Posts Tagged ‘Barcelona’

Weekly Photoshop – Xavi

08/03/2011

Barcelona’s midfield maestro (well one of them anyway) is this week’s theme. A master of keeping possession, it turns out Xavi’s pass, pass, pass approach doesn’t always work (admittedly his chosen specialist subject was something of a surprise!).

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'And at the end of that round, you've scored no points and 63 passes...'

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More here (this week’s winner had the same idea).

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T.

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Archive.

Season Previews 2010/11 – Arsenal

12/08/2010

Arsenal

Last Season: 3rd

New Signings: Koscielny, Chamakh

Key Player: Robin van Persie

Ones To Watch: Jack Wilshere

Needs  A Big Year: Laurent Koscielny

Would Quite Like: A new goalkeeper and another centre back, but in terms of the season a first trophy since 2005.

Prediction: 2nd

Thoughts: TThe biggest story at the Emirates this summer was whether Cesc Fabregas would leave Arsenal and join Barcelona. After a fifth year without a trophy and a particularly spineless end to the season, Arsenal’s captain decided he had had enough and was going to rejoin his boyhood team.

Fine you might say, Cesc had given fantastic service and no one could begrudge him wanting to win things. However Barcelona were clearly not well versed in how transfers work, where if one club wants one of the best midfielders in the world, they have to pay what he’s worth, especially if he still has five years left on his contract.

Still an Arsenal player for now.

Instead, there were two derisory bids, and a daily quote from a Barcelona player about how Fabregas was being held prisoner, had Barca DNA, and Arsenal should just let him go. Seeing as Arsenal were very much in the position of power and Barcelona had spent what little money they had on David Villa, it meant Fabregas has to stay another year.

Is this the most important decision of the summer? Well yes and no. Nobody can deny Cesc’s influence and he had his best season for Arsenal, finishing as top scorer having played an advanced role. This will no doubt continue, as whatever his personal ambitions may be he’s professional enough to still do his best for Arsenal.

However the decision not to have a new goalkeeper in place for the opening day game with Liverpool has far greater ramifications. Yes, there’s still over two weeks of the window left, but despite being linked with the likes of Schwarzer and Marchetti, it is not guaranteed that a replacement will come in.

Crap meets crapper.

Manuel Almunia, for all his faults is still better than Lukasz Fabianski. While they are both the proverbial good shot stopper, neither seems able to deal with the mental pressure of big games and the physical pressure of high balls swung into the box. That Wenger views Fabianski as having the attributes of a No.1 keeper is worrying to say the least.

The lack of new keeper and the dearth of cover at centre-back (Campbell, Sylvestre, Gallas and Senderos out – Koscielny and fit again Djourou in) mean the same issues from last season look likely to rear their ugly head. As an Arsenal fan, it’s most frustrating. Knowing we are so close to winning the league but not addressing the clear issues preventing us from doing it is careless to say that least.

If you consider that they lost all four games against United and Chelsea last season, but were still in the running until late throwaway defeats to Wigan and Spurs, suggests that it only needs a player or two to help with that final step – that player or two being the aforementioned goalkeeper and extra centre back.

Needs to quickly adapt.

The talk emanating from the club over the summer suggests that it’s finally got through to the players what’s needed. No more slacking off when two goals up, no more being bullied by the more physical teams in the league, etc.

I think the impact of Sol Campbell’s half season cameo shouldn’t be underestimated. He came into the squad and showed what it takes to achieve something you want; that there’s no escaping hard work if you want to win. Though he’s left, his attitude seems to have rubbed off.

In terms of the squad, things generally look quite good. Marouane Chamakh has finally joined and should be an improvement on the departing Eduardo. The Crozillian never truly recovered from the horrific injury he sustained and coupled with hypocritical reaction to his dive against Celtic meant a change of scene was probably best. Chamakh is by no means prolific but gives a different option, and should prove useful in tough away games.

