Friday, March 21, 2008

Chelsea vs. Arsenal: Match Preview

The Premier League's second and third placed sides will face off on Sunday as a day of giant battles concludes. North London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea are separated by only two points after a recent slump in the Gunners form, and the Blues could leapfrog the Gunners if they win on Sunday. Manchester United, who sit one place and three points ahead of Arsenal, play Liverpool at Old Trafford earlier the same day.

Arsenal have drawn their last four league games, falling from five points ahead of United to three points behind in four weeks, and would be seen as very long shots to win the title if they fall a further three points behind on Sunday. Although they are short on confidence, the Gunners have proven their worth in big games, beating holders AC Milan in the Champions League in between draws with Aston Villa and Wigan.

Chelsea have won three of their last four games, defeating West Ham, Derby, and Sunderland. The Blues will be gutted after failing to draw level with Arsenal on points against Tottenham midweek, though. Despite leading the game three times (once by a two goal margin) Avram Grant's side was denied three points by a late goal from Robbie Keane. Chelsea will also remember that Arsenal came out 1-0 winners in the reverse fixture at the Emirates this season, and that Arsenal were the last side to defeat the Blues at the fortress that is Stamford Bridge.

Neither team has too many injuries to worry about. Arsenal will be missing Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky, and Eduardo da Silva. Chelsea are likely to be without number one goalkeeper Petr Cech, but have a strong replacement in Carlo Cudicini. Former Gunners striker Nicolas Anelka is also a slight doubt with a minor hamstring injury.

The Arsenal squad is likely to remain unchanged from the side that drew 1-1 with Middlesbrough last week.

Manuel Almunia will remain in goal, behind a defensive line of Bacary Sagna, Kolo Toure, William Gallas, and Gael Clichy. The back line will have a busy day against the likes of Joe Cole, Didier Drogba, and maybe even Nicolas Anelka. The defenders will also have to be strong in defense against set pieces with Frank Lampard a threat in dead-ball situations.

In the midfield Mathieu Flamini will be the invisible wall in front of the back four while Cesc Fabregas and Alex Hleb try to break through the Chelsea defense with their deft passing. Emmanuel Eboue is likely to feature on the right, although he could be replaced by Theo Walcott after an ineffective performance against Boro. The midfield holds the key to victory in this game, and if our midfielders can hold their own against Lampard, Ballack, and Cole, we should be able to win the game.

Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie will start up front again, with the Dutchman finally approaching match-fitness. Hopefully both strikers will regain their form in this game, as a stalwart Chelsea defense which includes former Gunner (C)ashley Cole, Ricardo Carvalho, and John Terry is unlikely to gift many goals.

Sunday's games could be hugely influential in deciding this season's title-winners. If Arsenal can overcome their lack of confidence against the Blues, I believe that they can end Chelsea's unbeaten home record this season. I predict that the Gunners will come out 1-0 victors in a tight game.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Champions League Draw: Arsenal Draw Liverpool

Arsenal failed to avoid Premier League opposition by drawing last year's finalists Liverpool in the Champions League Quarterfinal Draw. The mouthwatering all-English tie is the most competitive of the quarterfinals.

The draw means that Arsenal face a tough three weeks, their next six fixtures looking particularly daunting. In addition to facing Liverpool three times in one week, Arsenal will face off against Chelsea and Manchester United in the next three weeks. The Gunners next six games look like this: at Chelsea, at Bolton, Liverpool, Liverpool, at Liverpool, at Manchester United.

Even with the returns of Kolo Toure and Robin van Persie, Arsenal will have a tough time keeping their squad fit during such an important series of games, and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger may even resort to rotating some of his key players.

Nonetheless, Wenger believes that his team have what it takes to knock Liverpool out of the Champions League, citing the fact that they have already knocked out holders AC Milan.

"Let's give our best," said the manager, "We showed against Milan that when we are at our best we can beat anyone. We just knocked Milan out, who were the holders. That was a big hurdle.

