Posts Tagged ‘Wilshere’

The Six Pointer – Wounded Challenges, Slippery Slides & more…


1. Liverpool convincingly dealt with Man Utd yesterday and Dirk Kuyt will never, ever score an easier hat-trick. It was very surprising to see Fergie start with Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick in central midfield – recent history has normally seen him go with three in the middle in big matches in an attempt to gain control and stop the opposition playing.

Neither Scholes nor Carrick are particularly energetic or mobile in the way Darren Fletcher is, but with the Scotsman left on the bench after his shift against Chelsea (he can only do one big game a week)  it meant United were unable to gain a foothold on the game.

As you can see in the Chalkboards below, between them they won only one tackle and the likes of Meireles would consistently run or pass around them.

Only one interception between them too.

The decision to give Carrick a new contract during the week was greeted with some derision but at the same time I don’t think Ferguson considers him a first choice player. He’s not bad against weaker sides and he has long been found out against the best – playing him yesterday was more out of necessity than want.

Still, with his continued mediocrity, Scholes’ potential retirement, Fletcher’s one game a week effectiveness and Hargreaves and Anderson’s consistent injury problems, Man Utd’s midfield will certainly need some work in the summer.


2. Yesterday’s match could have easily seen two red cards, and probably should have. Carragher went in high on Nani and created quite the wound (see below) while Rafael was similarly lucky to stay on the pitch following his wild lunge on Lucas. There is something to be said for a referee to take into account the situation and the context, but really Phil Dowd made errors in giving both players just a yellow.

Red drawn, yellow given.

Interestingly, Rafael is developing quite a reputation as someone who may not have the temperament (or indeed the positional sense) to go with his natural talent.

A red card would have meant his third in under a year, while he was nowhere near where he should have been when Suarez tip-toed through the United defence for the opener.

Recently Ferguson has seemed to prefer someone more dependable in tough matches, with Rafael being omitted against Man City, Chelsea and Marseilles. It will intriguing to see when the Brazilian next plays again, I imagine he might find himself out of the team for a few weeks.


3. In the context of yesterday’s result, it is difficult to say whether Arsenal’s draw against Sunderland is a point gained or more likely two points dropped.

Wenger’s team have struggled in recent seasons against Sunderland having won only one of the last six games, so it was always going to be tricky without out several players and against one of the best defences outside the top five.

Wenger had a similar problem to Fergie in that first choice midfielders weren’t available so he was forced to play Denilson and Diaby alongside Wilshere. They can usually get away with one of those in the team but having to play both meant it was one of those days where the team struggled to get going, Wilshere unable to do all the tempo setting himself.

The weight of the other two on his shoulders...

Sunderland were lucky to get away with Bramble clearly fouling Arshavin in the box and a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside but having said that they also had their moments and drew a couple of very smart stops out of Szczesny.

I would think that once Aaron Ramsey has a bit more fitness under his belt, he will swiftly move ahead of Denilson and Diaby in the pecking order. He might not have the same experience but he makes things happen, and in a game like Saturday’s and indeed for the run in, that could be priceless.


4. Momentum at this stage of the season is key so it’s fascinating to see who is making a move at the bottom end of the table.

Just nine points separate ninth place Newcastle from bottom placed Wigan but realistically it’s looking like everyone from Blackburn downwards are the ones who should be worried.

Things are swiftly grouping together for a climatic last few games and as the old cliché goes, a couple of wins and “you’re right back in the mix” (© every pundit going).

I’m willing to condemn Wigan already to be honest, they’re tough to beat but they don’t win many either. As I’ve written here many times before, draws can be rather useless at times and a team like Blackpool who either win or lose has a far better shot and getting the points needed to stay up.

Almost good enough, but not quite.


5. Of the teams not in that bottom group, Stoke are looking a little vulnerable. They’ve won just one of their last seven and still have to play four of the top five. They seem to have a slightly resigned air about them at the moment – certainly away from home where they’ve lost their last six (and not even scored in the last five).

The earlier point about momentum is key – they face Newcastle, Spurs and Chelsea next. Fail to win the first one and you could be looking at mid-April before they are favourites in a match, by which time they could be in a much more serious position.

I do think they should be ok, given the cushion they have, but it wouldn’t at all be surprising to see them need something against Wigan on the last day.


6. Jermain Defoe has only just scored his first league goals in a year. If he fulfils Harry Redknapp’s wish and gets to ten by the end of the season, then it will go a long way to ensuring Spurs finish in the top four again. As it is, the lack of a striker in double figures for 2010/11 may be what costs them. Van der Vaart’s ten goals should complement not lead.



Arsenal 2 Fulham 1 – Na na na na na na…


Post match thoughts on Arsenal v Fulham.