Vela stays for now and gets an upgraded squad number but the important news is Robin van Persie being fully fit again (albeit a couple of weeks behind in training). His injury really hurt Arsenal last November. Remember all the talk of how Arsenal could score 100 goals after all the big wins early on? The goals per game ratio went right down after RvP was out. They continued to challenge without him but with Bendtner also out at the time, you had the bizarre situation of Andrey Arshavin playing on his own up front, which was no fun for either player or fans.

Arguably Arsenal's most important player.

The Russian had an average season, nearly always played out of position. I think bigger things are expected this season. The midfield is boosted by Fabregas staying and Wilshere being ready for regular first team football. I would expect him to be ahead of Rosicky in the pecking order sooner rather than later.

Two players who failed to make their respective World Cup squads will be particularly determined to shine this year. Samir Nasri looked very sharp in pre-season and has a previously unseen seriousness about him. Similarly, Theo Walcott will want a season where he doesn’t pick up lots of small injuries. A run of 20-25 games in a row would do him a world of good. If he hits his target of 20 assists he’ll have had a great season.

Bounce back seasons ahead.

Once you factor in Song, Diaby, Eboue, the emerging Frimpong, Denilson and the hopefully returning Ramsey and you have more than enough options.

As discussed earlier, it’s defence where there are issues. There are currently just three centre-backs, at least one more is a must. Full backs are covered with Eboue and Gibbs being the reserves for Sagna and Clichy. Gibbs in particular excites me, I think he’ll be the first choice left back by the end of the season.

In terms of tactics I think Wenger will slightly adjust the 433 of last season seeing how overrun it caused the midfield to be. The benefits it brought to Fabregas and van Persie’s game make it worth sticking with but perhaps a slight switch to make it a 4231 instead with Fabregas advanced behind van Persie and two attacking midfielders/forwards playing either side of them will do the trick.

Arsenal don’t really have natural wingers who can play in a 442. You just get central midfielders or wide forwards out of position. It might be case of dropping an extra player (Diaby or Denilson) back to sit alongside Song with Fabregas ahead of them. Van Persie will be the central striker with any two of about eight players filling the wide roles in the 3.

It worked very well when the Dutchman was fit and the added bonus is Chamakh could take up the role were he to get injured. I would like to see more solid set-ups when playing the big teams as last season Chelsea, Man Utd and Barcelona had much fun drawing us out of position and hitting us on the break. In these games a four or even five men in midfield would work; there is enough pace in the side that the lone striker would never be too isolated.

Yes it is five years since we won a trophy but my players have great potential.

In terms of prospects, despite what many writers are saying, I think Arsenal will improve on last season if they sign a keeper before the window shuts. A simplistic theory you might think but if you consider that a top keeper is worth around nine points a season (that’s three match-saving performances – not unrealistic) then Arsenal will be very close indeed.

A slight tactical adjustment and they’ll be pretty close to that elusive trophy. Maybe even close enough to win it. No new goalkeeper or centre-back and it will be the same old problems and the usual 4th place.

T.

Arsenal

Last Season: 3rd

New Signings: Koscielny, Chamakh

Key Player: Robin van Persie

Ones To Watch: Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs

Needs A Big Year: Cesc Fabregas

Would Quite Like: A new goalkeeper and another centre back, but in terms of the season a first trophy since 2005.

Prediction: 2nd

Thoughts:

World Cup Bet Of The Day – The Final

11/07/2010

Running Total: +0.23 units

The news that Klose was out injured for yesterday’s 3rd/4th playoff meant another bet had to be found. The simple option of over 2.5 goals was taken meaning this column is back in profit just in time for the end of the finals.

I do feel a bit sorry for Klose not getting at least the chance to equal Ronaldo’s record. Say what you want about him being not as good but at the end of the day he’s produced in three World Cups.

Anyway, on to today’s game which should hopefully be a classic between Holland and Spain.

Spain are heavy favourites to win this and you can get 14/5 on a Holland victory in 90 minutes which seems very high. While the Dutch haven’t been as impressive I get the feeling it’s partly because people still associate them with the more attacking styles of days gone by and think that because they’re not scoring three or four a game they’re not playing well.

This Dutch team is unbeaten in 24 and is more than capable of causing a so called upset. However, despite this you can’t deny Spain should be favourites and the 11/10 on them to win in 90 minutes is not terrible value given how in control they’ve been in all their matches.

