Sunday, 9 February 2014

Shane Long was the key to the title for Arsenal

After the 5-1 result at Anfield between Liverpool and Arsenal, I couldn't decide which was the biggest shock: the result or the fact that Arsenal had maintained their lead at the top of the Premier League for so long. 

There is no denying that this is the strongest Arsenal team in many years, with many of the younger players maturing and a couple of masterclass additions by Wenger such as Ozil and Carzola. However, when you look back in the Premier League history books, every team who has won the title has always had that stand-out striker who is a predator in front of goal. Arsenal simply do not have this kind of striker.

This article is in no way an attack on Giroud. In fact, I am a great admirer of this striker who is very strong and great in the air and provides a different option up front which Arsenal have been lacking in my opinion since Bergkamp. But Giroud is not a striker that will get you 25 goals a season like Bergkamp, but instead is a great link-up player to bring Arsenal's fantastic midfield into play. Arsenal need a striker who can provide a different option and simply give Giroud some help. He has looked very tired in some games since the new year and to be honest, I'm not surprised. Since the beginning of the season, he is the only real striker Wenger has to choose from. 

No player has bemused me more this season than Nicklas Bendtner. There has been no better chance for Bendtner to make a real impact in a team challenging for the premier league title. With only Giroud to compete with for a starting place, you would have thought after what has been so far a very disappointing career for Bendtner at Arsenal, that this season he would have rolled up his sleeves and grafted hard to have a major part in a team challenging for the title. This just simply has not happened and I can't imagine the level of frustration the Arsenal fans must be feeling towards Bendtner. I saw him play in a cup match against Birmingham City and for any striker on the fringes of any team, a cup match is a great way to really stake your place in the starting eleven in the Premier League. To put it simply, he looked lazy and uninterested throughout the game and for a player who is one of the first names on the Denmark international starting eleven, you just wonder what it will take for Bendtner to apply his form at international level to his form and motivation at Arsenal. Many fans I am sure have already given up hope of this and I can't see him at Arsenal next season. What a waste! 

Arsenal fans started the new year full of optimism and hope that after such a baron run of no trophies, that this might just be their year. With the power houses of Manchester United and Chelsea going through transitional periods this season, it is hard to ignore that this could be the best chance for Arsenal to win the Premier League. Introducing the best chance for Arsenal to consolidate and build on their success so far this season: The January Transfer Window. Any fan from any club from any league could have told you what Arsenal desperately needed to be considered as real title contenders: a proven goal scorer. 

The January Transfer Window that unfolded was probably the kind of situation that Arsenal fans had seen in their nightmares throughout that fateful month and I can't see any other club having a more comical and disastrous transfer window than what Arsenal eventually had. No striker signed. The only player signed: Kim Kallstrom, who only a few days after signing is now out for 6 weeks with a back problem caused by playing beach football while at his parent club Spartak Moscow. To top it all off, Wenger then revealed soon after that he wouldn't even have signed this player if he had more time. UNBELIEVABLE! Was he on holiday then for the rest of January?!?! 

Despite this absolute disastrous transfer window which could ultimately cost Arsenal the title, I do feel for Wenger to an extent. It is very rare to find a gem at a reasonable price in January and was almost impossible to get hold of a proven goal-scorer at the highest level. Why would you let your best players go half-way through the season? 

This now brings me onto my main point. In my opinion, which will be a controversial opinion to many football fans, Wenger and Arsenal missed the chance to sign a proven goal-scorer who they could have definitely gained for a very reasonable price. This striker was under their noses, but I imagine is a player that nobody would have considered because he has not played for a big club yet. This player is Shane Long. It is so frustrating to see big clubs ignore proven goal scorers in the Premier League and instead spend millions and millions on players from other leagues around the world who have not proven themselves in what is the best league in the world. Not all strikers can cut it in the Premier League...just ask Osvaldo. Many fans will tell me that he has not proven himself at the highest level, but how can he unless someone gives him the chance? He is fast, clinical in front of goal and is an extremely hard worker who has played most of his career on his own up front, so would fit nicely into the Arsenal system which also prefers to play only one up front. If he can score goals for teams such as Reading and West Brom who do not have the creativity that Arsenal have, open up your imagination to what he could do with players like Carzola, Wilshere and Ozil providing him with numerous chances in front of goal. With no other strikers available for Wenger, it would have been better to gamble on a striker rather than signing no striker at all. 

I believe Shane Long would have scored goals for Arsenal and would have provided a different option and also support for the tiring Giroud. It's like anybody in the working world: you will never get the chance to shine at the top unless you are given the opportunity in the first place to shine. If there was any doubt about the scoring capabilities of Long, you need to simply look at how he is getting on at Hull who have gained a massive signing towards their fight to stay up. An opportunity missed for Arsenal. With no other striker who will score loads of goals this season, Arsenal will still compete due to their fantastic midfield, but Chelsea and Manchester City will simply prove too strong for them in the end. 
Obviously many of you will disagree with this article, but it would be great to hear your thoughts on this. Should Wenger have been more active in the transfer window and should he have taken a chance on someone like Long seeing as there were no other choices in the January Transfer Window?