Both of Samir Nasri’s goals were wonderfully taken; on each occasion his close control getting him past several players before providing a finish with either foot. I think part of Nasri’s ability to score such goals stems from his comfort shooting off either foot. It doesn’t limit his direction as he knows whichever route he’ll take, there will still be an opportunity to fire a shot on goal. Beyond Andrey Arshavin, there isn’t a player in the Arsenal squad as two footed. This versatility is a big factor in Nasri’s terrific start to the season.

He's run out of fingers to count his goals this season.

Arshavin himself also had a pretty good game, and has also had a pretty good season thus far. Yes he is a luxury and yes he often stands around but he makes things happen and is often a step ahead in terms what he’s trying to pull off. It might be prudent to play someone a bit more defensive in tough away games but at the same time he is more likely to produce something out of nothing.


Fulham played pretty well on the whole and with a little more ambition could even have won the game. The main tactic of trying to play in Kamara behind the defence didn’t work often (mainly due to Kamara’s tendency to mistime his runs and caught offside) but it did result in Fulham’s goal. I can’t complain that the game wasn’t stopped for Koscielny’s head injury, ultimately he hadn’t fallen to the ground and so it was difficult to know the full extent in the short space of a few seconds.

It was interesting that at 1-1 and with control of the ball in midfield, Fulham would often play it all the way back to Schwarzer in goal. Similarly they would spend an age over every throw and goal kick – it was clear that Mark Hughes considered a draw a good result, but that lack of ambition has seen him become the draw specialist in the Premier League.


I was impressed by Johan Djourou when he came on for Koscielny. He’s been good when he’s played this season but Wenger is obviously being cautious with regards to playing him every game. He was authoritative in the air and seems to have made a conscious change in terms of attacking the ball/player. Clichy and Sagna were also solid, the former having his best game in quite some time. Perhaps the fit again Kieran Gibbs has focussed the Frenchman’s mind somewhat.


The game was closer than it perhaps should have been but in part this was due to the poor performances of Arsenal’s midfield. Wilshere looked quite tired after playing against Wigan and faded as the game went on. Rosicky was fairly anonymous but neither were as bad as Alex Song who seems to have forgotten what his role is.

There were plenty of misplaced passes from him and his tendency to wander forward unnecessarily remains unabated. This often left the defence exposed both in terms of Fulham attacks but also as an option for them to pass to. He needs a few games where he curbs his attacking instincts, especially if you consider the upcoming games against Man Utd and Chelsea.

Just 72% completed.

The tension made for a better atmosphere in a way. For once Arsenal had got going early in the first half and produced a number of chances (and indeed the goal) which got the crowd going. But as Fulham came back into it, mistakes were made and calls were not received from ref Chris Foy, meaning there was considerable crowd noise generated. The crowd often feeds off the team but I think it works both ways.

I should mention Theo Walcott briefly too. He was only on for 15 minutes but it was one of those horrible games were nothing he did came off. The worst thing was that his job was to play off the last centre back/left back but he seemed unwilling to do that, and simply jogged around not wanting the receive the ball or to make any runs. With Van Persie returning and Nasri and Arshavin in such good form, it’s tricky to see where his starts will come from at the moment.



Live Report: Arsenal v Wigan Thoughts


A few thoughts on last night’s victory over Wigan…

The performance wasn’t a vintage one but this was partly down due to the awful conditions. Freezing temperatures, falling snow and swirling winds did not for flowing football make. The atmosphere was pretty good all things considered but there were certainly far fewer people then the advertised 59,525.

I’m sure many people felt that they’d rather sacrifice the tenner they paid instead of sitting in the cold for two hours. Indeed, the guy sitting next me bailed at half time, clearly thinking “Sod this, I’m freezing”.

Kick off

On the pitch there were a few impressive performances. Wilshere kept things ticking at a reasonable pace, hitting probing passes and telling people where he wanted them to run. Van Persie, the captain for the night, had some lovely touches including a couple of flicks that Vela should really have finished off. His set pieces were always hit at a threatening pace too.

Kieran Gibbs has been getting rave reviews whenever he’s played and this game was no different. Always comfortable in defence, he consistently overlapped Vela down the left wing. The crosses/cutbacks didn’t always pick someone out but as many others have said, Gael Clichy should be looking over his shoulder.


You could argue Vela, Walcott and Bendtner were disappointing, and I suppose they all had presentable chances to score (the latter of course did) – however it would be unfair to simply judge them by the scoresheet. Bendtner of course is still working his way to full fitness and as usual was often in the right place at the right time; his scoring touch will come.

Walcott didn’t really trouble Figueroa in the 1st half but found a little more joy in the second where he started to roam. Indeed his best effort came when cutting in from the left and curling a shot just wide.

