EPL Top 6 positions up for grabs – who’ll finish where?

March 17, 2019

The placement of the top six clubs in the Premier League looks like it will go right down to the last game of the season.

Top six standings as of March 11th

Lets take a look at where the teams stand with only eight games left to play (Chelsea still have nine but play today).

The top two positions look to be contested between Manchester City and Liverpool – will Liverpool finally win their nineteenth league title and their first Premier League Championship or will holders Manchester City win their sixth league title (4th since the oil money came in) ?

In the reverse fixtures this season Manchester City beat Manchester United and Tottenham but lost to Crystal Palace and Leicester City gaining 18 out of 24 points. Liverpool won 7 out of the 8 games and drew with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge gaining 21 out of 24 points.

Liverpool has the advantage of playing Tottenham and Chelsea in front of their home supporters at Anfield while Manchester City has the distinct disadvantage of playing Manchester United at Old Trafford.

My best guess is that Liverpool will hold their nerve and win their first Premier League Championship, though with both teams in the Champions League q/fs, European distractions may play a part.

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The third through sixth positions are between Spurs, Arsenal, Man U and Chelsea and the four teams are separated by only four points with their final placement in complete doubt.

Let’s look at the teams individually.

Tottenham:

In their reverse fixtures this season they won 6 of the 8 games but lost at home to both Liverpool and Manchester City gaining 18 out of 24 points.

In their last 4 games Tottenham have picked up only 1 point, drawing with Arsenal and losing to Burnley, Chelsea and Southampton. In their last 8 games they will have to face both Liverpool and Manchester City in away fixtures.

(Update : the Champions League may not distract them for too much longer unfortunately)

Arsenal:

Arsenal won 5 of their reverse fixtures while drawing with Wolves, Crystal Palace and Brighton gaining 18 out of the 24 points.

They have finished all of their games against the top 6 teams which should give them a big advantage in the race for the top 4 positions.

Emery and Podgytino in their Spanish days

Manchester United:

Manchester United won 4 of their reverse games but drew with Wolves and Chelsea while losing to Manchester City and West Ham gaining only 14 of the 24 points.

They have been revitalised by new management and in their last 13 league games they have won 10 drawn 2 and lost just 1 to Arsenal at the Emirates. Their final place in the PL will most likely be determined by the results in their homes games against Manchester City and Chelsea.

(Update : they’ll be pleased they can concentrate on the League – now that the FA Cup is out of the way! But still have Barca to negotiate in the CL.)

Chelsea:

In their reverse fixtures Chelsea won 4 and but drew with Everton, West Ham, Liverpool and Manchester United while losing to Leicester and only picking up a low 12 out of 27 points.

In their final 9 league games they have 5 very tough away games at Everton, Cardiff City, Liverpool, Manchester United and Leicester.

Getty Images

As I look at the potential final 3rd through 6th positions it’s conceivable that all four teams can finish with the same amount of points. I know that everything can change with one result but based on the above thoughts and statistics I will go out on a limb and say that they will finish in these positions.

3rd Arsenal, 4th Manchester United, 5th Tottenham and 6th Chelsea.

What are your thoughts?

GunnerN5

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Is there going to be any decent football to watch for the next 16 days?

March 16, 2019

The short answer is ‘no’ as our next competitive game is not until April Fools day. April the first is a Monday so even when proper football returns, we’ll have to wait for the whole weekend to pass before seeing the lads play again.

When I say ‘competitive’ match, I notice that a new fixture has appeared on AFC.com, a friendly on Tuesday March 26th, 3pm kick off. This is part of a mid-season break in Dubai for those not involved in the internationals and the opposition is Al-Nasr Dubai SC. This is not purely an exercise in trying to boost our profile in the Middle East, latching on to a portion of oil money. Oh no.

Al Nasr capture former PSG midfielder Cabaye

How about this weekend? Is there anything interesting in the Prem games. Saturday is a complete wash out with three non-entity fixtures. Let’s hope the rugby is good and England still have something to play for at 5 o’clock.

Sunday sees Liverpool trying to go back to the top of the table at everyone’s favourite ground, Craven Cottage, followed by the chavs at Goodison. Theo always used to score against them, didn’t he?

There appear to be some FA cup games this weekend, too, but hold little appeal for anyone apart from fans of the participating teams. Millwalll fans have been told they’ll get a severe telling off if there’s any homophobic chanting at the Brighton fans. Good luck with that. City and United to go through to add to their fixture congestion? Who cares?

As far as the international fixtures are concerned, attention turns to European Championship qualifying. Yawn.