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Quick-fire premier league predictions (Tuesday 28th January 2014)

Manchester United vs Cardiff City

Despite the "doom and gloom" surrounding Old Trafford this season, the record-breaking signing of Juan Mata from Chelsea this week seems to have brought a sense of renewed hope to the reigning champions. Although it is questionable how Mata will fit into the team when Rooney returns, there is no doubt this Spaniard has immense talent and will surely bring some creativity which united have lacked for so long. However, this creativity could possibly be put to waste until the likes of Van Persie return as it is easy to question the clinical ability of Welbeck. 
After gaining a morale-boosting FA cup win at Bolton on the weekend as well as promising signings such as Fabio Da Silva, Kenwyne Jones and Wilfried Zaha, Cardiff will surely be smelling a possible upset at Old Trafford after seeing the likes of Newcastle, Everton and Spurs all claiming victory at United. However, rooted to the bottom of the Premier League, there is certainly a desperate need for points and I do feel the likes of Noone could pose some questions for the shaky United defense. An emotional return for Solskjaer after gaining so much success at Old Trafford and will surely a receive a very warm reception before the game.  

Quick-fire prediction: 2-1

Norwich City vs Newcastle United

Lacking any consistency all season, the canaries will be looking for their first back-to-back wins against Newcastle tonight after snatching 3 points away from Hull in their last premier league outing. Norwich have been desperately lacking in goals this season. Despite this, Wolfswinkel has looked more and more impressive as he gets more games under his belt and it will be a great opportunity for him tonight to finally add some goals to his Norwich tally. The transfer window this month has turned out to be an unwanted distraction for the canaries with many of their midfielders such as Hoolahan, Snodgrass, Pilkington and the talented Nathan Redmond all being linked with moves to other clubs. However the club has remained defiant not to sell its best players and Hughton will be in desperate need of a crucial 3 points which could steer Norwich temporarily away from trouble. 
A very impressive and ruthless display at West Ham United will certainly have given Newcastle fans every reason for optimism this season. This optimism though may have been dampened when waking up to the news this morning that a £20m bid from PSG has been accepted for Cabaye. Such an influential and talented player will be sorely missed by Newcastle and it is hard to see how they will replace him with only 3 days left in the transfer window. It's not all doom and gloom as it has also been revealed that Newcastle are in talks with Borussia Monchengladbach's De Jong. With all this attention on transfer's, you have to question how much the club is focused on the game tonight and could be an excellent chance for Norwich to seize on.

Quick-fire prediction: 1-1

Southampton vs Arsenal

A cloud of uncertainty and controversy has been swirling around St. Mary's recently. The departure of Nicola Cortese who has been at the heart of the club's success over the past few years was a massive blow for Southampton to take and the loyalty of Pochettino towards the former chairman has left his future in doubt also. On top of this, the club were forced to suspend Osvaldo for fighting with another player, which will give the impression to many that all is not well at Southampton. With the leaders Arsenal visiting this evening, it doesn't get any easier for the saints and there is the obvious concern of their season crumbling away.
Many expected the fantastic start to crumble away slowly after Christmas, but Arsenal still remain defiant at the top of the league. Man City and Chelsea have looked very strong in recent weeks and pressure will certainly be on the gunners tonight to continue to set the pace in the premier league. 

Quick-fire prediction: 1-2

Swansea City vs Fulham

After such an impressive season last season, most people would be surprised to see Laudrup's team only 3 points off the relegation zone. Their possession stats are incredibly good in each game, but this is often been most leading this season as they often hold the ball in ineffective areas and have lacked any creativity and composure in the final third. However, with their style of football and their excellent manager, I could see Swansea clinch a few consecutive wins to take them away from trouble and feel at the Liberty Stadium they will be too hot for Fulham to cope with tonight. 
Their were promising signs in their last away trip to Arsenal in the premier league as they defended well for the first hour against the league leaders. The FA cup fixture against Sheffield United on the weekend once again brought disappointment for Fulham fans and another replay will be most unwelcome when they are right in the thick of the relegation fight. I could see Fulham struggling to cope with Swansea tonight. 

Quick-fire prediction: 3-0

Crystal Palace vs Hull City

The positive impact Tony Pulis has had since coming into Palace has been astounding so far. A fantastic win at home to his former club stoke was the "gritty" win which Palace liked the fight for near the beginning of the season. The performances feel more solid and with so many clubs in the relegation scrap, I could see Crystal Palace having a really good chance of survival. The lack of fire-power up front is the only concern for Pulis and he will certainly need that front line shooting on all cylinders tonight against Hull.
A last-gasp and heart-crushing defeat away to Norwich was a difficult pill to swallow for Hull City in their last premier league outing. Steve Bruce will be well aware of the importance to pick up points against teams around them, and facing another team only 3 points below them, tonight is another cup-final match for Hull City. Hull have invested heavily in this transfer window for their premier league survival in Long and Jelavic and tonight could be the perfect opportunity for these two strikers to gain their debut goals for their new club.