Vela was the most interesting. He missed two glorious chances which he normally puts away but generally was always available as an outlet. He’s in the trickiest situation of those three, I just don’t see where he fits in long term.

Swirling snow.

I should mention Wigan’s performance which wasn’t especially bad but lacked a butting edge. Their early tactic was to hit balls out wide to the left where Victor Moses was situated – clearly they thought Eboue was not fully fit. However he went off with a dislocated shoulder towards the end of the 1st half and with that Wigan’s threat somewhat disappeared.

They had some half chances but these stemmed from sloppiness on Arsenal’s part rather than any real creativity. Perhaps I was most impressed with the fact that Caldwell, Alcaraz and Boselli all wore short sleeve shirts and no gloves. Hardcore!


Once the second goal had gone in the game somewhat petered out. A few chances were missed and everyone was willing the final whistle. Some mild entertainment was provided by a pitch invader who ran the length of the touchline to shake Wenger’s hand.

Clearly the cold had numbed the stewards’ reactions. This was proven a few minutes later when two more kids tried their luck. They were more interested in putting on a show and spent the next minute or so sliding around the Emirates pitch whilst players stood bewildered and stewards chased in vain.

Eventually Eboue got them to stop. It wasn’t particularly clever on their part but I do think it is an isolated incident unlikely to be repeated. The combination of freezing cold weather, bored kids and stewards who weren’t alert is not a particularly common one. After all the one near me was sharp enough to spot me swigging from a hip flask. Given the choice/ultimatum of confiscating it or drinking it all at once in the concourse, I chose the latter naturally.

Pitch invaders...

An intriguing night all in all, with the victory being the most important aspect. The news that Ipswich will be the semi-final opponents should provide a great opportunity to play at Wembley in February.



Season Previews 2010/11 – 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.



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


Transfer Window Hits and Misses


The January transfer window just passed saw the lowest spending since 2003, a whole £140m less than last January’s whopping £170m. Clubs have been certainly feeling the pinch and seem to be much more careful with their money. While it’s far too early to judge here are some thoughts on who could be hits and who might be misses.


The Free Transfers

I think Sol Campbell to Arsenal is quite astute and judging by the game and a half he’s played thus far, he looks like he can still cut it in the top flight. Certainly a better option than Mikael Silvestre! Over in Manchester, I was less convinced by City’s signing of Patrick Vieira. I think it will be difficult for him and there will be games where the pace is too much for him. That said, he’ll bring a lot to that dressing room and should be good for cameos where games are being closed out.

sol campbell arsenal

Beats playing for Nott's County.


The Loans

With money a bit thin on the ground, some of the most interesting deals were loans. Landon Donovan looks to have fitted straight in at Everton and I think he’ll do well for the remaining time he’s over here. Senderos from Arsenal is also a good move – the Swiss has stagnated a touch but people think he’s rubbish just because Drogba messed him a few times. Name me a central defender that hasn’t struggled against the Drog.

Bolton have got a couple of good youngsters in Weiss and Wilshere from Man City and Arsenal respectively. Wilshere in particular could be an instant hit if his cameo Carling Cup appearances are anything to go by. Basturk is one of those players who was once good on Football Manager but I’ve never seen him play enough to comment in real life. Fat Sam had a decent track record with signing older creative types at Bolton and the Turk could be sneaky good for Blackburn.

Maxi Rodriguez will be rubbish for Liverpool and Amr Zaki will be rubbish for Hull. Fellow Egyptian Mido might surprise a few people at West Ham. With a £1K a week wage he’s motivated to prove people wrong if nothing else.

wilshere bolton arsenal weiss

I can't decide whether he's disgusted to be holding that shirt or if he's just very cold.


The Cold Hard Cash

The biggest signing was Man City getting Adam Johnson for £6m+. An interesting one this, he’s done well in the Championship this season but I don’t see where he’s going to fit at Eastlands right now. You have Bellamy and Petrov both playing on the left and they’re both playing very well. One for the future me thinks, but he’ll have a great mentor in Petrov who is an excellent left winger.

After much of the window saw both Porstmouth keepers being linked with moves away to the same clubs, it was eventually Asmir Begovic who left, joining Stoke for £3.25m. He was wanted by Spurs too but apparently legged it from the hotel they were putting him up in. I do wonder whether he will displace Sorensen, they seem kind of at the same level to me. It’s a good signing for next season though.

Elsewhere Victor Moses should get lots of opportunity to prove he’s worth £2.5m at Wigan given that Jason Scotland has yet to score this season, while Benni McCarthy should score enough to justify his £1m move to West Ham. Sunderland have got a good prospect in Matt Kilgallon for £2m.

Birmingham had lots to spend but only got some squad depth in the end with Michel and Craig Gardner joining for £3m each. They’ll be useful, nothing more nothing less.

adam johnson

As good as Stewart Downing. Maybe.


