Friday, December 26, 2008

Arsenal drop 2 points

Ugh, after being up 2-0 Arsenal once again find a way to not close out a game. The Gunners looked good after going up 2-0, although Villa had their chances hitting the post and watching Sagna make an acrobatic save off the line. What really frustrated me was Gallas' foul for the penalty kick, granted Gallas had a good game, except for that situation and it was not a necessary tackle. Agbonlahor was the only Villa player and Toure was tracking back covering the middle of the penalty box. Gallas could have just forced Agbonlahor to the end line, maybe he remembered what happened to him in the first match when the young Brit out paced Gallas to the ball to score a wonderful goal. Maybe Gallas felt he had to tackle the striker otherwise he would be outpaced.

The second goal is what is really frustrating, in injury time a deep ball into the box...and Arsenal were out numbered in the box. Ugh. How is that possible when you are in injury time and have a 1 goal lead on the road. Once again Arsenal do not know how to kill off a game. Very frustrating. Once again I think the issue of not have some veteran leadership and more importantly not having some toughness on the pitch is what is cursing Arsenal. Come on Wenger get some of both during the transfer window...otherwise the UEFA cup might be in the Gunners future.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Arsenal down and out?

Bad news from North London with Cesc suffering a ligament injury causing him to potentially miss up to 4 months. Ugh. Does this spell the end for Arsenal's quest for silverware this season? The Gunners were already desperately thin in the midfield and losing their best midfielder will not rectify that situation. Will Wenger go out and buy a replacement? I am sure he will look for one but who is out there that is an equal replacement? Here are some ideas...some are off the wall I will admit:

  • Sessegnon from PSG. The Benin midfielder is very versatile he can play the #10 role or lie deeper to sit just in front of the defenders. PSG just bought him over the summer transfer window so not sure they will want to see him go especially since he is a key to PSG's turn around this season However PSG is under a tight financial situation so if the price is right, they might decide to allow him to leave. It was rumored that Wenger was looking at the player this summer before he left for PSG so it is clear the interest is there. Could the Cesc injury be the motivating force behind going out and purchasing the player?
  • Toure...Yaya that is. Arsenal has always been linked to the international midfielder. Would Wenger go out and pay the money necessary to secure his services? Barca is leading the league in Spain and has a chance to capture another Champions League title so they might be hard pressed to allow their midfielder to leave, plus he would be unable to play the Champions League for Arsenal.
  • Here is a crazy idea - Vieira ... Pat has never been the same since he left the Gunners. Rumor is he is breaking down under the difficult training tactics by the Italians. He is also being forced to play out of position - wide and not in the central role he excels at. Could he be had for short money? Allowed to come back to the club that made him a star? Crazier things have happened, but he could be a good stop gap for the rest of the season.
Wenger seems to believe he has the necessary resources within his own club already, but I doubt that since he was thin with Cesc...without him it is almost disastrous. Come on Wenger show your genius talent assessment again this transfer window!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Champions League draw....bad news for the Frenchies

The Draw for the knock out stage of the Champions League:

Chelsea v Juventus
Villarreal v Panathinaikos
Sporting Lisbon v Bayern Munich
Atletico Madrid v Porto
Lyon v Barcelona
Real Madrid v Liverpool
Arsenal v Roma
Inter Milan v Manchester United

Ouch ouch ouch...the Frenchies are in a tough position - Lyon and Wenger. A quick look at the pairings:

  • Chelsea will beat Juve but it will be very close. Intrigue that Juve's current boss used to manage the Blues. Too much midfield talent at Stamford Bridge for the old lady.
  • Villareal will be upset by the Greeks! Tough leg to play in Athens.
  • Bayern over the Portugese. The Bundesliga champs draw one of the easier clubs, have too much fire power in Ribery, Klose and Toni.
  • The other Madrid club...Athletico, gets by Porto. Not many outside Iberia will be intrigued, but this should be a good match up.
  • Ugh, tough tough tough draw for Lyon...Barca is the best club in Europe right now, with all the problems the Lyon team faces on defense I am not sure they can stop Eto'o, Henry, Messi, Bojan, et al. Barca win handily.
  • Interesting match up on two very successful Champions League clubs and two managers that are masters of knock out competitions. I think that the Premiership title chase is too much for Benetiz and Real find a way to get past Liverpool, but could go either way.
  • Yuck, another tough match up for the Frenchies - Wenger et al. Roma is in good form right now and the trip to Italy will be very difficult. I think much depends on what happens for Arsenal during the transfer window....if they lose more experience, aka Gallas. I think they will have a tough time of it. However I think Arsenal will find a way to draw at Roma and win at home 1-0. Arsenal through....barely.
  • Ah Mourinho vs Ferguson, two of the most capable...and arrogant managers. There are so many story lines here, one of which would be is this a match up of the current and future Manchester United managers? Mourinho is almost highly motivated but facing ManU will only add to his desire to demonstrate his specialness. If anyone knows how to go to Old Trafford and win it is Jose. I see this being a mouth watering match up, but in the end the Red Devils get through.
Mind you, this is my first take so I am sure once I start thinking about this more I will change all my predictions! I am glad that ManU did not end up with Sporting or Panathinikos, but Lyon playing Barca is cruel fate for the French champs.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Real Madrid thinking big for next year....already.

The rumors and heat that revolve around Real Madrid is always the source of good stories. The latest one being an oldie but goodie: Manchester United's talisman, winger Christiano Ronaldo heading to Real Madrid. Those rumors were running wild and crazy prior to the Euros last summer, and much like I have stated in the past where there is smoke there is most definately fire when it comes to transfer rumors. I think this is a done deal. Real Madrid and Ronaldo were so clearly demonstrating their undying love for one another last summer it was nauseating, the only thing that held back the deal was SAF and ManU. I doubt they will resist the offers coming from Spain this time around. For Ronaldo, it makes perfect sense. What else does he have to prove and win for Manchester United? He has bought them Premiership titles and Champions' League glory. The season he had last campaign will be very difficult if not impossible to replicate. He needs new challenges. Unlike players like Scholes and Giggs, he has no roots with the Red Devils nor loyalties to SAF...even wonderkid Beckham from the ManU development program was sent packing.

With all this in mind, I cannot see Manchester United turning down what ever ridiculous offer Real Madrid throws at them. The future Manchester United is going to revolve around Rooney and SAF will use those massive treasure chest to build around the British striker. Real Madrid will again wow the footballing world with a crown jewel...and remain dysfunctional.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The holidays....and winter transfer window fast approaching!

With Christmas just a week away, wow I should think about doing some Xmas shopping, I figured it was time to think about which players would be on the move once the January transfer window opens. A few thoughts -

  • LDiarra from Portsmouth is all but signed and delivered to be heading to Real Madrid for a small sum of 20m Diarra will now have been at 4 clubs in basically 2 years - Chelsea, Arsenal, Portsmouth and now Real Madrid. He is approaching Anelkaesc movement of teams. It is not a surprise that Diarra is leaving the south of England for a top notch European club, I was always a bit shocked that he left Arsenal...not totally shocked since he was sitting behind Flamini as the holding midfielder (Arsenal could use him this season). I hope that Diarra finds some stability at Real. He will have some competition at the position from Gago and Diarra (not related). Now Diarra is hurt, but should be back at some point. However, I think that LDiarra could develop into Reals new Makelele...or decide to move in the summer transfer window.
  • Marseilles - They seem to be going after every tier 2 offensive players - Podolski and Savidan - on the market. The irony is that Marseilles had the top of the diamond striker they desire when Cisse was not back in England. I think OM sees this season as an opportunity to threaten Lyon at the top of the table, and to do so they will need another striker. I say they get Podoloski on a loan for the rest of the season.
  • The Arsenal rumor mill is rather quiet, then again do they even have any money to go out and acquire a player? Or do they see Eduardo's potential return in the second half of the season as equivalent to a transfer addition? Granted, there are some stories that Inter want Bendtner...hmmmm not sure why, but maybe Mourinho just wants to stick it to Wenger from Italy. Of course the biggest rumor is that Gallas is on his way out, especially after his captain's armband being taken away from him. But where could he go? Here is a crazy thought - PSG could take him. PSG has had a surprisingly good first half of the season and will be looking to build to at least challenge for Champions League football...or gasp....a Ligue 1 title. There were some mild rumors this past summer that PSG would make a push for the French central defender, the situation seems ripe now for that to occur.
  • Speaking of Paris...PSG maybe a player in the transfer market this January. With wins over Bordeaux, Lyon and Marseilles, PSG must see that they have a real chance of challenging for the top step on the podium (in addition Lyon keeps dropping points). The strangest rumor is Hourau for Adriano....hmmmm. Why would PSG want to get rid of their tall striker that plays well partnering with Guily. And why would PSG want Adriano? The player that is one dinner and binge night away from spiraling back into a black hole. I do think a move for a Gallas would be very intriguing, giving PSG some more steel on the back line and allow Gallas to redefine his club career. Could PSG also go after Briand from Rennes after failing in their bid this past summer. It never hurts to add some quality players, but I have never been convinced Briand is the offensive star the media hypes him up to be.
These are just some thoughts, the rumors will start flying fast and furious. Looking forward to the crazy transfer season.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Ramos ends up at Real