Quick-fire prediction: 1-1

Liverpool vs Everton

After a very disappointing first half against Aston Villa, many will be asking the question whether their champions league crusade is starting to wobble. However their fighting resolve to bring the game back to 2-2 has to be applauded and shows positive signs of a resilience in this Liverpool team. The game against Villa will be seen by many Liverpool fans as dropped points and against their local rivals who are flying at present, noting but 3 points will be accepted by the Liverpool faithful. I see lots of goals in this game and I can certainly see Suarez fired up and on-form for this game.
Everton have been the surprise team of the season for sure this season. Everton fans will have been gutted to only get a point away to West Brom, but their dreams of champions league are very much alive and with a liverpool defense which is looking more and more shaky as the weeks go by, I think there will be opportunities for Everton to give their fans something to cheer about against their local rivals.

Quick-fire predictions: 3-2 

Monday, 13 January 2014

Manchester United steady the ship against the Swans

Starting 2014 with 3 straight home defeats, it certainly hasn't been a happy new year for David Moyes and Manchester United so far this season. The FA cup win for Swansea last weeke
nd was their first at Old Trafford for 83 years. Could they repeat this result in the premier league?

Born in the early 90s, I have grown up seeing Manchester United win trophy after trophy both in Europe and in domestic competitions and I have always been naive to think that this would continue forever. However these are very different times for the red devils. The 1-4 win against today's opponents in the opening day of the season made it look like the transition from Fergie to Moyes was going to be seamless, although this has been far from the case. The problems for Manchester United have been there for all to see. Only 4 wins from 10 premier league games and only 6 goals from the midfield this season just hasn't been good enough by the English champions.

I certainly don't feel Moyes helped himself by bringing Fellaini into the club. At the time I felt it was a panic buy. It was difficult to see where he would fit into the team and has been a difficult transition for him and David Moyes. United are not simply a couple of players off being a great team again, but need a complete overhaul of the current team. The team doesn't have the "x-factor" it used to have and the pictures before the game of the Swansea players sharing jokes and seeming relaxed in the tunnel reflected for me the lack of fear teams used to have standing opposite the likes of Ronaldo, Keane, Beckham, Scholes etc. before the game. Apart from Rooney and RVP, you would struggle to think of many players that could break into the City starting 11 for example. When Rooney and RVP have started together since August 2012, they have lost just once. When neither play, they have lost 10 games. RVP has scored half of United's goals this season showing how much they have missed a player of his caliber. However, despite the gloom over Old Trafford, there have been glimmers of light from the impressive Januzaj and also Welbeck who is on a goal scoring run of 5 goals in 5 games. However, when asked in the pre-match interview of what team he has gone with, Moyes responding with "I've gone with what I got" suggests he lacks option and highlights the desperate need to recruit new players in the summer. Despite only half the season gone, it's hard to deny that Manchester United have little chance of retaining the premier league title being 12 points adrift of leaders Chelsea and that the club needs to start NOW looking towards the rebuilding process in the summer.  

Despite the never-ending list of problems at Manchester United, their opponents Swansea were certainly not short of problems themselves: only 4 points off the bottom of the Premier League and having an increasingly large injury list. Although the Swans have had a glimmering light of their own in the form of Wilfried Bony. A very strong striker who can score all types of goals and is a danger Manchester United need to track and be well-aware of after his last minute winning goal at Old Trafford last weekend.

Two changes were made by David Moyes with Carrick returning to the midfield in place of Cleverly and Chris Smalling being pushed into the middle of the defense alongside Vidic. The amount of injuries picked the Swansea team for itself with Tremmel continuing in goal for the injured Vorm and Canas replacing De Guzman. Davies, Williams and Rangel however all returned back in defense for Swansea. Manchester United haven't lost at home for 3 consecutive games for over 50 years, so there was no doubt pressure was on United to gain a result and after the tough press over the past week towards the players, everyone expected a response.

The game started as an open affair with half chances for both teams in the early moments. Swansea showed excellent promise in only the fourth minute when Shelvey picked out a good run from Rangel, but a poor first touch allowed the ball to run away and what could have been a great chance on goal had gone. Soon after, Shelvey found himself in a promising position outside the box, but could only shoot straight at De Gea. Swansea were certainly in no mood to make life easy for United. Only a couple of minutes later United had chances of their own. Vidic could only snap at a shot which fell nicely 6 yards out over the bar and Januzaj who was very unlucky to hit the bar off a superb free kick.