"Now we have the finalists on our route - so why can't we do it again?"

Arsenal fans will be happy to have avoided Premier League title rivals Manchester United and Chelsea, but disappointed not to have drawn foreign opposition. The Gunners are likely to face Chelsea in the next round, as the Blues drew Fenerbahce in the same half of the draw as Arsenal. If Manchester United can beat Roma and the winners of Barcelona and Schalke 04, Arsenal may play English teams for the remaining rounds of the competition.

The full quarterfinal draw:
AS Roma vs. Manchester United
Schalke 04 vs. Barcelona
Arsenal vs. Liverpool
Fenerbahce vs. Chelsea

Roma/Manchester United vs. Schalke/Barcelona
Arsenal/Liverpool vs. Fenerbahce/Chelsea

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Arsenal vs. Middlesbrough: Match Preview

Arsene Wenger will be hoping that Arsenal regain the fine form that saw them defeat AC Milan at the San Siro when Gareth Southgate's Middlesbrough side travels to the Emirates Stadium this Saturday. Middlesbrough will have to pull out a major upset to do the double over Arsenal, but the Gunners current league form leaves something to be desired.

Arsenal have drawn their last three Premier League games in a row, dropping points against Wigan, Aston Villa, and Birmingham. Although the run of draws was interrupted by a fabulous performance in Italy, Arsenal have seen their lead at the top of the table narrowed to two points against opposition with a game in hand.

Middlesbrough have taken a solitary point from their last three games, but still sit five points above the relegation zone. Aston Villa took a point off Boro after a contentious penalty was given to Gareth Barry midweek, and Southgate's side lost to Reading and Liverpool in the two previous weeks.

These results see Arsenal still at the top of the table, while Middlesbrough are not altogether out of relegation danger in 12th. Although the Gunners sit 11 places and 36 points ahead of Boro, the visitors will take some belief out of the fact that Arsenal's only loss this season came at the Riverside against Middlesbrough.

In that game, Middlesbrough took the lead in the 4th minute through a Stewart Downing penalty before doubling their lead in the 74th after a goal from Tuncay Sanli. Tomas Rosicky scored a consolation goal for the Gunners in stoppage time, as Arsenal lost 2-1 at the Riverside.

Neither team has any serious injury worries. Abou Diaby and Theo Walcott are likely to return for Arsenal, although Eduardo da Silva and Tomas Rosicky will both watch the game from the stands. Andrew Taylor, Middlesbrough's only injured player, is a doubt for the fixture, but could feature in some small part.

Kolo Toure and Robin van Persie both returned for the Gunners in substitute appearances against Wigan and may be fit enough to start against Boro this week.

Manuel Almunia will start in goal for Arsenal, behind Bacary Sagna, William Gallas, and Gael Clichy. If Kolo Toure is match-fit he should start alongside Gallas in central defense, although Philippe Senderos may feature instead.

In the midfield Emmanuel Eboue should rejoin Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini, and Alex Hleb after serving out his suspension. Fabregas, Flamini, and Hleb will be looking to boss around the Boro midfield with their deft passing.

Robin van Persie could be reunited with Emmanuel Adebayor up front, although depending on the Dutchman's fitness level Nicklas Bendtner could start in his place. Either way the strike pairing will be looking to put a few goals past a Middlesbrough defense that has allowed 43 goals in 29 games this season.

Arsenal should get out of their drop in form during this game, putting them in prime position to challenge Chelsea at Stamford Bridge next weekend. I predict a 2-0 home win.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Wigan vs. Arsenal: Match Review

Arsenal's title push suffered a big blow as the league leaders dropped two points away at Wigan. The Gunners are now two points ahead of Manchester United, but the Red Devils have a game in hand.