After being let go from Tottenham, Ramos ends up back in Spain running one of Europe's most famous sides - Real Madrid. Is this a surprise? No. First Schuster has been on the hot seat for a while, and the fact he publicly came out and said that Real Madrid had no chance of defeating Barca in their next domestic league not really a smart statement if you are looking to keep your job and give your team motivation. Second, Ramos came to Tottenham with a world of expectations after leading Sevilla to back to back UEFA cup titles. He quickly demonstrated his ability to win cups by leading Tottenham to the Carling Cup. Of course he made some questionable choices in the off season by allowing his top two strikers leave without a true replacement plan. This showed with Tottenham having the worst start to a championship season. However, he knows Spain very well and is heading to a club that is one of the top 2 teams in the nation, at Tottenham he was not even at a top 2 club in his city.

Ramos should have some success, he has talent, even with all the injuries at Real. Will Schuster come out and over turn the deficit to bring back the league title? Doubtful. But he should give the team some direction and structure. He might even make a good run at the Champions League, much like Benetiz he is a master at game to game planning in a knock out competition.

The true conclusion to all is - the Real Madrid merry go round continues, for such a storied club they appear to have very little stability....just think how good they could be if they had a SAF or Wenger there for 10 years....

Monday, December 08, 2008

Anyone notice...Ligue 1 is competitive!!!

I must admit, I had Olympique Lyonnaise sized up for their 8th straight league title prior to the season starting. But after 17 matches Lyon has a slim 3 point lead over Marseilles and is only 5 points ahead of the 5th place team - PSG. Unlike prior seasons, the Ligue 1 title might play itself out until late into the season. To what do we owe this competitiveness? A few things.

  • Lyon has dropped with regards to their depth and talent. It would be impossible for a team to sustain such a high level when they have regularly lost some top players. Lyon were not just losing high performing players for Ligue 1 but players that are world class - Diarra, Essein, Malouda, Coupet, and Malouda to name a few. While they have done a good job adding the top talent in the French league, they have not added the world class level they have seen leaving. In addition, Lyon is not getting younger. Players such as Juninho are starting to show their age. There remains a tremendous amount of young talent - Lloris, Benzema, Pjanic, and Mounier to name a few. But these players are young and still have a ways to go (the latter two more than the former two). However it is very difficult to do what Lyon has already achieved, the fact they remain on top of the table is nothing to sneeze at, but compared to their prior seasons it gives pause that they might be caught!
  • The challengers - teams such as Marseilles, Rennes, and Bordeaux have done some interesting things to contend, namely adding some important talent. Bordeaux went out and got Gourcuff from Milan and Marseilles added, from OL, Ben Arfa. However the club that is most surprising, pleasantly for me, is PSG. They went out and got some veterans - Guily and Makelele as well as taking chances on second division players like Hourau. It has taken some time, but PSG looks like it has found itself. They have already defeated, Marseilles, Lyon and Bordeaux this season. I also think the play of Landreau has thrusted PSG back into contention. It will be interesting to see if these clubs go out and purchase players during the winter break to really challenge OL.
  • The pressure of success I think has worn on OL. Winning the league title is not the most important for Lyon. They have clearly dominated league play for the past 7 seasons...but they have always missed on the ultimate prize - Europe. I think Lyon needs to at least get to a Champions League finals, and really needs to win European silverware for this winning run to be truly categorized as "legendary." They have reached the 1/4 finals a few times, the hardest being in 2006 losing an apparent ticket to the 1/2 finals at the San Siro when they fell apart in the last 5 minutes to a battling AC Milan team. Has this pressure mounted on Lyon? And if it has, does it show in their play?
I will not pick again Lyon to win another title, but I think that the French league will be one worth watching this season, unlike the past few that have been victory laps for Lyon starting in February.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Eboue all done at the Emirates?