Swansea are probably the worst team to play under pressure as their ability to dominate possession can easily frustrate opposition supporters. With Swansea happy to retain the ball in ineffective areas as well as United giving the ball away cheaply, you could feel the anxiety and frustration growing around Old Trafford as Swansea continued to dominate possession in the first half. However, possession doesn't necessarily translate into results. Swansea have had more possession than any other team this season, but their precarious position in the table will suggest this doesn't always guarantee results. The only player who seemed to have a creative spark for Swansea was Pozuelo who was very i
mpressive for Swansea in the first half. Always looked comfortable on the ball, willing to run at the United players and seemed to be everywhere on the pitch. A real impressive talent and a player football fans should watch out for in the remainder of the season.

It seemed that the first half was starting to go the same way other games have gone at Old Trafford this season with the game drifting by with very few chances and with other teams winning the game late on against United, there needed to be more of an urgency by United to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Carrick on the half hour mark took a quick free kick to provide Evra with an excellent opportunity on the left to pick out someone with a low cross, but could only find the hands of the Swansea goalkeeper. But finally some urgency shown by United and only 5 minutes later came United's best chance of the half. Good work by Valencia picked out the overlapping Rafael, squaring the ball to Welbeck who could only drag his shot wide of the post from 12 yards out. Should have been 1-0 and as an England fan I couldn't help think that when it comes to the world cup, our England strikers can't be missing opportunities like those.

An uninspiring first half came to an end and with only 34% possession it seemed Manchester United were no closer to breaking the rut at home. Januzaj frittered in and out of the game showing some good moments and Welbeck of course had a golden opportunity. Swansea played well having good possession, but were almost guilty of doing too many passes in the final third. Moyes had plenty to ponder at half time. Flecther and Carrick were almost instinctively sitting too deep, probably due to the recent poor performance; one of them needed to push forward in the second half to create a more positive United. This need to be more positive could also be applied to Swansea who could perhaps be braver in the second half and push more players into the box.

Most of Swansea's goals have been scored after half time this season so a definite need for United to up the anti second half and they couldn't have started better. Only one minute in and Januzaj provides a fantastic cross for Kagawa on the back post, who heads across goal and Tremmel could only parry the ball to Valencia who had an easy tap-in. 1-0 and you could feel the relief pour out at Old Trafford.

The goal suddenly gave Manchester United a surge of confidence and looked more relaxed after seeming edgy and over-careful in the first half. United had more rhythm and momentum to their play. The suttle change of pushing Januzaj out wide and moving Kagawa into the number 10 role which he was more accustomed to when at Dortmund proved to be a genius move and credit has to be given to Moyes. Januzaj continued to threaten out wide on 51 minutes when he threaded a lovely pass to Evra, where the low cross agonisingly fell behind both Welbeck and Kagawa. United were suddenly seeing more of the ball than they saw throughout the whole first half and Evra in particular looked very dangerous with his overlapping runs on the left.

Just short of the hour mark the revitalised United claimed their second goal and the two star players of the second half were both involved. A great whipped ball by Januzaj was headed out by the Swans only for Evra to react first on the edge of the box where his tame shot was very cleverly flicked in by Welbeck. That's 6 goals in 6 premier league games and the scoring run continues for Danny Welbeck.

Soon after Smalling was guilty of missing a sitter at the back post. Swansea cleared their lines off a corner, only for a pass back in left Kagawa in acres of space on the edge of the box and found Smalling on the back post, who somehow found a way to volley over the bar from a couple of yards out. Shocking miss and United would be guilty of doing the same after 76 mins when a counter attack by United from a Swansea corner allowed Kagawa through on goal, but his attempt was eventually cleared off the line after trying to be too delicate with his finish.

Swansea still looked comfortable on the ball and if they could put more bodies into the box, then they could perhaps make United regret missing those brilliant chances by Smalling and Kagawa and could make it a nervy affair. However it wasn't to be and the full time whistle was blown with a sigh of relief rather than a cheer around Old Trafford. Bony was particularly disappointing for me tonight for Swansea. He never really hit the ground running and looked a frustrated figure, which happens to many strikers when they are isolated for so long up front. Januzaj however was deservedly given man of the match and was the architect for most of the good things Manchester United did in this game. An outstanding talent and a certain superstar of the future.

With a tight first half, the rise in tempo by United in the second half swung the game their way and based on the second half performance, they deserved the victory. Swansea's next challenge isn't any easier hosting spurs in their next premier league game, but with the bottom being so tight, a couple of consecutive wins which I believe Swansea can get with their squad will steer them away from trouble.

Moyes will know there is still a long way to go to get United back to where they were under Sir Alex...but it's certainly a start. Could this result mean on wards
and upwards for Manchester United? Only time will tell and will make some interesting viewing in the coming weeks of the premier league.