Harry Redknapp’s Wheeling Dealing Transfer Merry-Go-Round

Let’s face it, Spurs deserve a whole category of their own. Any team with Harry Redknapp in charge is always likely to make deals but when you cross it with Spurs’ odd transfer policy you’re bound to get some baffling deals. First up, they bought Younes Kaboul back from Portsmouth for about £5m (less if you count what Pompey still owed).

This is by my count the fifth player they’ve bought back in about 18 months (Keane, Defoe, Crouch & Chimbonda the others) and they’d probably save themselves a lot of money if they didn’t destroy careers in the first place. Kaboul has improved but won’t play when everyone is fit, so as usual lots of foresight there. Two right backs (Naughton and Hutton) went out on loan leaving them with only Corluka.

eidur gudjohnsen spurs

Come on Harry, let's not play games. You know you want me.

Gudjohnsen was brought in on loan. I’m not sure about this one, it kind of depends where he plays. He certainly hasn’t been a striker for a few seasons now but is a decent player. I get the feeling Redknapp is addicted to buying players he once liked the look of. Lets be honest now, they don’t really need Gudjohnsen do they, but Redknapp just couldn’t say no to a bit of sexy loan action.

The one striker leaving was surprisingly not Pavlyuchenko but instead Robbie Keane who left on loan to Celtic. You don’t normally loan your captain out do you, but by the sounds of it they were constantly changing the price of Pavlyuchenko. No doubt the same happened with Bentley which is why he’s still there too.

harry redknapp

Buy me Harry, no buy me!


So overall nothing that exciting happened, and as usual the bullshit rumour brigade was full of exactly that – bullshit. There are a few decent signings but you sense everyone is saving their dollar for some post World Cup bingeing. Because of course that’s when the best value can be found…



Fantasy Premier League – Gameweek 24 Preview


After the highs of a 145 point week 22 came a somewhat disappointing gameweek 23, where I scored a bang on average 37. Whilst I had a full team playing, there were no Chelsea players in my side and none of my six attackers got more than four points. It was my fourth worst performance of the season, judging by how many people scored more (1,033,779 no less).

Anyway, there’s still a lead in my private league so I won’t dwell too much. A couple of blocking transfers and things should be tasty this week. Four teams play twice, most significantly Chelsea so it’s probably time I overcame my yearly aversion to having Fat Frank Lampard in my team.


Gameweek 23 Top Gun (aka Tom Cruise Approves):

Frank Lampard fantasy football

Maverick's thinks he overpriced but begrudgingly gives Fat Frank thumbs up.

Frank Lampard has found some form whilst Didier Drogba and scored two goals for the second week running. This time he added an extra bonus point and clean sheet for a total of 16 points. That’s 30 in two weeks but lets see how he gets on once Drogba returns to the team against Hull in midweek.

Elsewhere it was all about the midfielders last week with Cahill getting 14, Malouda and Gamst Pedersen scoring 13, and Lee of Bolton getting 10.


Three Captain Choices:

1. Lampard/Chelsea – Four goals in two games and plays twice this gameweek against Burnley and Hull. Can’t say fairer than that. Drogba’s return against Hull might impact returns from the second game but overall you’ll be hard pushed to find a better captain option this week. Anelka’s a slightly riskier option.

2. Tevez/Man City – After three straight man of the match awards, the little man only scored 2 points against Everton in gameweek 23. A midweek Carling Cup goal suggests he’s still in form and a home game against Portsmouth should see a good return.

3. A Fulham defender – Home games against Villa and Portsmouth. They’ve struggled a little with the injuries they’ve suffered but are still a formidable outfit at Craven Cottage. Hangeland is the obvious choice but Baird or new Man Utd signing Smalling are cheaper alternatives.

Frank Lampard Chelsea

Gets a Captain's tick.


Three Suggested Transfers In:

1. Wigan and Fulham players – Both sides have four home games in the next five. Players like Rodallega, N’Zogbia, Zamora and Duff should be on your radar.

2. Campbell/Arsenal – If his two recent games are anything to go by then he’s in pretty good shape. Vermaelen hasn’t got a broken leg after all but you’re never far from an injured defender at Arsenal so he’s one to keep in mind.

3. Wilshere/Bolton – The precocious Arsenal teenager has joined Bolton on loan till the end of the season. He hasn’t quite made the appearances expected this season but the loan should provide him with a ‘finishing school’ as Wenger put it. Only £4.3m, he could be a good 5th midfielder.

Bobby Zamora Fulham

Might be worth a pick.


Three To Avoid:

1. Kuyt/Liverpool – My latest vendetta. Avoided him all last season when he was on fire and he’s become one of those players I just don’t really like from a fantasy perspective. I needlessly brought him in last week and he’s gone straight back out. At the end of the day, even though he’s playing up front right now you just can’t trust Liverpool.

