor Gabriel are competent enough in that role and the absence of our marauding right back weakens us defensively and offensively.

The good news is, November is over and we survived it without defeat.

Despite a number of changes from the PSG game midweek the team achieved the desired result, demonstrating the strength in depth we now posses among this current crop of players

There is plenty of football to be played and there is no reason why Arsenal can’t mount a serious title challenge.  December, arguably the most challenging month of the Premier League season is around the corner and we will need to utilize all of our squad to avoid a case of burnout.

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COYG!

Harry

sofasportsnews.com

EPL Round up – Week 13

Burnley 1-2 Man City

Another exciting weekend of EPL action kicked off with Burnley hosting title chasers Manchester City at Turf Moor.  Sean Dyche’s side took an early lead through the former Spurs midfielder Dean Marney, a lead the home side fully deserved having made an impressive start to the game.  It wasn’t long before the EPL’s hottest striker Sergio Aguero arrived at the party and with goals on 37 & 60 minutes his brace proved to be the difference.

Liverpool 2-0 Sunderland 

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool faced a stubborn Sunderland side at Anfield this weekend and 75 minutes passed before they finally broke the deadlock.  Belgian striker and substitute Divock Origi broke the Sunderland resistance with around about 15 minutes to go and a late penalty sealed the victory as James Milner calmly dispatched.

Chelsea 2-1 Spurs

In the days late kick off, in-form Chelsea entertained a Spurs side fresh off the back of their Champions League exit midweek.  Many predicted Chelsea to cruise through this one but that certainly wasn’t the case.  An impressive first half performance from Spurs capped by a fine strike from Christian Eriksen had Antonio Conte’s men with their backs to the wall.  Pedro’s curling effort leveled it on the stroke of half time and from then on Chelsea’s superiority was clear for all to see.  Victor Moses’ goal just after the break proved to be the winner and propelled the West Londoners back to the top of the pile.  With Spurs having suffered defeat there are no longer any unbeaten teams in the division.

Arsenal 3-1 Bournemouth

The Gunners ended their run of three straight draws with a far from convincing win at the Emirates.  Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth side will feel hard done by and probably deserved at least a point from the game.  Some contentious refereeing decisions left the cherries feeling aggrieved, Alexis Sanchez’s brace and Theo Walcott’s header were enough to seal the points for the Gunners and ensure they kept in touch with the leaders.  This Bournemouth performance was further evidence that Eddie Howe is a fine manager and has a bright future in the game.

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Man Utd 1-1 West Ham

Jose Mourinho stole the headlines once again when he appeared to lose it on the touchline and was subsequently sent to the stands for the second time this season.  Man Utd got off to the worst possible start when Diafra Sakho gave the hammers the lead just 2 minutes in.  Summer signings Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic combined to draw the home side level around about 20 minutes later but neither side were able to take all three points.  Yet another frustrating result for Jose’s side who now find themselves 8 points behind the current top 4.

Game of the Week:

Swansea 5-4 Crystal Palace

Bob Bradley celebrated his first win as Swansea manager but oh boy did they leave it late!  Two goals in stoppage time from Spanish striker Fernando Llorente turned the game on its head and ultimately decided this 9 goal thriller.  It looked as though Palace were going to return to South London with all 3 points when Benteke netted on 84 minutes but sadly for Alan Pardew it just wasn’t to be.  Having invested heavily in the squad over the summer there is no doubt Alan Pardew will now be under immense pressure.  Both sides find themselves in the midst of a relegation dogfight and it’s no surprise with that sort of defending!

Elsewhere…

Watford suffered a home defeat at the hands of Stoke.  A Gomes own goal and Mazzari’s refusal to shake Mark Hughes hand post game were the major talking points.  Ronald Koeman’s return to St Mary’s was an unhappy one as his Everton side suffered a 1-0 defeat.  Debutant Josh Sims impressed for the Saints and he may be a player to keep your eye on for the future.  Hull City managed to salvage a draw versus an in-form West Brom side leaving both slightly frustrated.  Champions Leicester City  needed a couple of penalties to deny Middlesbrough a win at the King Power.  Leicester’s form may have completely changed this season but the dodgy penalty awards they were getting certainly haven’t, check that out on MOTD.

Click on the image below to listen to the latest episode of the sofasportsnews.com official podcast.

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Harry

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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Brand New: The latest edition of the sofasportsnews.com podcast!