Saturday, 23 November 2013

Lampard Haunts Former Club Once More

Both clubs on show in the evening Premier League kick off were in need of three points for very different reasons with Chelsea being seven points adrift of leaders Arsenal and West Ham looking to get back on track after throwing away a result to Norwich before the international break.

After failing to convert numerous chances against Norwich in their last premier league game, it was very surprising to see Sam Allardyce persist with the same system, with no recognised striker. Any West Ham fan must be extremely frustrated with such a system after seeing only one win at home all season against Cardiff City. You have to feel sorry for Big Sam with so many strikers injured, but it is difficult to comprehend his decision to leave Carlton Cole on the bench once more. Any Sam Allardyce team in the past has always been known for their direct (long-ball) approach playing off a tall, lone striker, so there must be an underlying reason for Cole's continued exclusion. Allardyce was probably not the first choice for many fans when he first arrived at the club and although he has done a fantastic job at West Ham, football is an unforgiving world and a poor result could see some West Ham fans start to turn on their manager.

It was great to see Mikel brought back into the Chelsea line-up to allow Ramires more freedom to attack. I am a huge fan of Ramires and believe he is one of the most underrated players in the premier league. It has been bewildering this season to see him played in a defensive role at times when he has such fantastic pace and energy to really run and punish teams on the counter attack. The striker crisis at Chelsea seems to have disappeared lately with Eto scoring 3 goals in the last 2 games, but life is far from perfect yet for Chelsea with no clean sheet in their last 6 matches. With Winston Reid, West Ham's best defender, absent from the squad, there was no doubt Chelsea would go after West Ham for the 3 points.

Despite Chelsea dominating possession from the start, the game was very sterile for the first 15 minutes with West Ham comfortably dealing with any Chelsea attack. With only 9 goals in 11 premier league games, it is obvious where the problems lie for West Ham, but Allardyce has always instilled a great team spirit and one outstanding feature this season has been their defense. This was shown in their previous outing against Norwich until they gifted a goal to allow the canaries to win the game, and unfortunately on the 18 minute mark the Hammers did the same again through a very poor and short pass-back from Demel to allow Oscar to nick the ball from Jaaskelienen and force the foul and win the penalty. An argument could have been made for the keeper to be sent off, but with Oscar moving away from goal, it was never a red card in my eyes. Step up Frank Lampard, who smashed the ball down the middle to score for the third consecutive against his former employers. After showing good defensive qualities, West Ham once again give away a poor goal through a moments lapse in concentration.

The goal saw Chelsea begin to ooze with confidence and looked more and more dangerous. On 33 minutes, a ball from the back to Hazard was brilliantly flicked on from the Belgian to Oscar who only had one idea in his mind when running at the West Ham defense and shot low into the bottom corner to make it 0-2, leaving the home fans stunned. The West Ham system was simply allowing Chelsea to dominate the game and after 39 minutes Allardyce had seen enough and made two substitutions bringing on Diame and Maiga in order to do something about the easy possession Chelsea were having. The clear frustration of the home fans was clearly expressed through the boos which greeted the substitutions, due to the continued resistance to bring on Cole up front.

The second half began with Chelsea looking comfortable on the ball still, but signs were showing of the half time team talk ringing in the ears of the West Ham players, who were starting to hold the ball better and create a few more openings. However, Chelsea looked keen to put the game to bed and a header from Cahill on 50 minutes from a corner was cleared off the line and was a warning to the hammers of Chelsea's intent. Great one-touch football and 73% possession at the beginning of the second half were clear indicators of how comfortable Chelsea were and looked to be enjoying the themselves. Eto was excellent throughout the match. There was lots of debate over the decision to bring in Eto and send Lukaku out on loan, but Eto looked sharper and fitter than ever before this season and has justified Mourinho's faith in him. Apart from a chance for Maiga on 65 mins, you would struggle to reflect on a clear chance for West Ham where they really tested Cech and on 81 minutes, Lampard finished off the game with a low-driven shot from just outside the box to haunt his former club once more and make it 0-3.

Ravel Morrison is a name which certainly hasn't been far off the minds of many England fans in recent weeks and you felt that, with this game being live on Sky, it was a great chance for him to showcase his potential and stake a place in the squad for Brazil. He certainly showed glimpses of class and certainly has excellent potential. However, I feel he still has a lot to prove to gain a place in the England squad and will be interesting to see his progression through the remainder of this season.

Only achieving one goal on target in the whole game, which came in injury time, it is clear that West Ham have a tough road ahead. Without a recognised striker, there is no pressure on the ball and there is no option of that long ball which has proved so fruitful for Allardyce throughout his managerial career. With Caroll reportedly 4 weeks away from fitness, you feel they need him now more than ever. There was plenty, however, for the special one to smile about gaining their second away win of the season with West Ham helping them all the way. After a poor result to Newcastle, Chelsea are certainly back on track not only through the win, but the manner in which they gained the victory. With their upcoming fixtures against teams lower in the league, nobody can rule Chelsea out of their equation yet for the premier league title.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Hughton Survives Another Day...For Now

One team conceding eleven goals in the space of a week and the other team holding the third-best defensive record in the league, it was clear in the build up to the #SNF clash between Norwich City and West Ham United which manager was under the spotlight.