England play the Czech Republic next Friday at 7.45 and Montenegro away on the Monday evening.

When the Premier League returns, City go to the Cottage (lucky Fulham!), the red mancs are at home to Watford and on the Sunday, the chavs are at Cardiff and spuds go to Anfield. 🙂

Let’s hope all our boys involved in matches for their respective countries return unscathed, so when April does come around we can continue afresh.

The following is a translation from the French website Ouest France and is just an excuse to show another photo of the lovely Ben Arfa. My reaction to seeing photos of him has gone from disgust to barely concealed delight. No idea why.

Hatem Ben Arfa kicked off the second leg last Thursday: “Now we’re favorites and we’ll go to London to win. “Having fun with the behavior of his former coach at PSG, which had deprived him of competition for a year and a half, after doing everything to recruit him:” I saw the same Unai Emery, who was very excited on the bench. I looked at him from time to time, and it made me laugh a little, because he did not change. “

Ben Arfa and Le Wagner on Thursday afternoon

chas


Arsenal 3 Rennes 0 – Player Ratings

March 15, 2019

A similar line-up to the team which beat Man U was chosen to engineer our fightback. The only changes being Cech in goal and Mustafi for the ineligible Papa.

First Half

What a magnificent start to the first half – Ainsley finding Aaron Ramsey in the perfect position in the area to swivel and feed Auba for a goal poacher’s tap in. These are easy and straightforward if you have the instinct to be there in the first place.

Things went from peachy to orgasmic with the second goal after a quarter of an hour.  Wardrobe knew he was offside from the dinked ball through, leaving Auba to stand up a tempting cross Brady-style to the far post and who should be there to nod it into the net – only our Conservative candidate for Lower Holloway. Ainsley was ecstatic and from that moment on you could see him visibly grow in confidence.

Rennes struggled to put many passes together and their game was again characterised by play-acting and blatant attempts to con the ref into issuing cards. Well, it had worked once in France.

Rambo had another fine chance from Laca laying the ball back but could only find the keeper when under pressure to get a shot off quickly.

After 4 minutes stoppages at the end of the half we found ourselves up on aggregate via away goals. No chance it could stay at 2-0, surely?

Second Half

The second period started with a near calamity with Mustafi getting caught wrong side. the ball hit the post and we could breathe again. Shkodran was generally pretty solid though tonight, so we can excuse him this one because it didn’t lead to us conceding and he did get back up on his feet and block the follow up shot from the rebound.

Rennes had a series of corners and a few vague sniffs at goal that tended to be snuffed out by the gloriously erect flag of the lino at the North Bank end. Why BT saw fit to keep showing play which was after the ball was dead, is anyone’s guess. Same reason they would employ Stuart Robson as co-commentator, no doubt – to wind us up, as there can’t be any other reason. His monotone banality is enough to drive any self-respecting fan into thinking any game is full of tedium.

Emery’s substitutions on 70 minutes were absolutely inspired. Mesut had been fairly lacklustre by his own very high standards and he was replaced by Micki. Laca had run his socks off and was on a yellow so, Iwobi made sense, too.

There was an immediate transformation. We suddenly had the ball and kept it purposefully in midfield. the passing interchange was swift and decisive resulting in a beautifully constructed goal of glorious simplicity. Wardrobe’s driven cross to Auba was like an express takeaway brought by Deliveroo. Superb, three goals to nil and a mask celebration to add a further minute to injury time.

We dominated the next 10 minutes and should have had a 4th and 5th with Auba missing a one on one and then fluffing his lines when he had the goal at his mercy with his left foot from Rambo’s wonderful pass.

Lucas Torreira came on for Rambo who was, once again, quite sublime. His tackling, positional sense and ability on the ball were just exceptional. Five extra minutes were seen out without too many scares and a well-deserved passage to the quarters secured.

Conclusion

Three goals and none conceded. There were virtually no Arsenal fans predicting a clean sheet.

The Rennes players’ attempts to recreate the Papa situation were pathetic in the extreme. I suppose their only chance of winning was to play against 10 men again. Luckily we didn’t have to endure too many close ups of the hideous Ben Arfa as he was barely in the game – so much for laughing at Unai Emery mate, he done you up like a kipper. Hahahaha.

Stuart MacFarlane

Loved the substitutions. they really secured the victory.