2. Everton players – After this week face Liverpool (A), Chelsea (H), Man Utd (H) and then Spurs (A). Ouch.

3. Bent/Sunderland – He’s still great value but I worry how long he can do it on his own for Sunderland. After a promising start they’ve been in wretched form for about ten games now. Might be time to cash in?

Drik Kuyt

Are you taking the mick?!



England World Cup Squad Predictions – Mark II


EDIT: Updated version – April 2010


Way back in March I wrote a post that tried to predict England’s World Cup squad for next summer’s tournament in South Africa. In it around 50 or so players were analysed; everyone from certainties like Wayne Rooney to certainly nots like Curtis Davies. With the friendly against Brazil fresh in the mind and only one more international break before the end of the season, there isn’t much time for players to impress if they haven’t already. As before let’s work our way through who’s on the plane through to who won’t be going at all. .

Key men (if England are to reach their usual quarter final):

First name in the squad is the captain John Terry simply as he’s captain. I personally think he gets found against the very best strikers but there’s no chance of him not going. He’s swiftly followed by Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. Rio Ferdinand goes as long as he’s fit, though it’s a concern if he doesn’t make it simply as playing style wise he’s harder to replace than Terry – England don’t have a lot of ball playing centre backs but do have a lot of one paced ones.

Gareth Barry is defensive midfielder of choice though may be usurped by a fit again Owen Hargreaves. They’ll both be on the plane however. Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson are the first choice full backs and are far ahead of their immediate competition.

Fabio Capello


On the plane (extra leg room provided):

David Beckham has sorted another loan spell at AC Milan and I’m positive he’ll be going to his 4th World Cup. He’s very much a bench player these days but still offers great set piece ability as well as experience. Emile Heskey has not been in great form and is no longer in Aston Villa’s starting XI but that said he will still be on the plane. He won’t score but he makes Rooney et al play better so for that reason is picked.

David James is first choice keeper, and despite his age should be able to handle that number of games in a month. Theo Walcott has had a succession of injuries but has done enough in the games he’s played to go as a wide man who can play up front. His pace is a big asset, plus he strikes me as someone who does what he’s told hence Capello likes him.

Matthew Upson and Jermaine Defoe should go as first back-up centre back and striker respectively. Neither are going to win you a World Cup final but they’re the best reserves in their position. Defoe just needs to watch his petulance slightly as there’s no point having a player who is going to miss games after needless red cards..

Looking for their passport (they are going out of Europe after all):

Joe Cole should be a little worried, just as he hasn’t found a way into the Chelsea team after injury, but at the same time he offers dribbling ability and creativity that not many can match. I was quite down on James Milner in my last prediction but did say he had a shot of making it. He seems to be impressing Capello right now and can play in a few positions. I do wonder whether he ultimately misses out due to the competition on the right side, though he has been playing down the left for England so you never know.

Aaron Lennon will be there or thereabouts, possibly in a straight battle with Milner for a spot. Rob Green looks like he’s firmly established as England’s number two while Wes Brown’s versatility of being a right back and centre back should mean he finds his way into the squad.

Fabio Capello training

Still thinking...

On the fringes (which bits are chopped?):

Wayne Bridge is doing his best to play his way out of the squad. You could argue about whether you really need to take a reserve left back, especially when the likes of Gareth Barry could play there if needed. Barring injury, the first choice defence are going to play every game so specialist reserve left back may be an area to gamble on not taking.

Of the other alternatives Capello has picked during his tenure, Leighton Baines and Steven Warnock don’t strike me as being quite good enough. If Joleon Lescott goes he provides left back cover too but he is quite shaky defensively so I don’t think he does. There is dearth of centre backs though. What price Kieran Gibbs continuing his rapid progress and staking a claim? Of all those players, he’ll be the only one playing Champions League football but a lot depends on whether he can keep Gael Clichy out of the Arsenal side once the Frenchman returns from injury. He appears to have just injured himself too.

I reckon Michael Carrick probably only goes if Barry or Hargreaves are injured and even then he’s shown countless times for Man Utd that he’s not a big game player. Gabriel Agbonlahor offers pace and will find himself with Peter Crouch, Carlton Cole and Darren Bent in the queue for the 4th striker spot.

Capello has only ever picked seven strikers so it would be a surprise to see him take five of them, not least when Walcott can play up front. Of the four I would say that the Sunderland man had his chance against Brazil and didn’t take it. I think Agbonlahor doesn’t give enough variety when compare to the others – with a 4th striker you want someone who offers something unique.

In that regard I’d say it will be a close run thing between Crouch and Cole.The former has a good international record (against crap teams at least) and is very tall (though not that good in the air) while the latter is a more complete striker who has pace, power and can play the target man role too. It’s a tough choice to be honest and I think Cole may need to break his international duck in the next round of fixtures if he’s to pip Crouch.