Under Paul Lambert, Norwich fans were spoilt with an attacking and positive style of play, which produced lots of goals and exciting football. If Norwich were losing a match with 10 minutes to go, Lambert would throw on four forwards to get a goal. The team would never give up on gaining a victory and was one of the main ingredients for promotion to the Premier League back in 2011.

However, Hughton has a completely different philosophy. A more defensive-minded approach, crowding out the midfield with a 4-1-4-1 formation and setting out the team to be hard to score against rather than a free-scoring team . This was a tough change for canaries fans to accept, but a strong end to last season and the summer influx strikers such as Van Wolfswinkel, Hooper and Elmander showed a possible change of intent and allowed Chris Hughton to keep Norwich fans on his side.

However the stats speak for themselves this season. Failing to score more than one goal in a single game since the opening game of the season, only one goal scored between three strikers and playing most games with only one striker...Norwich fans certainly haven't had much to cheer about this season. There was such a buzz around Carrow Road surrounding the summer signings and a real high expectation that the new strikers would allow Norwich to challenge higher in the table. A large amount of money was spent on strikers, but Hughton has refused to play more than one striker. Why spend a fortune on strikers if you are not going to play them?

Norwich fans would probably accept the more defensive approach under Hughton if it yielded positive results. As we know, football is a results-based business. 1-0 wins or 0-0 draws would be
adequate as the realistic aim for Norwich City is survival. However, this has not been the case. We have set a team out week in week out this season to defend and not concede, but the system just hasn't worked. The 7-0 loss against Manchester City was the breaking point for many Norwich fans and has left the Norfolk outfit humiliated for the past week. Something had to change.

The #SNF match against West Ham United was certainly D-Day for Chris Hughton and was a massive game for Norwich City Football Club. Defeat could see Norwich's season unravel and could see the media and fans turn on the players and manager which would have a detrimental effect on confidence and morale. Defeat could more crucially see the chief executive David McNally wield the axe on Hughton, knowing an international break is on the horizon after the game to give any possible time for change in management. McNally is a ruthless businessman. After sacking Bryan Gunn after one game in charge, which infamously saw Norwich lose 1-7 to Colchester in League One, I would not be surprised in a quick and decisive action being taken by McNally if Norwich were to lose to West Ham at home.

The first question most canaries fans were wondering before this game: 'Will Hughton play two strikers?' To my astonishment, he had decided to go with Elmander and Hooper up front. However the reality was that Hughton had no choice. He had to go against his core beliefs and go for broke as he probably knew himself that anything less than defeat just wouldn't be accepted after the mauling at the Etihad Stadium. West Ham United had striker issues of their own with Carroll still injured and Vaz Te also out through injury, forcing the manager to make the bold move of playing with no recognised striker. It was therefore inevitable that West Ham was going to dominate the midfield and possession, which is what exactly happened as Norwich City and West Ham United kicked off. West Ham looked comfortable on the ball throughout the first half. Norwich looked nervous. Possession was yielded too easily throughout the first half and Norwich lacked confidence or ideas when trying to attack the West Ham goal. Hooper and Elmander were showing glimmers of a promising partnership, but were let down by the midfield who just had no clue when going forward. West Ham deservedly took the lead through Morrison's tap in after good spells of pressure and had plenty more chances to add to their total. The end of the first half was greeted by a chorus of boos and Hughton's half time team talk was probably the biggest one of his managerial career.

The second half resumed in similar fashion to the first half. However, a fumble by Jaaskelienen allowed Hooper to snatch the ball and force the foul. Penalty given, which was hammered down the middle by Hooper. Confidence is a massive aspect in any job and after the penalty the Norwich players were simply brimming with it. They were moving the ball around with purpose, Snodgrass looked a completely different player from the first half, Redmond was taking on any West Ham player in front of him and Hooper and Elmander were linking up more and more. Suddenly the game had changed completely, which was evident when a long range shot by Howson smashed against the bar. Snodgrass was immediately fouled to earn a free kick in a dangerous position. Only one man was a contender to take it. As soon as it left Snodgrass' foot there was no doubt where it was heading and the goal sent Carrow Road rocking. A late Fer goal added a gloss to the score and the full time score was greeted by a sigh of relief in Norwich, with the biggest relief coming from the manager.

West Ham simply threw away their good work from the first half  and Norwich edged the game through a bigger desire for the result. The game was after all probably bigger for Norwich than for West Ham. Seeing two strikers up front was fantastic and it is important for the canaries to now build on this result. However I feel the international break won't do any favours for Norwich. The last win for Norwich came against Stoke in September, just before another international break, which in my opinion loses a bit of momentum you gain from winning a premier league game.