Ratings (perhaps slightly high but, heck, the fightback was glorious)

Cech – clean sheet – took a kick in the head – didn’t have too many clear cut saves to make as Rennes were offside so often …. 7

Maitland-Niles – his first half was superb and a goal to boot – great to see him grabbing his chance with both hands …. 8

Mustafi – the much-maligned Shkodran played well tonight apart from the one slip – well done that man …. 8

Koscielny – rock, shield, bulwark, buttress, captain …. 8

Monreal –  excellent throughout – Sarr barely got a look in ….. 8

Kolasinac – our Bosnian battering ram excelled again – assists, last ditch blocks, the whole shooting match …. 8

Xhaka – the odd misplaced pass amongst hundreds – he really does ooze class regardless of what the nay-sayers think – was he a single fulcrum or was a certain Welshman providing able backup in the double pivot? …. 9

Ramsey – another top top performance from Rambo with one assist (and could have had another if Auba hadn’t failed his Football proficiency test with his left foot) – again gets my MOTM with his tireless, selfless running, challenging and top quality with the ball at his feet …. 9

Ozil – not his most effective Arsenal game – seemed to lose possession easily without too much care on occasion …. 7

Aubameyang – 2 goals, 2 misses, 1 Bradyesque assist – an elite goalscorer’s lot, I suppose – will get most of the papers’ MOTM as goalscorer’s usually do …. 8

Lacazette – the man has grand couilles – unlucky to be booked for a great challenge – didn’t have too much joy in front of goal but worked like a Trojan …. 8

Subs

Iwobi – added ball retention and availability for a pass which had been lacking further forward … 8

Mkhitaryan – his quality on the ball was immediately apparent – helped to get us over the line …. 8

Torreira …. not on for long but chased and harried …. 7

Managers

Emery – Manager of the Match, of that there is no doubt – restored his reputation from last week with a great team set-up and tactics – the subs on 70 minutes were bang on and sealed a fine win …. 9

Le Wagner – should go back to Huddersfield, but would be laughed out of Yorkshire if he asked his players to feign  injury at every opportunity ….3

Stuart MacFarlane

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The UEFA Europa League draw begins at 12 noon on Friday 15th March. The draw will be for the Quarter/Final and Semi/Final.

chas

p.s. please give your own match thoughts and ratings in the comments below


Single or Double Fulcrum?

March 14, 2019

That third goal hurt. Before then I was convinced we would hammer Rennes at THOF. Now, I am not so sure.

And let’s be clear – we should win this tie. We have a budget of over 10 times Rennes. Lose and we have under performed but … what if we do lose tonight? Might it not be of benefit?

I have never subscribed to the belief that the Europa was there for the taking and that Arsenal would win easily. We are, at best, 3rd favourites with the bookies prediction for us to fall in the semi-finals, as we did last season. By going further, we MAY win it but we will have to play more games in an already packed run-in.

Forget the above nonsense, I am being a Doomer, must be Old Age. Let’s start again …

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Tonight has the potential to be one of the highlights of the season. Score early and the Emirates will be rocking, driving the team onto European glory. We had but 10 men for the majority of the away fixture and when we had 11 we were in control, I expect the same tonight. Some clinical finishing, some thoughtful and considered defending and hard work in midfield should see our class tell.

No Sokratis which is a blow, otherwise the team picks itself. Mustafi to replace the Greek Bloke, AMN to continue his fine form unless Mhki is back. IMO, we play the same team which beat Man Utd. It worked. If Mkhi is fit, does Mr Emery play Ozil? And if he does, does he drop Ramsey?

Of course, Mr Emery could choose to play more defensive and go back to the Double Fulcrum, dropping one of the strikers and starting Torreira But I hope he doesn’t, the Single Fulcrum fitted so well to the personnel.

I am excited about this game and really wish I was able to attend. Those European nights under the floodlights with the Emirates rocking make unforgettable memories.

A win on penalties would be thrilling, nerve-wracking but thrilling 😀

COYRRG


Arsenal FC – Our home record against Rennes

March 13, 2019

Our home record against Rennes is, of course, yet to take shape as we haven’t played them at THOF before. Let’s hope it is a glorious night tomorrow, remembered for all the right reasons this time around.

While our away game against Rennes was perhaps the highlight of their history, it was one of the low points of our season to date – so we should expect a lot more from Arsenal at home with our supporters willing us on.

Jon Sammels after scoring our second against Ajax in the 1970 Fairs Cup semi-final

The following is a match report that sums up our poor performance at Roazhon Park

Arsenal’s Europa League hopes suffered a serious setback after a 3-1 first-leg loss at Stade Rennes in round of 16 action on Thursday.

The Gunners took early control of the game at Roazhon Park when Alex Iwobi scored in the third minute, a curling cross-shot that bounced off the far post and into the net.