Ashley Young may find himself as number 24 on the list of players though personally I would find a space for him. It does seem like Capello isn’t quite sure of him yet. There aren’t too many options down the left but it does seem like either him or Milner would go but not both.

fabio capello press

Still not quite sure...

Too late to make it? (need good form and injuries to others):

Stewart Downing has upgraded clubs but has six months to shine at Aston Villa following serious injury. The same probably goes for Phil Jagielka at Everton. Tom Huddlestone got his first call up against Brazil and while he’s decent player, he’s not yet international standard. Jimmy Bullard? Unlikely but you never know. I see him being a good pundit though. Scott Parker has a very outside chance of being one of the back-up central midfielders; he’s certainly no worse than Carrick in my opinion.

Ben Foster? Joe Hart? Chris Kirkland? Take your pick for the third goalkeeping spot. I doubt it will be the latter though.Of other players we mentioned last time Jack Wilshere isn’t yet getting regular games at Arsenal while Jonathan Woodgate is permanently injured. Dean Ashton has essentially retired.

However Gary Cahill has played well enough at Bolton to come on to the radar as 4th centre back and has a chance of going if Capello takes eight defenders. Everton’s Jack Rodwell could be a dark horse but I think it is one tournament too soon for him. The same goes for some of the West Ham youngsters like Mark Noble and Jack Collison.

Fabio Capello touchline

Now thinking "Why are they so useless?"


Providing ITV analysis (or BBC if they’re good):

I had Shaun Wright-Phillips as going six months ago but now I think he misses out as you have Lennon, Walcott and Beckham providing all you need down the right (dribbling/goals/crossing). SWP can do all three but not as well and his poor performance against Brazil has sealed a seat next to Papa Wrighty on the studio sofa.

Jermaine Jenas is another who isn’t particularly defensive or attacking. World Cup squad players need be specialists once you get beyond the first team, there’s no room for these jack of all trades types who provide little. Michael Owen has yet to be picked by Capello and barring injuries to four of the seven strikers we mentioned will not be going to South Africa.

Micah Richards needs to get back in the Man City team before he can think about England – it’s all gone a bit pear shaped for him hasn’t it? He hasn’t been picked in a year; Capello just doesn’t like his terrible positional play. Scott Carson had a shot at being third choice keeper but he won’t be going and neither will Paul Robinson, who you could roll the ball to very slowly from 30 yards and he’d still find a way to let it in.

Sadly, Ledley King can barely handle three games in a month, let alone seven. He would 100% go if he could. David Bentley, Kevin Davies, Anton Ferdinand, Gary Neville – no, no, no and no.

fabio capello michael owen shaun wright phillips

The closest Owen has ever and will ever get to being in Capello's plans.


Possible squad:

James, Green, Foster.

Terry, Ferdinand, A. Cole, Johnson, Upson, Brown, Lescott.

Gerrard, Lampard, Barry, Hargreaves, Milner, Beckham, Lennon, J. Cole.

Rooney, Heskey, Defoe, C. Cole, Walcott.


The three keepers speak for themselves as do the first four defenders. Versatility is the name of the game so to complement Upson you have two centre backs in Brown and Lescott that can cover the two full back slots.

In midfield you have the three main men plus a fit again Hargreaves. Beckham goes for his experience while Lennon and Joe Cole provide the skill and trickery on either wing from the bench.Milner offers the most versatility of the remaining midfield options so gets the eighth spot.

Up front Rooney is a given, as is Heskey due to their partnership. Defoe is the main back up and I think Carlton Cole will play his way into the squad, pipping Peter Crouch whose record of scoring against bad teams is of no use when you only have good teams in the World Cup. Theo Walcott rounds off the squad as a foward player who can play right wing or as striker.

At most risk is Lescott I’d say and possibly Milner too. You may want more cover in central midfield and down the left so perhaps Carrick and Bridge or Gibbs (who could also play left wing) end up going instead.


Season Previews 09/10 – Arsenal



Last Season: 4th after a mid-season scare plus FA Cup/Champions League semi final defeats.

Say hello to your new teammates: At the time of writing it’s only Thomas Vermaelen. A central midfielder has still not been signed, though the Vieira rumours were fun. Expect two more players at 11.59pm on August 31st.

Close the door on your way out: Last of the Invincibles Kolo Toure and last of the self aware Emmanuel Adebayor.

Predicted star: Andrey Arshavin’s twelve game cameo at the back end of last season should translate into being Arsenal’s top goalscorer this time round. Fabregas should bounce back too.