In terms of the scorers I have a hunch van Persie might finally get another goal to go with his good performances and he’s 5/2 to score anytime which seems generous. Change it to first goalscorer and you can get as high 8/1. Lastly, him to score and Holland to win is 6/1.

David Villa is 6/5 to score anytime while Dutch form man (and top scorer rival) Wesley Sneijder is 10/3 – again very generous.

There’s been some talk that Spain may have to come from behind to win this and that wouldn’t surprise me, though the one time they went behind in this tournament they lost. You can get as high as 28/1 on a Holland HT/Spain FT result but perhaps the more likely scenario is Draw HT/Spain FT which is 7/2 in most places but as high as 4/1 in Ladbrokes and Paddy Power.

Finally Howard Webb is in charge which means there’ll be a few yellow cards. Mark van Bommel is 8/1 to be first booked while fellow hatchet man Nigel de Jong is 9/1. Take your pick and fill your boots. It might be prudent to bet on some of the full-backs getting booked too. I could see Robben getting either Capdevilla and/or Ramos booked while the Dutch full backs will also be at risk when facing the likes of Pedro and Iniesta.

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Bets of the day:

Robin van Persie to score anytime @ 5/2

Holland to win in 90 minutes @ 14/5

Basically you can go with the aforementioned combined bet at 6/1 but I’d rather split it and increase my chances. I’m going with heart over head with these selections but I just have a hunch that Holland are going to do it. Alternatively just bet on Spain to win in 90 and double your money.

T.

Dear Barcelona

06/07/2010

So you today say you won’t wait much longer for Cesc Fabregas. Is that a promise? Will you just piss off if Arsenal continue their refusal to sell? That would be nice.

The daily ‘negotiating’ tactics are pretty hilarious, and it seems the more silent Arsenal remain, the more desperate Barcelona start to sound.

Barcelona won’t pay over the odds. Of course,why should they? Arsenal should just accept the opening offer and sell their captain and one of the best midfielders in Europe for little more than the Catalans received for Yaya bloody Toure. Oh wait… Also, if they want to move on to Mascherano or Robben please be my guest. It’s not like they lack enough diving players already.

Sandro Rosell also regrets the topic being public as it “increases the selling club’s expectations”. And whose fault is that exactly? Arsenal have made all of about two statements on the matter; I think he needs to be looking closer to home. They will never pay 50 or 60 million euros? They won’t even get to negotiate let alone buy if they don’t.

Because he's worth it.

Is saying you won’t wait meant to be a threat? Let’s not forget which club is in the position of power here. Arsenal have no need, and no desire to sell. Yes, Fabregas may want to join Barcelona but he is also Arsenal club captain and last time I checked he still has four years left on his contract. If it came down to a war of stubbornness Arsenal can simply hold him to it.

Oh and getting your whole squad to day by day comment that Cesc’s heart belongs to/is already in Barca does not reduce the fee. It just makes you sound like twats.

I could hazard a guess at what the FC in FC Barcelona stands for but this is a family blog...

If you want to buy Cesc Fabregas, offer a proper transfer fee. Like you did for David Villa. Like you did for Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Arsenal should really call Inter for some tips on how to screw Barcelona over).

Arsenal will then say no, and you can be on your merry way. At least until next summer. Thanks.

T.

World Cup Bet Of The Day – Day 4

14/06/2010

Running Total: +0.2 units

Finally a betting tip came off yesterday with Miroslav Klose getting the second goal in Germany’s 4-0 thrashing of Australia. The man is a born World Cup scorer, how I wish he was playing for the country of his birth… Anyway, the returns mean we’re in profit, albeit by a fifth of a unit. Got to start somewhere huh?

A quick one today. Cameroon face Japan in the mid-afternoon game and should be far too strong for them. Japan have never won a World Cup game on foreign soil and are pretty goal shy at the best of times. Despite throwing a pre-tournament hissy fit, Samuel Eto’o hasn’t pulled out and should get plenty of opportunities to get on the score sheet today. Alex Song meanwhile should be able to negate Japan’s main threat Keisuke Honda in central midfield.