The latest edition of the SSN official podcast. Harry & Alavi are joined by the last editions popular guest Andrew to discuss the latest footballing topics. As well as answering YOUR questions they discuss Spurs v WHU, Man Utd v Arsenal, The Milan derby, The Madrid Derby and the latest refereeing howlers. Sponsored by TagPay! www.sofasportsnews.com

What, if anything, have we learnt from the NLD?

What, if anything, have we learnt from the NLD?

Arsenal 1-1 Spurs, probably a fair result overall.  The first 20-25 minutes or so were pretty subdued, possibly down to the diabolical kick off time, I don’t know about you guys but I was still half asleep and nursing a hangover when the players emerged from the tunnel.

First Half

The Emirates was packed to the rafters in time for the kick off, the prawn sandwich brigade were out in full force and on time for once, creating the kind of atmosphere only a derby match is capable of.  Prior to kick off I was concerned that the scum’s midfield would dominate our own physically and there’s no doubt that Dembele bossed the middle of the park for most of, if not the whole game.

We began to turn the screw towards the end of the first half and were unfortunate not to take the lead in particular when Theo Walcott’s effort came crashing off the frame of the goal.  On 42 minutes Arsenal’s pressure paid off, Kevin Wimmer rose like a salmon to head into his own net with an exquisite header, the kind a centre forward dreams of.

Happy days, 1-0 up at half time and we were looking as though we were on the up.  Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez’s pace a constant threat, Ozil spraying passes, Bellerin & Nacho joining the play, Xhaka and Coquelin enforcing in the middle but most importantly we had a lead to show for it!

Second Half

You have to question what happened in the Arsenal dressing room at half time.  If I was to take a guess, I’d say the players went in, had a nap and failed to wake up in time for the second period.  We were abysmal throughout the whole of the half and you could argue we were fortunate not to have conceded a second.

The intensity dropped dramatically and as Arsene likes to say “We dropped a little bit physically”.  The Spuds had their chances and we failed to create anything of note.  In fairness to Arsene, I think he recognized the need for fresh legs a lot earlier than he usually does.  He made all three substitutions on the 65th, 70th and 71st minutes.  Unfortunately for the manager, they looked just as off the pace as the players they’d replaced.

The worst performance of the lot award has to go to The Ox; he failed to make any impact on the game and made a mess of even the simplest of tasks.

The introduction of Olivier Giroud provided us with a target, however he was swallowed up by Spurs’ 3 central defenders and failed to cause them any problems whatsoever.

Aaron Ramsey was the first of the substitutes to take to the field and probably made the biggest impact of the three, he injected a much needed energy into our fading midfield but unfortunately his final pass/shot let him down.

With Manchester City slipping up the day before it was an opportunity to jump to the top of the EPL but it just wasn’t to be.  I guess when you perform that badly the main priority is to get something rather than nothing from the game, in this case the point.

A poor performance but we will take our point and move forward.  No need to panic just yet.

 

What, if anything have we learnt from the NLD…
Arsenal

It’s hard to pass sensible judgment on one particular fixture; however during that second half we saw the type of naivety that has been our downfall in recent seasons.  Forever putting ourselves under pressure with risky passes, half hearted clearances and failing to react quick enough to the second balls contributed to an uneasy second half.

One of the worst performances I’ve seen from the Arsenal this season.  There is no scientific or tactical reason for the way we played; I put it simply down to an off day.  Fortunately perhaps, we held onto the point and let’s hope we are back to our normal selves at Old Trafford in a couple of week’s time.

I’m still not 100% convinced of Arsenal’s title credentials but the fact we are picking up valuable points even on our ‘bad’ days has to be an encouraging sign at this stage of the season.

 

Spurs

It pains me to say it but Spurs are a far better side than I have given them any credit for in the past couple of seasons.  A solid defensive unit, a powerful midfield and a striker that will always score goals are some of the key ingredients for a winning formula.   Pochettino’s record versus Wenger since arriving at Shite Hart Lane evidences his tactical understanding and I don’t think I remember them having a better boss, in my life time anyway.

I still don’t see them as genuine title contenders but I’m pretty sure they will be in the top 4 come May. With the development of the lane around the corner if Poch can keep them in the Champions League spots with limited resource that will be a marvelous achievement.

I would hate to see them make the top 4 but the positive is that means we will at minimum finish 3rd!