The result will obviously mean Chris Hughton will live to fight another day. I am just concerned as a Norwich fan that he only played two up front through desperation and will now revert back to his old tactics when he visits his former employers Newcastle United. I feel Norwich must be more ambitious when going into the next few games and allow a striking partnership to form and develop. I really like Chris Hughton as a person. He speaks very well to the media, seems to have the right attitude and I feel he really does care about Norwich City Football Club. There is nobody that wants him to succeed at Norwich City more than I do. Norwich fans simply want to see more attacking ambition and I hope Chris Hughton can deliver this and take the club forward.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Spurs favourites for Europe, but will miss out on top four

After the attention being on the red half of North London yesterday, it was time for Tottenham to show their North London rivals their own European pedigree. A win for spurs would mean qualification into the knockout stage, with the Moldovan outfit Sheriff Tiraspol needing at least a point to avoid crashing out of Europe for the third time in this competition.

There was lots of talk before the match had even started, with the controversy of Lloris finally easing off, the possibility of Defoe taking over Martin Chivers' all time goal record in Europe for Spurs and Brad Friedel setting a new European record as the oldest player to play on the European stage.

Many Spurs and Premier League fans have been wondering about the same question this season...'Why doesn't Defoe play more in the Premier League?' With 6 goals this season, 4 arriving in the Europa League, it is hard to figure out why Defoe has not been given the chance to play more in
the premier league. Nobody, including the man himself, seems to know why. Some argue that it is
because of the system Spurs now play with one up front. However Defoe has played on his own up front in  Europe and played up front on his own for England once against Bulgaria and scored a hat trick, so it's hard to convince me that there are tactical reasons behind his lack of action in the PL. Its not as if Spurs have been hitting teams for six every game too, with their last premier league match against Everton ending goalless only highlighting that Soldado has not yet had a big an impact as someone like Negredo has had at Man City yet. Defoe is one of those players who I would trust 100% to score when through on goal and has an excellent goal scoring record for England. It is difficult for me to see why Defoe shouldn't play on the weekend and I hope for England's sake that he starts earning some more minutes on the pitch as I believe he has a lot to offer England going forward in the world cup next summer.

A massive congratulations has to be sent out to Brad Friedel. At 42 years of age, he has become the most senior player to ever play in Europe and is a record he fully deserves. Many still feel that he was extremely unlucky to lose his place last season to Hugo Lloris. However, with fantastic displays fro
m the frenchmen this season, the decision by AVB has proved to be justified. However despsite losing his place, Friedel has continued to train hard. After training he goes straight on the treadmill to continue training and apparently follows Giggs in regards to the amount of yoga he does. An excellent professional and a great ambassador for the sport.

It was always expected for Spurs to dominate the possession at home in this match, and so they did in the first half, but the best chances fell to Sheriff Tiraspol in the first half who showed potential to hurt Spurs on the counter attack with a shot deflecting onto the post on the 25 minute mark and then a lose square ball by Eriksen offering a golden opportunity for Ricardinhnio who could only shoot just wide of the post.

With a heavy price tag of £26m, Spurs fans will naturally expect big things from Lamela. Due to 
the in-form Townsend keeping him on the bench, tonight was an important night to showcase
his talent. Despite taking time in the first half hour of the game to get a feel for the ball, Lamela didn't take long to show glimmers of class with a few tight penalty shouts being waved away by the referee. He was the most influential player in the entire match and competition is rife on the wings despite the departure of Bale in the summer. AVB certainly has a selection dilemna for the weekend. 

Chances were far a few between for Spurs, unable to provide that decisive ball in the final third. Credit has to be given to Sheriff Tiraspol who had 7-8 yellow shirts behind the ball on every spurs attack and simply crowded out any spurs player with the ball in the final third. Defoe was simply a spectator in the first half due to the lack of service available to him and virtually didn't have a touch throughout the whole first half. However right on half time Defoe had his chance only to completely miss the ball on the front post. A lack of action during the first half for Defoe possibly meant a lack of sharpness when attacking the ball at the near post.

The second half started in very similar fashion, until a cross on the hour mark from Spurs rebounded off the hip of a FC Sheriff defender only to fall on a plate for Lamela who cleverly gave the eyes to the keeper and slotted the ball at the front post. 1-0, Lamela's first goal for Spurs and just like the first leg, Sheriff Tiraspol had lost concentration on the hour mark.

With a blanket of anxiety finally lifting over White Hart Lane, spurs started to swagger with confidence. Eriksen looked more positive on the ball showing that he can challenge the impressive Holtby for that number 10 role in the premier league. Lamela started to run more at the Sheriff Tiraspol defenders and shortly after the first goal, quick feet from Lamela were simply too good for the defender who could only leave a trailing leg for Lamela to stumble over. Penalty and of course there was only going to be one man to take it. Step up Jermain Defoe, who confidently dispatched the ball into the roof of the net to beat Martin Chivers' all time goal scoring record in Europe of 23 goals.