I think Cameroon should be odds on to win this, yet they’re only at around evens. Those odds are good enough for me, you are doubling your money after all.

Bet of the day:

Cameroon to beat Japan @ 11/10

T.

Season Predictions 09/10 – How They Turned Out

31/05/2010

Apologies for the lack of posts recently. I’m still in two minds about whether to do season reviews for each club – to be honest I’m in World Cup mode now. Perhaps I’ll still get round to it though.

Back in August I played a mug’s game and tried to predict how everyone would finish. Here’s what actually happened:

'Expert' predictions...

Looking at the results showed I got just three clubs spot on: Man City in 5th and basement dwellers Hull and Pompey taking the bottom two places. In my defence I was only one place out with six other clubs but really this table looks like what it is, rubbish punditry.

I think if Gareth Southgate and Garth Crooks had a bastard lovechild it would look something like this predictions table (enjoy those nightmare thoughts kids).

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In terms of the thinking, I had found it really tricky to split the top three when writing pre-season predictions. My loyalties to Arsenal may have played a part in placing them second while I couldn’t bear to predict Chelsea as Champions even though deep down I knew they had retained the most strength over the summer.

A similar scenario led to placing Spurs 7th – I was hardly going to predict them a Champions League spot was I?! I underestimated Liverpool’s decline and overestimated Sunderland’s improvement.

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The biggest mistake was Birmingham, a full nine places out, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who had them down to struggle. Fair play to Alex McLeish (who I had as first sacking!), he brilliantly led them to a top half finish.

The bottom half was slightly better predicted clubs wise, if not positions wise. The dearth of quality is such that it’s pot luck as to where the likes of Bolton and Wigan finish. I got three of the bottom four right and on another day would have predicted Burnley to come in 18th not 17th.

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In terms of the cups and other stuff it went like this:

And I thought the league prediction was bad...

Oh dear. Only Bayern Munich correct and I suppose West Brom for promotion. If the Premier League table was the Southgate/Crooks lovechild then this is the resulting mess when said lovechild had a threesome with Alan Shearer and Jamie Redknapp. I literally couldn’t do any worse at being a pundit. Like I said at the beginning, it’s time for the World Cup…

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T.

Weekly Photoshop – 2009 Review

23/12/2009

Hello hello, long time no speak. This week there’s no Photoshop theme in the Guardian, merely a collection of the year’s best entries. They’ve decided to not just use the weekly winners (not sure why) hence Emmanuel Eboue gets in from way back in January while October’s effort for Old Trafford Injury Time also makes it.

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My three personal favourites from this year are as follows:

3. Nicklas Bendtner (more for Ade as Ike Turner):

Nicklas may think he's "simply the best, better than all the rest" but sadly for him Ade is the Ike in this relationship.

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2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (proving me wrong to be fair):

zlatan ibrahimovic barcelona guardiola

"Of course you can rely on me in the big games Pep." Zlatan's already epic nose suddenly seems to increase in size...

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1. Roy Keane (both entries):

roy keane ipswich

There'll be none of this Tractor Boys business now Keane is in charge, it's manual labour all the way...

roy keane ipswich mick mccarthy

Mick McCarthy may have escaped Keane's clutches for now but he'll soon hunt him down.

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Hope you enjoyed them all, I’m going to try to spend more time on them next year. Alberto Aquilani is first up in the new year.

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T.

Bon Anniversaire Arsene Wenger (several days late…)

28/10/2009

This has been in my drafts folder for ages. It was originally meant to be posted for Wenger’s 13th anniversary at Arsenal a few weeks ago. It was then meant to be put up on his birthday last week. As you can see neither happened but better late than never. It was Wenger’s 60th birthday and what better reason for a few lists? 15 great signings, 15 poor signings, 15 memorable games and 15 great goals (plus a few extra chucked in). Enjoy!

arsene-wenger-1996

Arsene Who?

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15 Great Signings:

1. Patrick VieiraA relatively unknown player before he joined from AC Milan, Wenger got Arsenal to sign him before he joined himself. A decade of midfield dominance, spats with Roy Keane and the Neviller and countless trophies followed. Managed to get £14 million from Juve once his knees were knackered too.