Needs a big year: If no central midfielder is signed (which knowing Wenger is likely), then Diaby and Denilson must prove they can step up and show the decision isn’t shortsighted. Arsenal fans were saying the exact same thing this time last season though. Nicklas Bendtner needs to show that Adebayor won’t be missed (glimpses were shown last year).

One to watch: The hype surrounding Jack Wilshere has begun. He’ll show it’s justified.

The real deal.

The real deal.

What they want to happen: A first trophy in five seasons. Preferably League or Champions League (Wenger no longer values the FA Cup you see).

Nightmare scenario: 5th, no trophies again.

Plan A: Pass, pass, pass, pass, shoot once the perfect opportunity presents itself. Expect the usual intricate build-up play between the numerous small, technically gifted, creative midfielders. Arsenal don’t do shots outside the box.

Plan B, just in case: Plan B? Ha, ha, ha, as if. Lump it to Bendtner I suppose.

Predicted finish: 2nd

Why? Arsenal were in a league of their own last season (11 pts from 3rd, 9 pts from 5th) but this was partly due to their shocking start in which they lost five of their first 14 games. A 21 game unbeaten run followed which showed the potential (as ever) of the young squad and over the course of the season only one game of six was lost against the rest of the Big Four. New signing Vermaelen should provide the leadership and organisation at the back and will more than ably replace Toure, who hasn’t been the same since contracting malaria in 2007/08. Adebayor will be a big loss but he’d stopped trying for much of last season (though still scored ten league goals).

The key to a title challenge.

The key to a title challenge.

As ever injuries will come into play. Fabregas missed a large chunk of last season and Eduardo and Rosicky played zero league games between them. Arshavin was only signed in January. The latter’s four goals at Anfield showed what he’s capable and after leading his team to 4th last season, he’ll be even more important this time round. If (and that’s a big if) the first choice XI can all play around 30 games+ then the Gunners could have their best season in ages.



England World Cup Squad Predictions


EDIT 1: Update – November 2009

EDIT 2: Update 2 – April 2010

Another month passes, another international week appears just when you least want one. The title race was just beginning to get interesting with Liverpool gathering momentum and Man Utd being on the rocks. You’ll notice there hasn’t been a post for a couple of days. This is mainly due to my brain switching off at any thought of international friendlies and qualifiers. I guess the games are important but I for one am happy to just wake up in ten days time knowing that everyone who was meant to win probably has and that I spared myself from watching 180 minutes of tedious football.

Coming soon...

Coming soon...

One good thing is that we are only 15 months away from the World Cup in South Africa. I thought it might be fun to have a go at picking the potential squad of 23. Three goalkeepers are standard even though the likelihood of the second choice playing is tiny, let alone the third choice. That leaves twenty spots for outfield players which I shall divide into eight defenders, eight midfielders and four strikers. We’ll assume everyone is fit to play so even Ledley King will get considered, much to Mr Redknapp’s chagrin…

Jermaine Jenas? You must be joking!

Jermaine Jenas? You must be joking!

On the plane (first class of course)

Most of the first choice XI picks itself so the usual suspects can consider their position safe barring a dramatic loss of form or injury. People like Gerrard, Rooney, Lampard, Terry, Ferdinand and Ashley Cole have nothing to worry about. If fit they go. David James will probably still be playing well enough but I wonder if he can hold off Foster as first choice. Joe Cole is one of the few in the squad with the ability to take on a man but his injury record is a worry. Gareth Barry may well be at a bigger club than Aston Villa next season and his versatility at three positions gives him an advantage over someone like Jenas (the other advantage being that he’s better, full stop).

I like you

I really like you.

In the departure lounge (drinks complimentary)

I think next season should see Ben Foster finally become first choice England goalkeeper. I imagine that if he’s not playing for Man United by Christmas, a loan move in January will ensure he has enough football under his belt to make the cut. Glen Johnson has improved greatly at Portsmouth and could well be first choice right back. Carrick and Hargreaves are both strong contenders as they play for Man United and are the best holding midfielders England have. It could be a bit of luxury having both those guys and Gareth Barry too. Judging by what we’ve seen so far, it may well be Carrick who misses out. Walcott and Agbonlahor offer similar skills (great pace, inconsistent finishing) and it wouldn’t surprise me to see both picked. Walcott is very much ahead in the race though and for now Gabby belongs in the next column. Joining Walcott will probably be Heskey and Crouch. Both offer something different, which in international football means you get picked, even if your goalscoring record is not great. Matthew Upson appears to have established himself as third choice centre back meaning he plays if either Terry or Rio are injured. I’m not convinced he has what it takes against the very best. I’d sooner take people who can play full-back and centre half as my reserve defenders and free up a midfield or striker spot. Wayne Bridge probably goes for the simple fact he possesses a left foot and plays full back. No chance of dislodging Cole but better than any other reserve. Wes Brown seemed to be first choice right back earlier in the season but I’m not sure how long he can keep this up without being first choice right back at Man United. As he can play centre back too, he should make it. We can’t end this bit without mentioning Sir David Beckham (believe me that knighthood is coming). For all his critics, his lack of pace, and superstar lifestyle, there’s no denying that he loves playing for his country and has done everything he can to ensure Capello still picks him. Personally I think he still has a lot to offer coming off the bench, and his experience and dead ball expertise will be useful in closing out games. Plus, if some other players showed half as much passion when playing as he does, you might actually have a team that cares.