Ah things are never simple with Arsenal. They managed to hold on for the full 3 points against Wigan this past weekend, but the story to me was the injury to Nasri which led to Eboue playing the bulk of the game and the fact he was brought off to a torrent of boos. Where they all deserved? Maybe...he did give away a few atrocious balls and somehow was not sure what to do when Toure had a head of steam with the ball. Or were some of the boos pent up frustration by the Arsenal fans at the one time rising player at Arsenal? Interesting as well, when Gallas went on his tirade a few weeks back he mentioned a player who was 6 years younger than himself...Eboue being one of the candidates. Do the patrons at the game know something we don't? Another post with some video -

Overall an important but nervous 3 points for the Gunners, they had plenty of chances to put the game away but appeared nervous and disjointed for much of the second half. Again going back to my contention that veteran leadership is lacking in this side once again.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Arsenal down again?

Ah, after a great win over city rivals Chelsea they crash out of the Carling Cup against Burnley, I will have to look at my FIFA 2008 game later tonight to see if I can find Burnley (ok they are in 4th place of the Coca Cola Championship...but still). I realize that Wenger values the Carling Cup about as much as he reveres 33 year old veteran players, but I think this was a lost opportunity for Arsenal. I know Wenger wants to play his youth during these competitions and has stuck to his philosophy, a few years back he still fielded a youth side in the finals of the Carling Cup against Chelsea's first team. Yet the last time Arsenal has won any silverware Vieira was still wearing the captain's armband for the Gooners, Republicans controlled DC and Obama was only a junior senator from Illinois. Maybe Wenger would see winning some trophies as important for the club. I am not arguing that he should not try to play the bulk of his youth, but maybe think about adding some veteran help from the first team.

I fear that Arsenal will end this season without silverware again, why? I think the Prem is out of the question, I just do not see Arsenal with the depth or consistency to challenge Chelsea or Manchester United for the title (I think Liverpool will fade as always). The FA Cup is a crap shoot, and the Champions League I think will be too difficult for Arsenal. Unlike a few seasons back when Arsenal went to the finals, they do not have the right combination of veterans and youth to make a deep run.

Come on Wenger, try to win all the silverware you can, because you never know when you will have a chance to win trophies. Adding trophies is just as important for a club as is the opportunity to give your youth some game action.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Arsenal's frustrating season continues

Why do I say it is frustrating? Because how can you lose to Stoke, Manchester City and Hull, draw against Tottenham when you have a 2 goal lead in the 89th minute and then turn around and beat Manchester United and Chelsea. Similar to the past few seasons, Arsenal just seems to tease the fans with some great performances only to follow with a series of less than top notch performances. For Arsenal to challenge for a title they need to win games against the middle and bottom of the table on a regular basis while hoping to hold serve against the other "big 4." Arsenal needs to win or draw games as they did against the Red Devils and Blues, which they have been able to do so in the past...but they frustratingly lose to teams they should beat!

I have harped on this in the past, but to me this is due to a lack of veterans and of toughness that allow Arsenal to play to the level of their competition. Without players like Pires, Vieira, Bergkamp, Edu, Gilberto, Henry, Campbell, etc Arsenal do not have the leadership to motivate and get the team up for a game against Stoke just as it would against Chelsea. The road to a Premiership title is a slog, especially in the cold hard winter months. Arsenal needs to start rethinking some of their strategies when it comes to veterans, otherwise I fear this maddening inconsistency will only get worse.