Sunday, January 31, 2010

Arsenal gets a spanking at the hands of Manchester United

What else can you say...Arsenal looked like completely outclassed today versus their hated rival - Manchester United. The 3-1 score line was actual kind to the Gunners - Manchester United could have scored 4 or even 5 goals. Arsenal looked completely helpless to stop the clinical counters from the Red Devils. Rooney was a monster up front and Nani showed why some had heralded him as the next Ronaldo. The goal he scored was absolutely astonishing piece of individual creativity:

It was considered an OG on Almunia but really it belongs to Nani. What was impressive was how Manchester United was able to defend even without their usual starting central defensive pairing and with Scholes once again dishing out his text book form of how not to tackle and defend - he is awful when it comes to trying to defend! The keys were Arsenal's complete inability to slow down or contain either Nani or Rooney. Both players seemed to move about at will and without any real fear of the Arsenal defense.

This loss is a huge blow to the Arsenal chances at the title. Granted the Gunners are only 5 points adrift from the leaders - Chelsea - who they will face next week. However they dropped both matches this year versus Manchester United and when they played the Blues earlier in the season were given a similar correction 3-0 at home. What this game exposed was Arsenal's lack of steel in the middle of the park - the old Arsenal with Vieira or Parlour would not have allowed Nani such a free reign and the old Arsenal with Keown would have been putting a few studs into Rooney.

Arsenal can still win the Premiership, but they will need some help. Next week's fixture against the Blues will be very telling, nothing short of a victory will do otherwise the title will come down to Chelsea and Manchester United. Too bad Wenger sacrificed a winnable FA cup fixture...looks like the Gunners might not be adding to their trophy case once again.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Another one of the Carre Magique as coach of Les Bleus

Luis Fernandez, one member of the Carre Magique from the 1980s for Les Bleus - with Tigana, Giresse and Platini - has announced he would like to be considered for the management role with Les Bleus. Why not? The fiery Franco-Spaniard has had bags of managerial experience - having managed in France, Spain and the Middle East. He would bring a tough take no prisoners approach, which might be just what Les Bleus need after the astrological tendencies of Domenech. Fernandez would be an interesting choice. I doubt he will find his name ahead of Deschamps or Blanc, but a very interesting option.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Liverpool continues to Rafa close to the exit?

Rafa's boys once again disappoint by dropping 2 points to Wolves with a 0-0 draw (those are the Wolves that find themselves just above the drop zone). Granted the draw moves Liverpool closer to the top 4 -

Position Team P GD PTS
1 Man Utd 23 34 50
2 Arsenal 22 34 48
3 Chelsea 21 34 48
4 Tottenham 23 20 41
5 Liverpool 23 14 38
6 Man City 21 12 38
7 Aston Villa 21 11 36
8 Birmingham 21 2 33
9 Fulham 22 0 27
10 Everton 21 -4 26
11 Stoke 21 -7 25
12 Blackburn 22 -16 24
13 Sunderland 21 -8 23
14 Wigan 20 -21 22
15 Bolton 21 -13 21
16 West Ham 22 -9 20
17 Wolves 22 -21 20
18 Burnley 22 -22 20
19 Hull 22 -26 19
20 Portsmouth 21 -14 15

However look at the games played - the 3 closest teams chasing Liverpool have 2 games in hand versus the Reds. Dropping points to the 17th place team is not what makes a champion either. Clearly Liverpool continues to tread water. I still do not think getting rid of Rafa right now makes sense, this can only be seen as a lost season for the Reds. So let Rafa manage to the end of the season then allow the new gaffer a full off season to prepare for the next campaign. Then again Rafa might escape to northern Italy if the rumors are to be believed. Which I think would be a poor choice for Juventus, granted they had their manager when Deschamps was there and got them back into Serie A, too bad they could not agree on how to keep him at his former club.

The manager merry go around continues.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ivory Coast...are they still people's World Cup sleeper?

Algeria 3 - Ivory Coast the Elephants crash out of the African Cup of Nations. Interesting. For a side that some have deemed the best chance for an African nation to advance far in this summer's world cup, this set back is an eye opener. Watching the high lights it appears that the Achilles heal for Drogba and his teammates is the defense of lack of defense.