Arsenal were a far cry off of the heights they reached in a 2-0 victory over AC Milan in the Champions League midweek. The Gunners didn't have a large edge over Wigan in possession and failed to manage any clear cut chances, although it must be said that Wigan keeper Chris Kirkland performed admirably to keep the fixture goalless.

Wigan: Chris Kirkland; Emerson Boyce, Mario Melchiot, Erik Edman, Paul Scharner; Michael Brown, Jason Koumas, Antonio Valencia, Wilson Palacios; Marlon King, Emile Heskey

Arsenal: Manuel Almunia; Bacary Sagna, William Gallas, Philippe Senderos, Gael Clichy; Alex Hleb, Mathieu Flamini, Cesc Fabregas, Gilberto Silva; Nicklas Bendtner, Emmanuel Adebayor

Arsenal started the match brightly and could have been 1-0 ahead within a minute had Wigan goalkeeper Chris Kirkland not stuck out his foot to block a shot from Emmanuel Adebayor.

Mathieu Flamini won a free-kick on the edge of Wigan's penalty box two minutes later, but a kick from Cesc Fabregas was easily cleared away.

The Gunners continued to press forwards and Kirkland was forced into another smart save when he tipped a shot from Nicklas Bendtner over the post.

Bendtner should have scored for the Gunners in the 16th minute after being put through on goal by Cesc Fabregas, but the talented young Dane completely missed the ball which rolled harmlessly out for a goal kick.

Wigan's only real chance of the first-half came after Emile Heskey was chopped down 25 yards from goal. Jason Koumas took the resulting free-kick but saw his effort cleared away by Gilberto. The clearance fell to Michael Brown who audaciously attempted to score with an acrobatic effort from outside the penalty box.

Fabregas almost scored with a header but Kirkland got down well to once again keep the match drawn going into halftime.

Arsenal came out strongly in the second half, dominating the opening as they had in the first. Kirkland again saved from Adebayor after a mix up between Kirkland and his defenders gifted the ball to the lanky Togolese striker.

Wigan were lucky not to be a goal down moments later when Cesc Fabregas incorrectly chose to square the ball to Bendtner when he was in a great scoring position himself. His pass to the young Dane was cut out by a defender in a huge let-off for the home side.

The visitors began to lose their grip on the game when Antoine Sibierski came on for Emile Heskey in the 55th minute. The big Frenchman was in the action straight away, winning a corner for Wigan after seeing his shot deflect off of William Gallas.

Antonio Valencia was becoming a nuisance for the Gunners and the winger forced Manuel Almunia into a great save with a serving 25-yard drive.

Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger made a double-switch in the 65th minute, bringing on Robin van Persie and Kolo Toure, two players who have not featured much for Arsenal this year.

Van Persie blazed a shot over the bar with seven minutes to go as it became clear that the game would end in a goalless draw.

Arsenal's final chance came after a nice move from Emmanuel Adebayor set Cesc Fabregas up in the box. Chris Kirkland came out quickly though, and the move was smothered as Arsenal were forced to settle for a solitary point from the game.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Arsenal's Title Rivals Beaten In Two Shockers

Arsenal's two title rivals were both beaten in the FA Cup today in what turned out to be a shocking day of results.

Manchester United, who sit one point behind Arsenal in the Premier League, fell to Portsmouth after losing both of their goalkeepers. Edwin van der Sar was substituted out with an injury after halftime and his replacement, Tomasz Kuszczak was sent off after bringing down Milan Baros in the box. Rio Ferdinand took up the gloves between the United sticks, but was unable to stop Sulley Muntari's free-kick.

It was a huge loss for United who dominated in terms of possession and shots, but were wasteful in front of goal. To be fair, United should have been awarded a penalty of their own when Cristiano Ronaldo was taken down by Sylvain Distin in the first half.

Even more incredibly, Chelsea fell 1-0 to Championship side Barnsley. Barnsley, who are only four points above the relegation zone in England's second league, have proven to be the shock of the FA Cup after making Chelsea their second 'big four' conquest of the tournament (the Tykes also beat Liverpool in the same competition).