2. Thierry Henry369 games, 226 goals. Best player in the Premier League for about five years.

3. Freddie LjungbergHis red hair, his run of form in the 2001/02 season after Pires got injured, his debut goal against Man Utd, those underwear ads. A great player until his hip injury.

ljungberg-red-hair

It gave him his power.

4. Nicolas AnelkaHe left on bad terms but the money received bought Henry and Pires. The first example of Wenger buying cheap and making ridiculous profit. £22.5million profit in this case.

5. Marc Overmars - He was almost too good for Arsenal while he was there and it was no surprise to see Barcelona snap him up for £25million. Scored the winner at Old Trafford in 1998 that helped overcome a 12 point deficit and was generally very, very quick.

6. Robert PiresHis form in 2001/02 earnt him Footballer of the Year honours and he was arguably just as good in 2003/04. Scored a silly amount of goals from the wing, ran oddly, had a cool goatee strip thing  and apparently knew the French for va va voom. Always felt he left too early as Wenger wouldn’t give him a two year deal. Still doing the business at Villarreal.

7. Cesc FabregasPinched from Barcelona, and will probably head back there one day but for now has developed into one of the best midfielders in the world. Perhaps the prime example of Wenger buying a young player and making him world class. Club captain at 22, the best is yet to come.

8. Andrey ArshavinProbably the first current world class player Wenger has bought. Has already made a significant impact in his short time at the Emirates, even if he can be a right lazy bugger sometimes.

9. Jens LehmannHe was immense in 2005/06 when battling to be ahead of Kahn for Germany. Also provided much hilarity as well as the odd moment of madness in his five years at the club.

10. Emmanuel Petit‘He’s blond, he’s quick, his name’s a porno flick. Emmanuel, Emmanuel.’ Had one of the funnier chants of recent times. Signed as a centre back, made a midfielder – he formed a fearsome partnership with Patrick Vieira for three short seasons.

11. Sol Campbell - You can’t beat signing your local rival’s captain on a free transfer.

12. LaurenHard. As. Nails. An ice cool penalty taker too.

13. Kolo Toure - Bought for £150K. Sold after seven years for £16million. Was fantastic at centre back until he got malaria and developed a fat arse.

14. KanuRidiculous skills. Could do things with a ball you never thought possible.

15. Robin van PersieAbsolutely loves to blast it. As a result has scored some brilliant goals in his time at Arsenal.

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15 Not So Great Signings:

1. Alberto MendezBought from the mighty FC Feucht. I remember reading Wenger could have bought the whole club for the £250K he paid for Mendez. Made no impact.

2. Nelson VivasCost Arsenal the title in 1999 with his mistake for Hasselbaink’s  winner vs Leeds late on in the season. Always got booked too.

3. Igors StepanovsMan Utd 6-1 Arsenal is all you need to know.

4. Francis JeffersThe supposed fox in the box managed four league goals from 2001-04, a time when Arsenal scored by the bucketload. It would have helped if he’d played more than 22 times. £8million he cost!

5. Pascal CyganWasn’t that bad but I remember how I used to shudder every time I saw his name on the team sheet. If you though Vidic had a slow turning circle…

6. Mickael SilvestreWhy? What purpose does he serve? He won’t even get a link.

silvestre

Just retire already...

7. Tomas DanileviciusA headbutt in a pre-season seems to ring a bell but that might have been after he left for Dunfermline. Played twice, didn’t score. The kind of random Wenger gamble where you wish we’d just saved the £1m.

8. Jeremie Aliadiere - Still only 26, he pissed about at Arsenal for eight long years, never learning from any of the amazing strikers at the club and scoring one league goal in his time. You always knew Wenger was basically giving away a game when Aliadiere started up front.

9. Jose ReyesA bit dim, which meant he was the victim of many a prank. Involved in the Aragones ‘black shit’ saga too which meant his Arsenal career was over before it began given that Henry hated him. Scored a great debut goal against Chelsea though.