Look at the last two Algerian headers in the 18 yard box!! That will not get you very far in any tournament. Ivory Coast looks scary on paper - Drogba, Gervinho, Kalou, and Keita all bring bags of offensive fire power. The midfield anchored by Yaya Toure and Zokora have some metal, however the back line is suspect. Eboue is shaky, Kolo Toure is not the player from his Arsenal days...and if this last game against Algeria is any indication they do not defend very well as a unit. How can you allow a free header in stoppage time when you are ahead 2-1??? And then how can you allow 4 Algerian players go unmarked in the box to win the game? Watch the last goal, there are 2 defenders for 4 ok. What will happen against Portugal and Brazil if you defend like that??

The Ivory Coast have very high hopes for success at the World Cup, do they have enough time to fix the apparent defensive deficiencies before then? Were they drawn into an easier group I might think they could get through the group stages and fix the problem as they progress. However they open with Portugal and then face Brazil...might be a short visit to South Africa.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Aresnal crashed out of the FA Cup...deja vu all over again?

After a week that saw Arsenal take the lead in the Premiership...after being 11 points off the pace a few weeks ago after falling to Chelsea 3-0...some where allowing themselves to dream that the Gunners might contend for some silverware this season. They were top of the Premiership, playing Stoke in the FA Cup and had a manageable tie against FC Porto in the Champions League. Pundits such as the Limey from Sports Illustrated even wrote an excellent piece outlining the position that Arsenal and Wenger are in currently should be the envy of other clubs. However after Arsenal crashed out of the FA Cup this weekend, to Stoke mainly because Wenger fielded a Carling Cup worthy side:





Um take a look at that defensive back line for the Gunners...5 years ago having Campbell and Silvestre line up would be a solid 2010 not so much. Any time you have 5 players who have a number in the 30s on the back of their kit you know you reaching very deep into your roster. I realize that Arsenal are heading into a difficult 4 matches in the Premiership - which will determine if Arsenal has a legitimate chance to capture a league title. -

Jan. '10 TIMEHome
AwayVENUE Competition
Wed. 27 14:45 ET Aston Villa v Arsenal Villa Park English Premier League
Sun. 31 11:00 ET Arsenal v Manchester United Emirates Stadium English Premier League
Feb. '10 TIMEHome
Sun. 7 11:00 ET Chelsea v Arsenal Stamford Bridge English Premier League
Wed. 10 14:45 ET Arsenal v Liverpool Emirates Stadium English Premier League

There is no doubt these matches will be difficult and will tax Wenger and his squad. However I am not sure you should sacrifice the opportunity to win an FA Cup. With Manchester United and Liverpool already out of the Cup, Arsenal had a legitimate chance to go far in the tournament. Instead Wenger played this weekend's match as if it were a Carling Cup - a notion mirrored by Wenger might be justified by his choice if his squad navigates the next few matches and finds a way to win the Premiership. However, Arsenal could just as easily fade in the title chase (I still think they are thin compared to Chelsea) and could also crash out of the Champions League, leaving the Gunners without any silverware again.
In the article by the Limey, they point out that Wenger has placed Arsenal in an envious position due to his financial savvy and prudence. However they also point out that since 2005 Arsenal have not won any silverware...while Manchester United has 3 Premiership titles, Chelsea has 2, both have won FA Cups and Carling Cups, Liverpool has an FA cup in that time frame....even Portsmouth has an FA Cup title! Soccernomics, a great book on the economics and statistics behind footie, points out that you do not run a sports club as a business. It is not something you do to make money, rather to entertain, boost your owner's ego and always seek silverware. I admire Wenger's ability to always be in contention always field strong squads. However I fear that if Wenger does not open the purse strings to bring in some additional talent and depth that Arsenal might once again be hailed as a fiscally responsible squad, but one without any silverware. I am nervous that the professor over thought his strategy with the Stoke match. This was not a Carling Cup match, this is not a game one can be cavalier about and not look to field your strongest side.

The transfer window is closing - Wenger has a chance to surprise us and announce the fact that Arsenal is serious about challenging for the last competitions they are in contention for - the Premiership and the Champions League.

Will this image be repeated for Arsenal's future any time soon?

Friday, January 22, 2010

No surgery for Dempsey...Bradley breaths a sigh of relief

After what appeared to be a season ending knee injury, Clint Dempsey escapes the surgeon's knife and will not need his knee operated on. Clearly good news for the US National team, and if he can get back on the pitch sooner rather than later good news for the cottagers. Dempsey is one of the key elements for the US National team next summer. The other key will be the play of Tim Howard in goal. But Deuce is the most influential outfield player for the US. This injury, in a strange way, might be blessing for the US team assuming he can recover fully by South Africa. It gives him some time off, allows him to rest. If he can come back the last month of the Premiership he will get back into game playing shape for the World Cup. Again that may sound strange, but in the long run for the US it is better news than what was feared.