The normally lethal Nicolas Anelka missed chance after chance for Chelsea, and the Premiership boys seemed to have a difficult time playing on Barnsley's rough pitch. Goalscorer Kayode Odejayi jumped over Carlo Cudicini in the 66th minute to head home the only goal of the match.

Portsmouth and Middlesbrough are the only Premiership teams left in the FA Cup, with West Brom, Bristol Rovers, Cardiff, and of course Barnsley, the other competitors.

The losses will not be conductive to strong morale amongst the Premier League's second- and third-placed teams, and with Arsenal playing Wigan tomorrow the Gunners trophy aspirations look like they could be coming to fruition. United and Chelsea cannot slip up if Arsenal, as is to be expected, take three points from Wigan.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

More Injury Woe For Arsenal

Premier League leaders Arsenal have lost another two players to injury at a crucial time of the season.

Abou Diaby injured his calf in Tuesday's 2-0 Champions League victory in Milan and will miss this weekend's trip to Wigan. The Frenchman, who only recently returned from a long injury picked up on international duty, is not expected to be out for too long.

Theo Walcott has also picked up a thigh injury while playing in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Colorado Rapids. The England youngster, who has been growing in stature in recent games, will also miss the Wigan match, although his recovery should also not take too long.

"From Tuesday night we lost Abou Diaby," Arsene Wenger told Arsenal TV Online. "He has got a problem on his calf. Today we also lost Theo Walcott. He played against Colorado Rapids and he got a little thigh problem."

Robin van Persie also featured in the game against the Rapids, playing 60 minutes and coming through unscathed. The injury-prone striker is not expected to start against Wigan, although he is likely to make an appearance from the bench.

African duo Kolo Toure and Alex Song could also feature against Wigan, although it appears unlikely following Wenger's comments on ATVO.

The Arsenal boss said: "Robin played an hour and he looks OK. But it looks early for him – he finished the game very tired today so I will have to analyse that. We have a little chance to get Kolo back in the squad and a little, little chance to get Song back."

In other news, Tomas Rosicky is still more than a week away from a recovery. The Czech Republic star is expected to return in 10 or 12 days. Wenger will be hoping that the 27-year-old will be available in time for the Gunners game against Chelsea on March 23.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Wigan vs. Arsenal: Match Preview

Arsenal travel to the JJB Stadium this Sunday to face off against relegation-threatened Wigan. Steve Bruce's Latics, who are currently 14th in the Premier League, would consider any point(s) taken from their clash against the league leaders a good haul, but will face an uphill battle against the impressive Gunners. Arsenal currently sit at the top of the Premier League table, one point ahead of last season's champions, Manchester United.

Wigan are on a run of decent home form, having won their last two home games against West Ham and whipping boys Derby, after losing 2-1 to Everton and Chelsea. The Latics also held Manchester City to a goalless draw last week, although they lost to Sunderland last month.

Arsenal's recent league form is nothing spectacular, with draws against Aston Villa and Birmingham narrowing the Gunners' buffer at the top of the table to a solitary point. The Gunners have won only one of their last five games, defeating AC Milan midweek after drawing with Birmingham, Villa, and Milan, and losing to Manchester United in the FA Cup.

The Gunners will be high on morale after defeating European champions Milan in the Champions League, becoming the first English side to defeat the Italian giants at the San Siro in European competition. An impressive showing from all of Arsenal's young stars in Italy was capped by a superb solo goal from Cesc Fabregas and a stoppage-time second from Emmanuel Adebayor.

The Arsenal squad will also be boosted by the returns of Robin van Persie, Tomas Rosicky, and Kolo Toure; all of whom could feature against Wigan. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will still be without Johan Djourou, Alex Song, and Eduardo.