#mindthegap

Harry

Sofa Sports News

 

 

The NLD: Gooner View

The NLD is upon us and I’ve been feeling a mixture of excitement/nerves for the whole week.

With both sides having played their midweek Champions league games it’s time to concentrate solely on Sunday.

Current Form

On Tuesday night Arsenal were poor, it was far from the best performance of the season.

I just can’t put my finger on it, Arsenal are very good away from home domestically but pretty poor away in Europe and it’s been that way for a long while.

Anyway, the main thing is we found a way to take all three points and qualify for the knock out stages once again.

Spurs on the other hand look as though their heading back into the Europa league after Wednesday night’s home defeat at the hands of Bayer Leverkusen.

They were poor, extremely poor.

Their form heading into the NLD is pretty bad, having beaten Man City before the international break so convincingly they failed to continue the momentum and have since drawn four and lost two (in all comps).

In comparison, Arsenal have won five and drawn one (in all comps).

I’ve been more than pleased to see Tottenham drop points and fail to win games in the last few weeks but there is something extremely dangerous about playing one of the ‘stronger’ teams when they are so desperate for a win. Are they due a win?

On the flip side you can say Spurs remain the only unbeaten team in the Premier League. Are they due a defeat?

We all know who the form team is going into this fixture.  However, it is a NLD and so the form book tends to go out of the window.

I still expect Spurs to come to the Emirates on Sunday and be up for it, hard to beat and a threat to our goal.

Arsenal vs Pochettino

A fact not many people may know is that since Pochettino’s arrival, Arsenal have not won a NLD in the league (4 draws, 1 Tottenham win).  The Gunner’s only victory over Pochettino’s side came in last season’s League Cup.

Arsenal need to come out of the blocks quickly on Sunday, go for the throat, pass and move the ball quickly and make things uncomfortable right from the start. This is a wounded Spurs team that are clearly lacking confidence and so we shouldn’t allow them the chance to settle early on.

If Arsenal play the way they can and go with the above I can only see one winner.

The problem will come if the other Arsenal turn up and we are slow moving the ball and lack movement.  In that case, Tottenham’s high intensity pressing game will see Arsenal struggle and could play into Tottenham’s hands.

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Team News

Tottenham go into the game with some key players such as Toby Alderweireld, Harry Kane, Moussa Dembele, Erick Lamela as injury doubts going into the NLD. I expect to see Lamela play but am unsure as to whether Dembele will make it, only the coming days will tell the extent of his midweek injury.

I am still none the wiser as to whether Kane or Aldeweireld will make it but as a Gooner I’m hopeful they wont.

Arsenal have some injury doubts of their own with Theo Walcott, Hector Bellerin, Santi Cazorla, Nacho Monreal facing fitness tests. I must admit, I expect Walcott, Bellerin and Monreal to feature.

With Arsenal travelling to Old Trafford next and Spurs having another two London Derby’s against West Ham and Chelsea around the corner the three points become even more important.  Especially with Liverpool and Man City playing Middlesbrough and Watford at home this weekend respectively.

I know it’s early in the season and we shouldn’t really be too concerned about the table but neither side wants to be playing catch up.

As previously mentioned, Arsenal are the form team heading into this North London Derby but over the years one thing I’ve learnt from being a football fan is this game is very unpredictable and football can change very quickly.  We shouldn’t take anything for granted or get carried away.

I’m going to predict a tight game, both sides will play good football for a lot of the game and a fantastic fixture for the neutral.

As for the result it’s very hard to call and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up in a score draw.

For the latest Odd’s on all of this weekends fixtures Click Here!

Anyway….

UP THE GUNNERS!!!!!!

Kyri

SSN

Official Podcast – Arsenal Talk

Sofa Sports News Podcast Ep.1/11/2016 – Harry is joined on the sofa by Andrew and Tony to discuss the Gunners. They discuss tonights win over Ludogorets and their hopes for the season. Can Arsenal go all the way this year? They also look ahead to this coming weekends North London Derby and give an overall assessment of Arsenal’s season so far. www.sofasportsnews.com

Giroud brace keeps the Gunners in the Race.

The Match

Arsene Wengers side travelled to the stadium of light this weekend as the firm favourites prior to kick off. With Granit Xhaka serving the last game of his ban Mohamed El Neny continued to fill in for the absent Santi Cazorla. Kieran Gibbs was handed a premier league start after some impressive performances of late and he’s making a real case for that first team spot.