Injuries such as these make all of us cringe as we get closer to the World Cup. Look at what happened to Les Bleus in 2002...okay they still had more talent than a team who crashes out of the group stages with 1 point and zero goals scored....but Zidane gets injured and more importantly Pires tears a knee for Arsenal - a season where he was absolutely on top of his game. Without Zizou and Pires, France were without their 2 true playmakers. Granted Micoud should have been the one given the baton, but we will never know why Lemerre did not go down that path.

Not to dive into revisionism...but I could have lined up a side like this (based on the players Lemerre took to Asia with him...not necessarily those I would have selected) -

Liza, Desailly, Leboeuf, Thuram
Makelele, Petit, Vieira
Trezeguet, Henry

Vieira was a beast that season so he could easily push higher up the pitch to support the attack. Makelele would be the engine. Petit still had something left in the tank, but with 2 other holding midfielders would have had less asked of him so would have not have been exposed as much.

Micoud could just sit infront of these 3 and feed deadly passes to Henry and Trezeguet. I guarantee you that team would have fared better than what was sent out versus Senegal, Uruguay and Denmark!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Arsenal top of the table!!!

Well well well, look who is sitting at the top of the Premiership...


Arsenal are on top of the table based on their 4-2 victory over Bolton. As I stated in the beginning of th
e season I thought Arsenal would finish second to Chelsea. I thought that Manchester United had lost too much in Ronaldo and Tevez, that Liverpool was not going to amount to much thanks to Rafa...but Arsenal had the talent to make a run. However does not have the depth to get past Chelsea. I think that might still be the achilles heel for the Gunners.

What is encouraging is that Arsenal is winning or getting a point from matches in recent campaigns they would lose. Heading to Bolton and finding a way to come home with 3 points after being "Boltoned" all over the pitch...aka goon lined. Being down 2-0 this Wednesday and coming back to win 4-2. These are matches that in the past few seasons Arsenal would roll over and drop the full 3 points. What is especially swee
t is that Arsenal did this against Bolton who they have had a history of bad blood - primarily due to the divergent styles of play: Arsenal the beautiful, offensive and free flowing football while Bolton was more of the mucking, kick you in the shins and win ugly style. The Gunners always had problems with Bolton...midseason when pitches are heavy and the muckers can find ways to beat the English Samba Boys. This week was an example of Arsenal gaining some toughness and winning a game against a mucker team like Bolton. What epitomized the win was how Arsenal secured the equalizer yesterday - a hard tackle from Gallas wins the ball back, Arsenal fight the ball into the Bolton 18 yard box and find a way to get the equalizer.

To me the foul was a hard tackle, Gallas did come in from the front so it was not a two footed tackle from behind...did he clip Davies hard...yes. Is that football in England...absolutely. Hats off to the Gunners. Let us hope they can keep the momentum going.

The upcoming weeks will be very telling on how far the Gunners can go - Villa, ManU, Chelsea and Liverpoo
l before starting up Champions League play again. If the Gunners can come out of those 4 games with 7 points or more I think they stand a good chance at the title - 2 victories and a draw...difficult but not impossible.

What is frustrating is that I think Wenger should and needs to buy some established players and he would bring Arsenal that much closer to another title - another striker and midfielder would be nice...and I don't think a teenager from Brazil is what we are thinking of.

Come on you Gunners

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dempsey injured...major blow to Fulham and US?

Arguably the most important outfield player for the US National team and a key member at Fulham, Clint Dempsey, went out on Sunday with what appears as a knee injury. Not good. With Dempsey playing one of his best seasons in England, Fulham was having a very solid season, sitting 9th in the table. The American has proven to be a spark for the London side and has scored some impressive goals during the campaign.

I do not believe that Fulham believed they could challenge for a Champions League spot, however no reason for them not to believe they could not creep closer to a top 6 spot, however without Dempsey this will be very difficult. He and Duff are really the creative midfielder/wingers that Fulham can count on for a spark of genius. With Zamora out most likely until March, Fulham will be hard pressed to find the offense to sustain themselves. Maybe Al Fayed will open the purse strings to bring in some talent during the transfer period.