Only two Wigan players, Ryan Taylor and Erik Hagen, are injury doubts, although both could feature against the mighty Gunners.

Manuel Almunia will start in goal for the Gunners behind a fairly solid back four of Bacary Sagna, William Gallas, Philippe Senderos, and Gael Clichy. Although Kolo Toure may be fit in time for the clash, Wenger is unlikely to risk starting the Ivorian against team with as little goalscoring threat as Wigan.

Mathieu Flamini, Cesc Fabregas, and Alex Hleb are all likely to start in midfield although the final spot (or two spots, depending on Wenger's formation) is less easy to decide. Emmanuel Eboue or Theo Walcott could be played on the right or left wings respectively, with Alex Hleb playing as a second striker behind Emmanuel Adebayor. Alternatively, Tomas Rosicky, if fully fit, could feature in place of either Walcott or Eboue.

If Robin van Persie is fit, Arsene Wenger will likely play his team in a 4-4-2 leaving out either Eboue or Walcott and moving Hleb out to one of the wings. Van Persie is unlikely to start, though, as he is most likely not yet match fit. Emmanuel Adebayor is a sure starter up front, and Wenger may even play him alongside Nicklas Bendtner against a Wigan squad which lacks in firepower.

Arsenal defeated Wigan 2-0 earlier in the season, and should do even better this time around. Full of confidence, the Gunners will be expected to rout the Latics. I predict a 3-0 win for the visitors.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

AC Milan vs. Arsenal: Match Review

Arsenal progressed into the quarter-finals of the Champions League after knocking out holders AC Milan in their round of sixteen tie. The Gunners overcame a resilient Milan side after two late strikes sent the Rossoneri spinning out of European competition. It was Milan's first European loss at the San Siro. The two sides drew 0-0 in the first leg at the Emirates.

Milan worked hard, but the Gunners dominated for long spells of the game, with the Rossoneri looking their most dangerous on the counterattack. The game looked destined for extra-time until an incredible 25-yard strike from Cesc Fabregas hit the back of the Milan net. Arsenal wrapped up the game when Emmanuel Adebayor scored the Gunners' second in stoppage-time.

AC Milan: Zeljko Kalac; Paolo Maldini, Kakha Kaladze, Alessandro Nesta, Massimo Oddo; Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo, Massimo Ambrosini, Kaka; Alexander Pato, Filippo Inzaghi

Arsenal: Manuel Almunia; Bacary Sagna, Philippe Senderos, William Gallas, Gael Clichy; Abou Diaby, Mathieu Flamini, Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Eboue; Alex Hleb, Emmanuel Adebayor

Arsenal started brightly, denying Milan space in midfield down by closing them down quickly. Their hard work was rewarded when a chance opened up for Alex Hleb at the edge of the penalty after seven minutes, but the Belorussian midfielder, playing as a second striker behind Emmanuel Adebayor, crashed his drive well off target.

It was Milan who almost went ahead though, when a near-post flick from Paolo Maldini was cleared off the line by Cesc Fabregas with Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia beaten.

Abou Diaby had a chance for Arsenal after being teed up by Adebayor, but the young Frenchman's shot went just over the top-right corner of the Milan goal.

Pato should have scored for Milan in the 18th minute after a good break from Kaka. The world player of the year chipped a neat ball to his fellow Brazilian, but Pato could only direct the ball straight into the chest of Almunia from a few yards out.

As the 25 minute mark approached, Milan's dominance began to end, but not before a header from Inzaghi and a low shot from Kaka nearly forced Almunia into action.

Adebayor came close to scoring with a 12 yard-drive, but the tall Togolese striker's shot was tipped over the crossbar by Milan keeper Zeljko Kalac.

Alex Hleb was harshly cautioned for allegedly diving on the edge of the Milan penalty box, but the replays seemed to show that the 26-year-old was brought down by Alessandro Nesta.