I quite like you.

I like you too.

Looking for their passport (ever forgetful these footballers…)

Lots of players who have done well this season will need to maintain their form next year if they are to make it. The likes of Phil Jagielka, Carlton Cole and the aforementioned Agbonlahor have all had good seasons at smaller clubs but will have to show it’s not a one off. The latter’s Villa teammate Ashley Young stands a good chance of going for his crossing ability alone and he offers pace from midfield which is a bit of a rarity in the England squad. For Carlton Cole to go, a defender may have to be sacrificed. To be honest I would go with seven defenders and five strikers, you’re more likely to need options to chase a game than defend it. Micah Richards will presumably bounce back next year from a poor season at club level and his ability to play right back and centre half gives him advantage over a few others. Kirkland should go as third choice keeper and it’s good to see him get rid of the injury proneness that blighted the early part of his career. Jermaine Defoe takes the spot of poacher ahead of Michael Owen. His (ex-)partnership with Crouch is another plus point. Wright-Phillips and Aaron Lennon offer pacy right wing play which will be a nice alternative to the slow right wing play of Beckham. It may come down to a choice between SWP and Young, but I’d happily take them both.

I think you're ok. I need eye contact if I'm to like you.

I think you're ok. I need eye contact if I'm to like you.

Browsing instead (not good enough for Don Fabio)

A couple of years ago, you’d put a lot of money on Michael Owen breaking Bobby Charlton’s scoring record. He’s now stuck on 40 however and Capello clearly doesn’t fancy him. I know his play is limited to the penalty area (being generous) but if my team needed a goal with ten minutes left, there are few better poachers in the English game. Joining him are West Ham teammates Scott Parker and Rob Green and ex teammate Anton Ferdinand, all decent players but not quite international quality. Gary Neville’s time has been and gone and his injury nightmare has seen several right backs overtake him in the pecking order. Phil Neville will do his usual trick of being in every squad in the run up to the finals but then not make cut. Stewart Downing will need a move to a bigger club, as he’s become a bit stagnant at Boro. He seems somewhat one paced for a winger and will probably miss the cut. Joleon Lescott seems to behind Jagielka in the pecking order though if he cuts out the mistakes he may yet be taken for his left back ability. Joe Hart and Paul Robinson need solid defensive campaigns to be considered, as do Jonathan Woodgate and David Wheater.

You can make eyes at me all you want, but I'm just not that into you...

You can make eyes at me all you want, but I'm just not that into you...

Wild cards (looking for a great 2009/10)

It’s always tricky to break into a squad with only a year left before the finals but Capello has shown that he looks at form not reputation. I tend to think that with the last couple of squad places it’s worth taking a gamble on something different rather than just wasting it on another generic central midfielder like Jenas (nothing against him personally but he does epitomize the kind of player who is jack of all trades). Sven had the right idea in taking Walcott to the last World Cup but never got round to actually putting him on the pitch. James Milner could be an outside shot if he continues improving at Villa though I personally don’t really rate him. Ledley King would be a great option at centre back but he can’t handle seven games in a month. Dean Ashton could feasibly to the job that Heskey does but with perhaps a few more goals. He’s always getting himself injured though. Jack Wilshere is very highly thought of at Arsenal despite being just 17 but it would require him to start playing regularly in the league which will probably be a season too soon. Beyond that you have the usual selection of players who get tipped for a potential England call but actually have no chance of going barring a deadly viral outbreak which wipes out the 50 best players in England. I’m talking about the likes of Kevin Nolan, Kevin Davies, Jermaine Jenas, David Bentley, Tom Huddlestone, Darren Bent (noticing all the Spurs players?), Leighton Baines (though a good season could see him challenge Bridge), Luke Young, Nigel Reo-Coker, Curtis Davies, James Beattie, Jimmy Bullard and Andy Johnson.

High five, up above, down below, you're too slow and you're staying home.

High five, up above, down below, you're too slow and you're staying home.

Potential squad:


James   Foster   Kirkland


Terry   Ferdinand   Cole   Johnson   Brown   Upson   Bridge


Lampard   Gerrard   Cole   Young   Beckham   Hargreaves   Wright-Phillips   Barry


Rooney   Walcott   Heskey   Crouch   Defoe


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