What is more concerning is how this will impact the US National team. With out Charlie Davies for the World Cup, and potentially without Dempsey...where will the offense come for the US. Landycakes??? Maybe, and potentially his willingness to play in Europe prior to the World Cup will finally allow him to carry that load. However I think without Deuce, the US could struggle in South Africa. At least Bradley has almost 6 months to figure it out.

Let us hope it is a PCL and not ACL for Dempsey, Fulham and Bradley's sake.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The heat rises on surprise there.

So Rafa and his band of merry-men from Liverpool slide further away from the top of the league table, now 14 points behind league leaders Chelsea and 4 points out of a top 4 spot, after a 1-1 draw against powerhouse Stoke City. Add to the situation the midweek loss to Championship side Reading in the FA Cup and Liverpool having to play in the Europa League having crashed out of the Champions League. Of course Rafa had a classic post game interview blaming everything but himself for the situation Liverpool finds itself in...

The rumors are swirling that the Hicks and Gillett are seriously thinking about sacking their gaffer, not that the two owners do much chatting these days. Now with others such as Souness calling for the Spaniard to stand down on his own, can the ax be far away? I have never made any secret about my dislike for Rafa, I think that he is overrated as a domestic league manager - knock out tournaments are another story. I also think his time at Anfield needs to draw to a close. Liverpool has not won a domestic title in what seems like a lifetime (20 years to be exact)!! That is unacceptable for a side such as the Reds. However I do no think he should be sacked immediately. First, the transfer window has been very quiet and I am not sure a new manager will have the time or money to greatly change the side. Second a new manager will not be able to change the fundamental problem with Liverpool - over reliance on Gerrard and Torres. Third, Liverpool might be able to make a run for the Champions League spot next year...which in a strange way would be perfect for Rafa - he can manage in a knock out tournament manner - not worrying about player development nor multiple cups - Liverpool is out of the FA Cup, Carling Cup and Champions League. Finally, why not wait until the summer and even after the World Cup where you think there will be a deluge of managers on the market. Allow the new gaffer a full transfer period to reshape his club.

I am sure the names of Hiddink and Blanc will be tossed around, but what about "The Special One?" Hmmmm, Mourinho has never made any secret about his desire to return to England. Rumors are swirling that he would return to replace SAF at Manchester United. But why would Mourinho seek that challenge? To replace a legend...short of going undefeated for a season or winning the Champions League without giving up goal, what can the Special One do at Manchester United that SAF has not already done. However, if he goes to Liverpool...he can be the manager that finally gets the Reds a Premiership title. He can be the one that finally brings Liverpool back to the level the fans so desire. I think it is a perfect fit. Mourinho's ego is large enough to want such a challenge. He would get a chance to face off against Wenger, SAF and the rest. He would get a chance to take on his old employer at Chelsea. Finally he would get a chance to cement his legacy if he can find a way to steer Liverpool back to the top of the Premiership mountain.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Freddy Adu heads to Greece

So the great American soccer hope is heading off to play for Aris Thessalonik FC ... um who? This is the third loan he is off on after signing with Benefica - after Monaco and Belenenses - getting 13 games at both sides scoring zero goals. Not exactly the track record you would expect from the player that was touted as the greatest since Pele and Maradona, a player that was going to elevate the US soccer team into the atmosphere of the Brazils, Italys, Germanys, Argentinas of the world. Was Adu over hyped? Yes, no doubt. I know when my college friends are talking to me about a footie player that he has become college buddies could not tell you how many years are between World Cups or for what nation Maradona played for...

Can Adu live up to the enormous expectations? Doubtful. Can he become a solid footballer at the club and international level? Sure. He still had tremendous talent and needs to find himself. I will give him credit for realizing that he will need to play in Europe and not the MLS to improve his career. He really needs stability at the club level to continue to develop and try to live up to a fraction of his supposed potential. However if you look at the players that are his peers - between 20 and 22 - he is behind. Higuain at Real Madrid with 11 goals already, Benzema same club, Michael Bradley playing in the Bundesliga, Walcott already playing a key role in qualifiers for England, Obertan (who is that you ask) a France U21 player at Manchester United...let us not forget that Manchester United gave Adu a look and said no thank you. Or even Pjanic who at 19 is becoming a vital cog for Lyon. None of these players had ads with Pele when they were teenagers, but all are far ahead of the Ghanian born player at this point of their careers.

Adu is a poster child for the US hype machine over playing their hand with a player.