Adebayor, who hit the crossbar in stoppage time in the first leg of this tie, once again tried to turn provider after rolling the ball to Fabregas, but the Spaniard crashed his shot off Kalac's crossbar.

AC Milan had outplayed Arsenal for the beginning period of the first half, but Arsenal were on the ascendancy, and nearly grabbed their first goal just after half-time. A cross found it's way to Philippe Senderos, but the Swiss international shot directly at Kalac from only a few yards out.

Emmanuel Eboue had a decent chance five minutes after the break, but his angled drive was blasted wide.

Almunia had had little to do in goal, but was alert enough to dive down and turn a free-kick from Andrea Pirlo around the post. The Gunners had another warning when Kaka broke down the left and almost created a goal for himself only to fire just wide of Almunia's upright.

Arsene Wenger replaced Ebou with the speedy Theo Walcott in the 70th minute. The 18-year-old had a good chance soon after coming on, but opted to cross rather than shoot from just in front of goal, wasting a good opportunity.

The game was finely balanced, with a goal for either side almost surely ensuring a win.

The moment of brilliance came from the young Cesc Fabregas who created a superb solo goal after picking up a loose ball. The midfielder sidestepped Gennaro Gattuso before unleashing a fierce 25-yard skidder into the bottom corner of the net.

The Gunners looked sure to win with Milan needing two goals to keep the Gunners out because of the away goals rule, but Emmanuel Adebayor made the victory certain in stoppage time by turning in a fine cross from Walcott.

The goal ended a superb night for Arsenal, who will take a considerable amount of confidence out of beating last year's Champions League Champions.

Monday, March 3, 2008

AC Milan vs. Arsenal: Match Preview

Arsenal travel to the San Siro this Tuesday to face off against AC Milan in the return leg of their Champions League round of sixteen match up against the Champions League Champions. Arsenal failed to leverage their home advantage at the Emirates in a 0-0 draw, but the Gunners will take confidence from their dominance of the home leg.

Both teams suffered a run of disappointing results since their last clash. Milan defeated Palermo 2-1 in the Serie A before being held to 1-1 draws by both Catania Calcio and Lazio.

Arsenal have drawn both of their games since facing Milan, taking only one point each from Birmingham and Aston Villa. Arsene Wenger's squad will, though, take some confidence from the way in which they earned their draw with Villa, showing good spirit to take a point with a last-minute equalizer from Nicklas Bendtner.

The Rossoneri are up for a significant boost with rested players Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Andrea Pirlo, Filippo Inzaghi and playmaker Kaka ready to return to face the Premier League leaders. Clarence Seedorf is a major doubt for the match, while Emerson and Marek Jankulovski are both out of contention.

Arsenal are facing a bit of an injury crisis with Kolo Toure, Alex Song, Johan Djourou, Eduardo, and Tomas Rosicky all to miss the match. Emmanuel Eboue, who missed the Aston Villa clash due to suspension is set to return. Robin van Persie, who has been out for most of the season with injury, has also been included in the squad, although he is not fit enough to start for the Gunners.

Manuel Almunia will start for the Gunners after putting in an impressive performance against Villa.

Bacary Sagna, William Gallas, Philippe Senderos, and Gael Clichy are all likely to start in defense against Milan. The back four have performed fairly admirably this season, but an own-goal from Senderos against Villa was only one of many strikes against the Swiss international in the game. Hopefully the central defender will put in a better performance against the likes of Pato and Alberto Gilardino.

The ineffective Abou Diaby will likely be replaced by Emmanuel Eboue in the midfield. Mathieu Flamini, Cesc Fabregas, and Alex Hleb will complete the Arsenal midfield which will face a tough challenge against Kaka, Pirlo, and Gennaro Gattuso.

Emmanuel Adebayor and Theo Walcott are likely to start up front, although Wenger may interchange Walcott and Hleb on the left wing and as second strikers. If van Persie is fit enough to play he will probably be used as a super-sub, while Arsenal have another option in Nicklas Bendtner.