Matters turned sour after Sokratis Papastathopoulos was sent off for his second bookable offence in the 41st minute. Arsenal were doubly punished as Benjamin Bourigeaud’s equalised for the Ligue 1 hosts from the resulting free kick.

Rennes took the lead with Nacho Monreal’s own goal in the 65th minute and Ismaila Sarr’s spectacular header from a left-wing cross two minutes from full-time secured the French side a deserved win.

“The first 40 minutes I think we controlled, we scored and we didn’t concede good chances to them. But after this red card, it’s different,” Arsenal coach Unai Emery said in a post-match news conference. “Two yellow cards and it’s the referee’s decision. After, I think we must learn to play — when it’s coming like today — with one less player on the pitch.

“Not a good experience today, because we couldn’t do our work in difficult moments, in difficult minutes, with one less player, like we wanted. I think we can do better.”

Arsenal had never lost to French opposition away from home in 12 previous European games.

“I think the biggest disappointment is the third goal because at 2-1, you go home and you know that there’s a result where you’ve scored away at home and you can overcome it.,” Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Czech said. “We can still overcome a two-goal deficit because in the end the goal we scored might play a big part, but we made it a little bit harder for ourselves.”

Cech’s comment is a classic understatement, we certainly have the quality to overcome a two goal deficit at home but what Arsenal team will show up? From the March 7th loss to Rennes to the March 10th win against Manchester Untied we witnessed two totally different performances from basically the same players.

After the two yellow cards to Papa it seemed that the team sadly overestimated their ability to stay within comfortable touching distance for the second leg. To their credit Rennes, became an inspired team and were fully deserving of their historic victory. I was particularly impressed with the enthusiasm of their supporters – although throwing paper darts at our team went a bit too far.

Here is a look at Stade Rennais’ away performances in Europe, I must admit that I’m not positive that the list is 100% correct as I found many differing statistics.

After our incredible performance against Manchester United I cannot foresee anything other than us overcoming the 2 goal deficit and making the away goal work in our favour.

Update – Laca is available after his 3 match ban was reduced to 2 on appeal.

GunnerN5


Did Arsene and Arsenal waste the Club’s footballing talent of 1998-2006, coaching-wise?

March 12, 2019

My brothers will tell you I am a glutton for punishment. All my life I have been sports mad (I taught it in schools for 23 years!). I read anything and everything on almost every sport imaginable – good, bad and indifferent material.

Although football, rugby and cricket are the very top of my interest, I will find myself studying the intricacies of free climbing, or bias in curling, the mechanics of the sand wedge or transference of force in a boxing jab. (I say “almost every” – I have little regard for F1 and American Football).

Jimmy Chin – National Geographic

In addition to reading much, I listen to sport, live commentary, and the opinions of ex sportsmen, “pundits”, and those somehow (unbelievably)  provided with money to talk bowlocks about sport with little or no significant experience to justify their existence in the role.

And so (eventually) to the point of my post…….

Listening to Georgie Bingham and the fake Irishman Cascarino recently, I heard, following copious praise for how well the wonderful Man Utd had used so many of its ” golden generation” in Club coaching and managing roles, with Solskjaer being the crowning glory, that ARSENAL and WENGER had not only wasted theirs from the 1998-2006 period, but, in the case of Arsene, had a definite policy to NOT involve them in Club.

Hackles up, I started to analyse this comment.

Firstly there is Steve Bould. (Although given his “staticness” on the bench during the Wenger era, perhaps he’s more evidence for Ms Bingham’s case than anyone else!) I am fairly certain that Keown, Dixon, and Winterburn, play some part in the daily running of the Club, if not as much in the coaching of defenders role that I would like to see!

Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Freddie and the BFG are now in charge of the Academy and U23s, and at that point I asked myself a question. How many of those missing do I think COULD have been usefully involved. My answer was reduced to two! I have always believed Patrick V. should have been incorporated into our set-up. ( I would still like him to be an Arsenal manager someday). And I would now have to add Marc Overmars for what seems to have been a silent but excellent role behind the scenes at Ajax.

Of the rest, TA has always been clueless to me in terms of coaching, and I believe the same might (perhaps unfairly) be said of Thierry. Sol might prove me wrong, but I doubt it. DB10 never really wanted a coaching role, and has now fallen out even with his Dutch love. Ray Parlour, Gilberto, Lauren, Manu P, Merson, Smith, Ian Wright…….COULD any of them have made it in coaching/managing at our Club? Doubtful IMO.

So have we wasted talent? Have I forgotten anyone important? What do you think?