10. Amaury BischoffNormally Arsenal sign midfielders and then injure them. They tried the opposite and bought someone already injured. Needless to say he left after a year. He did play a game apparently.

11. Christopher WrehGeorge Weah’s cousin. The family talent had obviously been diluted. Did score a couple of important goals in the 1997/98 season to be fair.

12. Kaba DiawaraAll I remember was that he never scored, hit the post several times and was then still sold back to France for half a million profit.

13. Richard WrightBig ears, crap goalkeeper.

14. Abou DiabyThere has to be someone current. Possibly the most frustrating player I’ve seen. could be excellent. Isn’t.

15. Rami ShaabanJust where does he find these keepers from?!

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15 Memorable Games (not all good):

1. Arsenal 1-2 Man Utd 14/04/99The one with everything, but especially the Arsenal missed penalty that would give Man Utd the momentum for the treble.

giggs-fa-cup-arsenal

A good but overrated goal. Also, I didn't want to inflict the Giggs rug on you.

2. Man Utd 0-0 Arsenal 21/09/03 - The one where Ruud missed a penalty and Arsenal started their 49 game unbeaten run.

keown-van-nistelrooy

Rarrrrr.

3. Barcelona 2-1 Arsenal 17/05/06The one where they were 14 minutes from being Champions of Europe.

4. Arsenal 2-1 Leicester 15/05/04The one where they went the season undefeated.

5. Real Madrid 0-1 Arsenal 21/02/06The one were they beat Real Madrid on their own patch.

6. Liverpool 4-2 Arsenal 08/04/08The one where they were robbed in the Champions League.

7. Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea 06/04/04The one where they dominated three of the four halves but still got knocked out.

8. Arsenal 2-0 Chelsea 04/05/02The one where they won their second double in four years.

9. Man Utd 0-1 Arsenal 08/05/02The one where they won the league in Manchester.

10. Inter 1-5 Arsenal 25/11/03The one where they produced the most unexpected scoreline I’d seen in years.

11. Leicester 3-3 Arsenal 27/08/97The one with the Bergkamp hat-trick.

12. Tottenham 4-5 Arsenal 13/11/04The one where we’ll score one more than you.

13. Arsenal 1-2 Liverpool 12/05/01 - The one where Michael Owen stole the FA Cup.

14. Arsenal 7-0 Everton 11/05/05 – The one with the biggest league win under Wenger.

15. Arsenal 0-0 Man Utd 21/05/05 – The one where Arsenal stole the FA Cup.

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15 Memorable Goals (in no particular order):

1. Thierry Henry vs Man Utd 30/09/00. Probably the first classic Henry Arsenal goal. He was just on the cusp of dominating the Premier League when he scored this.

2. Tony Adams vs Everton 03/05/98. Conclusive proof that Arsenal had shed their boring tag. Steve Bould chipped, yes chipped a through ball to Tony Adams who chested it before smashing a left foot volley home. The goal that sealed Wenger’s first title.

3. Dennis Bergkamp vs Newcastle 02/03/02. I remember people at the time saying he didn’t mean this. Fools.

4. Robert Pires vs Southampton 07/05/03. I think this gets underrated as it was a meaningless game before the 2003 Cup Final but few players could have done such a lob with three touches let alone one.

5. Ray Parlour vs Chelsea 04/05/02. Romford Pele scored few but when he did they were usually special. Tim Lovejoy gets slated to this day for saying ‘Oh, it’s only Ray Parlour’ just before he scored.

6. Dennis Bergkamp vs Sunderland 15/01/97. The non-flying Dutchman scored many an amazing goal for Arsenal but his trademark was opening up his body and curling one round the keeper into the top corner from about 25 yards. Like this.

7. Robert Pires vs Aston Villa 17/03/02. Any goal that makes Peter Schmeichel look silly gets the thumbs up from me. Pires was quite possibly the best player in Europe in the spring of 2002.