The Gunners will face a tough test against Milan, but they have the belief necessary to come through with a determined win. I predict a 1-0 victory for the Gunners.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Arsenal vs. Aston Villa: Match Review

Arsenal managed to stay at the top of the Premier League table after a nail-biting draw with Aston Villa which was settled in stoppage time by a late equalizer from Nicklas Bendtner. The Gunners have only taken two points from their last two games and are now only one point ahead of last season's Premier League Champions, Manchester United.

An own goal from Philippe Senderos gave Aston Villa the lead after 27 minutes, and with Arsenal lacking a decisive touch in the final third it looked as though the Gunners would suffer their first defeat at the Emirates this season. However, young Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner showed some of the fighting spirit for which Arsenal has become renowned, denying Villa at the death with one of the last actions of the game.

Manuel Almunia; Gael Clichy, Philippe Senderos, William Gallas, Bacary Sagna; Abou Diaby, Mathieu Flamini, Cesc Fabregas, Alex Hleb; Theo Walcott, Emmanuel Adebayor

Aston Villa: Scott Carson; Martin Laursen, Wilfred Bouma, Curtis Davies, Shaun Maloney; Gareth Barry, Nigel Reo-Coker, Ashley Young, Craig Gardner; John Carew, Gabriel Agbonlahor

The game started with a frenetic pace more typical of a match between Manchester United and Arsenal than one between the Gunners and the Villans.

The first decent opening came for Arsenal in the seventh minute when Emmanuel Adebayor flicked a long pass to Theo Walcott on the edge of the area. The England international, who had scored a brace against Birmingham a week earlier, took the ball on his chest and turned towards goal before firing a low shot which Scott Carson was forced to turn around the post at full stretch.

It had been a positive opening for the league leaders, but Martin O'Neills' Aston Villa are far from walkovers, and created a chance of their own when a sprint from the speedy Gabriel Agbonlahor saw the Villa striker almost alone in the area. An incredible saving tackle from William Gallas spared Manuel Almunia from making a save.

18-year-old Walcott was the source of inspiration for Arsenal in the early exchanges, as his pace saw him run past three defenders before sending a cross too far into the area and out for a goal kick.

Philippe Senderos had a chance in the Villa box after Carson had spilled a corner, but the Swiss international defender could only poke a shot horribly wide after being surprised by the gift of an opportunity.

The central defender, standing in for the injured Kolo Toure, put one in goal in the 27th minute though, after a cross from Agbonlahor saw Senderos divert the ball past his own wrong-footed keeper to give Aston Villa the lead.

The home side were stunned by the mistake and it showed as Villa almost doubled their lead only for Manuel Almunia to acrobatically push an effort from Shaun Maloney onto the frame of the goal.

Arsenal regrouped, but were unable to penetrate the Villa defense, going into halftime 1-0 down after a disappointing showing.

The home side were strong in the opening minutes of the first half, with Walcott forcing another good save out of Carson after a neat one-two with Cesc Fabregas. Space opened up for Alex Hleb about twenty yards out from goal, but the Belorussian, not known for his shooting skills, hit a tame effort well wide.

Villa were strong on the counterattack though, and Agbonlahor forced another full-stretch save from Manuel Almunia after a shot from the edge of the eighteen-yard-box.

Substitute Marlon Harewood almost grabbed the second for Villa after brushing off the ineffective Philippe Senderos, but was denied by yet another fine save from Almunia.

As the ninety minute mark approached it looked as though Arsenal were going to be subject to their first home defeat of the season. However, a good spell of possession for the Gunners finally resulted in a last-gasp goal as Nicklas Bendtner stabbed home from close range to give the Gunners a valuable point.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Arsenal vs. Aston Villa: Match Preview

Aston Villa travel to the Emirates this Saturday in order to face league leaders Arsenal in an important clash for both teams. Arsenal will be searching for a full three points to stay clear of Manchester United at the top of the table, while Villa will be looking to break into Europe by taking at least a point from the Gunners.