Sheriff Tiraspol needing a point from this game to stay in the competition had nothing to lose now and had to go after the game more. With 15 minutes to go, a shot outside the box caught Friedel by surprise and could only parry it to Isa who gladly slotted it in on the rebound. 2-1 and finally after 593 minutes of clean sheets in Europe, Spurs had finally conceded a goal. However, spurs comfortably held on with very little threat from the Moldovan team towards the final whistle.

Despite 9 changes being made by Spurs, a patient spurs performance eventually causes Sheriff Tiraspol to crash out of the competition and for Spurs to progress to the last 32 with two games to spare. Using the Bale transfer money to add depth to their squad has given spurs the luxury which they didn't have last season of picking almost a whole new side who can be more than competitive in Europe. However it was concerning to see the lack of service Defoe got in the game, with a similar situation for Soldado against Everton. Its fantastic for Spurs to have such a great depth in their squad, which perhaps their North London rivals Arsenal lack, but spurs need a play maker who can really change the game with a fantastic pass or an inspired run. The lack of real creativity is why I think Spurs won't have enough this season to make the top four with all their rivals having a player who can really change the game instantly. However the depth of their squad and the quality they do have, for me, makes them favourites to win the Europa League and I will be cheering them every step of the way.

Please comment below and let me know what you think, especially spurs fans! Do you think spurs DO have enough to make the champions league this season? Are you really that interested in the Europa League?

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Gunners finally showing maturity

To begin with, it must be said firstly what a pleasure it was to watch Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal yesterday evening. The quick passing and fluidity throughout the match was unbelievable from both sides and was a great showcase to all young players of how the beautiful game SHOULD be played. Certainly both Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal will be two clubs every team in the champions league will want to avoid when the knockout stage draw is done.

Over the past decade the Arsenal faithful have seen it all. Seeing their team with the likes of Pires, Henry and Viera establish themselves as the 'unbeatables', reaching the champions league final only to lose the match in the first few minutes of the game, moving to a brand new stadium which consequently restricted finances, having to sell key players like Van Persie and Fabregas and the question which has been hovering around especially in the past few it time for Wenger to go?'. The Arsenal fans could certainly argue that they have been through the mill more than most, especially over the past few years.

It is admirable to see the amount of quality young players Arsenal bring through the ranks. However, due to lack of finances, Arsenal have had to depend almost too heavily on these youngsters, with very little experience and maturity to draw upon. This to me is certainly why Arsenal have been deprived of trophies since the era of the 'unbeatables'. It has almost been drawn on as an excuse from time to time in the past that Arsenal is a young team and needs time to develop, which has tested the patience of the gunners fans over the years. However, achieving champions league football and showcasing an attractive style of play as allowed Wenger to hang on in during the rocky times.

This season's performances, and especially last nights performance over Dortmund, is clear evidence in my mind that the Arsenal youngsters are now showing signs of maturity and are repaying the faith and time given to them by their manager. The likes of Ramsey, Gibbs, Wilshere did not come into the first team as superstars. They have needed time to develop. Each of these players were sent out on loan and then given the opportunity to flourish in the first team, but this development has taken time as Arsenal fans know and now the decision to give these players time to develop is paying off at last. This is why there is so few English talent out there. The english players are not given time to develop on the big stage.

As well as these young players finally flourishing, there is much better communication across the team, especially in the defensive ranks. Arsenal have found a solid partnership in Koscielny and Mertesacker. It was fantastic to see Mertesacker and Arteta having a bit of a 'spat' in last nights match. It showed to me that there is more communication in this Arsenal team. Arsenal seem to have found a talent in Giroud after never really being able to replace Thierry Henry. And of course, every team needs that one match winner who can turn a game around and they certainly found that in Mesut Ozil. There is much better understanding across the team. Most of the players in the team have played with each other for more than one season and the young players certainly do not lack experience anymore. The show of maturity by Arsenal this season is enough to get any Arsenal fan dreaming of trophy finally.

However, the show of maturity is only the first step and Arsenal fans must stop themselves getting too carried away. Arsenal lack depth in their squad and really lacked a player on the bench last night that could come on and turn the game around. Giroud has proved an excellent goal poacher this season and holds the ball up well, but he lacks pace to really go past a player which is crucial in such a fast and furious league as the Premier League. Arsenal have made an excellent start, but I believe the January Transfer Window must be used by Wenger to bring in a lightning-paced striker and a winger who can give Arsenal another tactical option which I feel they lack at the moment. Arsenal must avoid injuries for this new mature Arsenal team to remain consistent throughout the rest of this season.

Let me know what you think of the post guys and whether you agree or disagree. Especially would like to hear from Arsenal fans as i'm only a fan looking from the outside.