LBG


Arsenal 2 Manchester United 0 – Player Ratings

March 11, 2019

A really attacking team selection was announced at 3.30pm. Both Ramsey and Ozil playing along with twin strikers Laca and Auba. Width provided by wing backs maybe or some other genius Emery plan to extract a win from such a difficult fixture?

First Half

We started well but Lukaku had the best early chance, clumping the ball into the turf and up on to the bar.

What a banger from Xhaka! Perhaps he should take all the penalties if he can send the keeper the wrong way when he’s 35 yards out. We’d started well and Xhaka’s goal was the crowning glory; the best keeper in the Prem left floundering.

Action Images via Reuters

The red mancs perhaps had the better of the chances in the remainder of the first half, with Lukaku attempting to round our German keeper but being foiled by an oustretched glove and another nobody bouncing one off the post when Leno had it covered.

Our best chances came from driven crosses from Wardrobe, Laca just failing to sneak one in at the near post and Auba cutting back instead of launching himself at the far.

One nil at half time and for a change we defied the xG, scoring with our only shot on target and United couldn’t capitalise on their slightly better chances as these half time figures show.

Second Half

Arsenal’s second half performance was a credit to each and every one of the players and also a credit to their manager. Man U’s chances were far less dangerous after half time and when they did threaten to score, Leno was invincible in goal. The save with his foot when Lukaku was put clear by Rashford was superb.

The penalty on 69 minutes proved to be a real make or break moment in the match. Fred (not the Trinidadian one) had clumsily challenged Laca in the box and the salad dodger decided that to even out the 99 things he’d given Man U, he’d finally give us something.

There can’t have been many Gooners around the world who weren’t looking at Auba through their fingers as he sought to make amends for missing against the spuds. As it turned out, it was a penalty of supreme ease as De Gea was still going the wrong way from Xhaka’s swerver in the first half. The ball went straight down the middle and the Emirates went into raptures.

It was a shame Laca couldn’t squeeze in his cross shot just before the end – I’ve always liked three nils. I suppose just the three points will have to do. 🙂

Conclusion

With the spuds losing and chavs sneaking a point late on, the winner of this match was sure to reap the benefits in the race for the CL places. Beating the red mancs so conclusively and ending their great run was the stuff that dreams are made of.

What a great game of football it was, too! Sky picked the best game of the weekend with chances galore, drama and non-stop action.

Unai Emery’s team must have made him a very proud man.

Ratings

Leno – did everything you’d hope a top class keeper would do for the team – and when United did get round the defence he was immense … 9

Maitland-Niles – Unai had obviously been saving him up because he blew away any doubters with his best performance for a long time … 8

Sokratis – rapidly becoming one of my favourites – gives no quarter, asks for no quarter – plays football as it should be played … 8

Koscielny – a rock at the back – he consistently gets battered but always comes back for more – will be pleased he can have a rest after Thursday’s Europa rematch … 9

Monreal – dealt with everything thrown at him playing in a back three .. 8

Kolasinac – sometimes you get the impression he thinks that playing wing back absolves him of all defensive duties, but he does contribute a great amount going forward … 8

Xhaka – love his left foot – love it even more now – had one of his best performances for ages – extra point for the goal … 9

Ramsey – my MOTM – didn’t stop running for the cause the whole game – if he’d shown this kind of form and discipline before his contract wranglings, no-one in their right mind wouldn’t have re-signed him to his last big contract … 9

Ozil – probed and prodded – attempted to close down and do the dirty things asked of him … 8

Aubameyang – a point to prove and didn’t he just with that ice-cool penalty – closed down better in this game than I’ve seen him so far in his Arsenal career … 8

Lacazette – another personal favourite of mine – he knows what it entails to fight to win a game – absolutely love his commitment … 9

Subs

Iwobi –  came on and made a real nuisance of himself taking pressure off the defence … 7

Suarez – Denis came on and worked really hard for the cause while show some silky ball skills … 7

Nketiah – chased everything and ensured United couldn’t build from the back without coming under pressure … 7

Managers

Emery – Everything bang on from the manager today – team selection excellent – formation excellent – whatever he sacrificed on the upper slopes of Muswell Hill to the footballing gods so that they’d smile on us, was well worth it … 9

Solskjaer – curious how his team had defied the xG in their unbeaten run, scoring a lot more goals than expected and conceding far fewer and yet when it came to a game when they did have chances to score, they couldn’t convert –  as BR pointed out yesterday, this kind of luck has to run out eventually – unbeaten away run over, mate, haha … 5

chas