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The Gunners were boosted by the return of Aaron Ramsey to the squad and having got a few minutes under his belt midweek Olivier Giroud was also named on the bench. A welcome boost having lost Lucas Perez for around about 6 weeks, welcome to Arsenal buddy!

The game unfolded as many expected, the Gunners dominated possession having a huge 67% of the ball. Alexis Sanchez opened the scoring on 19 minutes. A smart header having got himself on the end of a dangerous Oxlade-Chamberlain cross, leaving the keeper with absolutely no chance.

From then on Arsenal dominated the game and squandered a number of very good chances to put the game to bed.

Around about the hour mark the Gunners had a clear penalty appeal turned down despite it appearing as though Alexis Sanchez was pulled back in the box. So you could imagine my disgust when Sunderland broke away just moments after and won a penalty of their own.

Duncan Watmore found himself through on goal, rounded Petr Cech and the veteran goalkeeper brought him down. No arguments about that decision but the one at the other end further enhanced my argument for technology in football. Up stepped Jermaine Defoe, the former Spurs striker was always going to score & rub salt in the wound!

Just as predicted, he made absolutely no mistake and with little over 25 minutes remaining we were in danger of throwing away 2 points. Some Gunners will tell you we were so dominant the victory was never in doubt but when you play so well and fail to kill a game you often end up being punished.

Fortunately on this occasion David Moyes’ side were so bad and capitulated even further having drawn level.

Many of our fans are quick to criticise Wenger for his changes at times but on this occasion he got it right and deserves a mention.

On came Olivier Giroud and with his first touch restored our lead! And people say he’s not clinical enough. Ha.

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Just moments after, the Frenchman got on the end of an Ozil corner and sealed the 3 points. A fine run across the front post and a fine header towards the back post meant Pickford was unable to keep it out. The more times I see the replay I just think “Olivier really had no right to score from there”.

There are some people that will still be uncertain on whether he is a top class striker or not but one thing is for sure, he’s a fantastic centre forward and although he may not be good enough to be the ONLY option he’s certainly an effective one.

Giroud essentially wrapped up the 3 points but Alexis put the cherry on top with his 2nd and Arsenal’s 4th. The Sunderland faithful began leaving the stadium and it was job done. A minor scare in the end but there’s no doubt the best side won.

Options

Despite the handsome away victory the biggest positive for me was that Arsenal displayed strength in depth and the ability to change it up. We’ve been accused numerous times of not having a plan b and only being able to play the one way.

I’m a big advocate of the system we’ve introduced this season with Alexis being the front man – his goal record speaks for itself. I’m also a huge fan of Giroud & feel he gives us a presence & aerial threat when teams sit back on us.

It’s nice to know that if needed we can change it up & even if the Frenchman comes off the bench I’m confident he can impact games.

We have two fantastic centre halves and an array of attacking talent. This is quite possibly the strongest side we’ve had in years. I’m confident we can mount a serious title challenge & despite what happens over the coming months you won’t hear me calling for Wenger out.

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A victory in Bulgaria tomorrow night will set us up nicely for progression into the last 16 of the UCL. The small matter of the NLD coming this weekend and I’m buzzing!

UTA

Harry

Sofa Sports News

EFL Cup -Betting Tips! (Tuesday)

Tuesday night see’s 5 EFL cup tie’s taking place with the stand out game being that between Liverpool & Spurs at Anfield. (Live on Sky sports)

Betting: EFL Cup

Arsenal: 2/9   Draw: 6/1   Reading: 14/1

Bristol City: 13/10   Draw:  5/2   Hull City: 9/4

Leeds United: 15/8   Draw: 12/5   Norwich City: 8/5

Liverpool: 7/10   Draw: 16/5   Tottenham Hotspur: 4/1

Newcastle: 2/5   Draw: 15/4   Preston: 17/2

Odd’s from Bet365 online…(subject to change)

Harry’s tip:  “I expect Liverpool vs Spurs to be a good EFL cup tie and I think the host’s should just edge it.  However, Spurs at 4/1 is excellent value and I am feeling lucky so I will certainly be backing an away win!

Interestingly, if you like an accumulator a treble of Arsenal, Tottenham and Hull City is at 19/1.  Worth a tenner surely!”

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Sofa Sports News