8. Freddie Ljungberg vs Juventus 04/12/01. I remember being at work during this match and trying to check my phone for text updates. Little did I know what a special goal I’d see when I got home. Just watch Bergkamp’s skill again and again and again…

9. Eduardo vs Burnley 08/03/09. Out for a year and he comes back with this. Quite recent but no less special for it.

10. Thierry Henry vs Spurs 16/11/02. Hmm how to wind up your rivals? I know, run 75 yards, dribbling past half the team before scoring, and then run all the way back and celebrate in front of the Spurs fans. Nice.

11. Dennis Bergkamp vs Leicester 27/08/97. One third of the greatest hat-trick in Premier League history.

12. Robin Van Persie vs Charlton 30/09/06. Trust me, he didn’t shin it. Well not on purpose anyway.

13. Ray Parlour vs Valencia 04/04/01. Back when Valencia and John Carew used to screw Arsenal over every couple of years there were many a disappointing night in Europe. This special from Ray Parlour however resulted in one of the most mental celebrations I’ve ever witnessed in pub.

14. Emmanuel Adebayor vs Villarreal 07/04/09. Yes he’s a prick but there’s no denying this was a great goal. The last good thing he did in an Arsenal shirt.

15. Thierry Henry vs Liverpool 09/04/04. Dumped out of the FA Cup and Champions League in consecutive games to Man Utd and Chelsea of all teams, Arsenal were 2-1 down at half-time at home to Liverpool with an unbeaten record to protect. Pires quickly equalised, before Henry gave Carragher the runaround for an amazing third. He’d complete his hat-trick later on and Arsenal went on to win the league unbeaten.

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Want a few more? Ok then. Pires vs Liverpool, Henry vs Inter, Fabregas vs Spurs, Henry vs Real MadridKanu vs Chelsea & Henry vs Charlton.

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T.

Child Snatchers

09/09/2009

What do Gael Kakuta, Paul Pogba, Jeremy Helan and Max Clayton all have in common? Apart from being unknown they are all under scrutiny this week as part of alleged systematic tapping up and inducing of young players to join bigger clubs.

After Chelsea were banned from signing players for two transfer windows last week, a bunch of other clubs have now started making claims. Le Harve have accused Man United of luring Paul Pogba, Rennes reckon Man City stole Jeremy Helan, and Crewe are not best pleased with Liverpool for allegedly trying to tap up Max Clayton.

I can understand all this stuff coming out now. If Lens got Fifa to ban Chelsea for the signing of Gael Kakuta, it gives hope to other clubs who previously felt they couldn’t do anything about a big club enticing their star player.

Gael Kakuta

Gael Kakuta

It’s an interesting situation and it appears to be clear that it happens all the time, despite the various denials that have come out. A top club will see a player with great potential, and as you only pay nominal fees for players under 17 or compensate for training and development, will then attempt to persuade them to leave for pastures new. If you think that you can get a potential world beater for the price of a house or a £100,000 payment to a representative, it’s no wonder clubs try to steal players at 16 rather than have to pay £25million when they’re 23.

Jeremy Helan

Jeremy Helan

It‘s not a new situation either. Although it was all above board, I remember the likes of PSG and Barcelona complaining bitterly when Arsene Wenger picked up Nicolas Anelka and Cesc Fabregas for a hundred grand here or a quarter of a million there. You can’t blame Wenger for exploiting the rules, but it must be frustrating that you can’t sign a player to a pro contract before 17 even if they’ve been at your club for years.

Leeds have proposed points deductions but I think a transfer ban is more appropriate in cases where rules have been broken. A ban on improving your squad for a year and a half certainly impacts more than a three point deduction for example. Chelsea especially have an experience squad so could do with an injection of youth.

The one problem with ­the transfer window ban is that you can appeal it, and whilst the appeal is heard you’re allowed to buy players. This is understandable if you turn out to be innocent but stupid if they subsequently get found guilty as they can speculate and buy with the assumption they will get banned.

Paul Pogba

Paul Pogba

Another idea of under 18s not being allowed to move has been floated too. I quite like this as it would level out the playing field a bit and ensure small clubs get more money for the talent they produce. The small matter of having the freedom to work anywhere in the European Union might scupper that rather quickly unfortunately.

So what can be done? I think the distinction needs to be made between offering a player a better opportunity at a bigger club (let’s not forget players change academies all the time) and attempting to reward their family by buying houses/giving money etc. In instances of the latter, transfer bans seem like a good way to go, though it might be difficult to prove wrongdoing a lot of the time. That said, Lens told Chelsea what they were doing was illegal and that they would be banned yet it was no deterrent. Now though, Chelsea’s ban will at least make clubs think twice before trying to poach a player for peanuts. It’s a start if nothing else.

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T.

Champions League Draw Reaction

28/08/2009

Group A: Bayern Munich, Juventus, Bordeaux, Maccabi Haifa.
Group B: Manchester United, CSKA Moscow, Besiktas, Wolfsburg.
Group C: AC Milan, Real Madrid, Marseille, FC Zurich.
Group D: Chelsea, Porto, Atletico Madrid, APOEL Nicosia.
Group E: Liverpool, Lyon, Fiorentina, Debreceni.
Group F: Barcelona, Inter Milan, Dynamo Kiev, Rubin Kazan.
Group G: Sevilla, Rangers, Stuttgart, Unirea Urziceni.
Group H: Arsenal, AZ Alkmaar, Olympiakos, Standard Liege

Big ears

Big ears

Quite an interesting draw yesterday, and the British clubs on the whole will be happy with the groups they have landed in. No obvious group of death but certainly quite a few where three teams will be competing to qualify.

Group A is quite tough to call. You have the traditional heavyweights of Bayern and Juventus joined by the Ligue 1 Champions Bordeaux. The Germans have made a shoddy start under Van Gaal this year and it remains to be seen if they are preparing to sell Ribery following the arrival of Robben, Juve have bought well this summer and should be strong while it will be interesting to see if Bordeaux have the players to compete at this level. We can safely say Maccabi will be bottom.

What price Bordeaux breaking it up?

What price Bordeaux breaking it up?

Man Utd have a slightly trickier task then usual in Group B but should still comfortably qualify. The long distance trips to CSKA and Besiktas might be a drag, and they drew the one fourth pot team no one wanted in German champs Wolfsburg. Wolsburg have kept the team that took them to the title last season (bar the manager) and Edin Dzeko will look to continue impressing scouts across Europe. Fergie’s side should come top and it will be between Wolfsburg and CSKA for second.

Group C sees Kaka go back to Milan with his new side Real Madrid but they should both be qualifying. Marseille might cause a shock or two at home but will likely fall short in third place.

Chelsea face away tricky ties at Atletico and Porto in Group D as well quite a long trip to Nicosia but their experience should see them qualify. After all wasn’t Ancelotti hired to win this? Porto and Atletico will tear strips off each other and I think that the latter’s superior strike force of Forlan and Aguero will see them join the Blues in the second round.

Group E will be scrappy and I can see both Lyon and Fiorentina causing Liverpool some problems. It could be very tight between these three even though on paper Liverpool are easily the strongest side. They seem to find compact technical teams quite difficult to break down in the group stages and it wouldn’t surprise me if they went through in second.

Group F sees Zlatan and Eto’o return to their respective former clubs with Barcelona playing Inter at the San Siro on matchday 1. Both teams should comfortably qualify though Barcelona’s away games against Rubin Kazan and Kiev are not until November onwards so the weather could play a factor. In particular Guardiola’s side will not want to go to Kiev in December needing something from their last game. I’m sure that won’t be the case though.

Swapsies

Swapsies

Rangers have a fair chance at qualifying from Group G as they’ve been paired with one of the weaker top seeds in Sevilla as well as Stuttgart and Unirea. I think it will be between them and the German side for second with Sevilla’s experience at this level seeing them through in first.

The last group (H) sees Arsenal get quite a gentle draw alongside Standard Liege, AZ Alkmaar and Olympiakos. None will be easy to beat, but all should be beaten. Liege will look to Steven Defour to try and help them get second ahead of Alkmaar but I suspect it will be the Dutch champions who end up nabbing it behind the Gunners in first.

I suspect there won’t be too many shocks overall but I’m sure one or two clubs will manage to mess things up. It all starts on September 14th, can’t wait!

T.


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