The Villans, who currently sit in sixth place in the Premier League, have defeated Reading and Newcastle United since losing at Fulham, and have performed admirably against the big four so far this season. A win at home against Chelsea and two draws at Liverpool and Chelsea are marred only by defeats to Manchester United and Arsenal. Mark Hughes will be hoping that his team can amend their record against the Gunners, and will feel especially confident because of the Arsenal injury list.

Arsene Wenger will be unable to choose six of his players, although Abou Diaby is expected to return to the Arsenal squad in time for the match. Kolo Toure, Eduardo, Robin van Persie, Alex Song, Tomas Rosicky, and Johan Djourou will all miss the match with injury while Emmanuel Eboue will sit out due to suspension.

Villa, on the other hand, are almost completely fit, with Olof Mellberg the only injury doubt for the game.

Arsenal will likely line up with Manuel Almunia in goal behind a back four of Bacary Sagna, Philippe Senderos, William Gallas, and Gael Clichy. The Arsenal defenders are usually quite dependable, but will face a tough test against the guile of Gareth Barry, the pace of Gabby Agbonlahor, the pinpoint crosses of Ashley young, and the height of John Carew. It would be a huge boost for the Gunners if they could keep Villa quiet on set pieces.

In the middle of the park Alex Hleb, Cesc Fabregas, and either Theo Walcott or Abou Diaby should be able to dominate the midfield with their passing skills while Mathieu Flamini disrupts the visitor's play.

Emmanuel Adebayor will start up front without Eduardo for the first time in a few matches, as the Croatian suffered from a horrible tackle against Birmingham last weekend. Theo Walcott is in contention for a spot alongside the lanky Togolese striker after his impressive showing against Birmingham, although Nicklas Bendtner also has a decent chance of starting. Villa have allowed a fair number of goals considered to those around them in the table, and Arsenal, the top goalscoring team in the league, will be looking to exploit this defensive weakness.

Despite a poor showing against Birmingham last weekend, Arsenal are clear favorites to win this match and should be able to do so even without some of their key players. I predict a 3-1 home win.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Eduardo Released From Hospital

Arsenal striker Eduardo da Silva has been released from the hospital where he had been staying since picking up a horrific leg injury against Birmingham on Saturday. The 24 year-old suffered a broken left fibula and an open dislocation of his ankle when the studs of Birmingham City defender Martin Taylor collided with his leg after only a few minutes of play.

The Croatian international could be out for up to 18 months, but Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes that he should be back by the end of 2008.

Eduardo will have to walk on crutches and have his leg in plaster for six to eight weeks, after which time partial weight-bearing exercises will begin. Running exercises are slated to begin after six months, and the Arsenal physios hope to have Eduardo back on the field in nine months.

The club's official website has already received over 21,000 get well messages for Eduardo, and I encourage anyone who would like to wish him well to write a few kind words here.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Arsenal vs. AC Milan: Match Preview

UEFA Champions League Champions AC Milan travel to the Emirates this Wednesday to face Premier League leaders Arsenal in a clash of giants. Arsenal will be looking to leverage their home advantage before a tough second leg at the San Siro while Milan will be searching for a few crucial away goals.

Both teams suffered disappointing results over the weekend, with Arsenal on the receiving end of a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Manchester United, while AC Milan failed to score in a boring 0-0 draw with lowly Parma. Carlo Ancelotti and Arsene Wenger will both be hoping to bounce back from their poor showings over the weekend.

Injuries to both teams will hamper their playing ability though, with Arsenal missing Robin van Persie, Johan Djourou, Denilson, and possibly Manuel Almunia, Abou Diaby, and Tomas Rosicky. Milan will be without Ronaldo, Dida and Serginho, while Pato and Zeljko Kalac are injury doubts.

Arsenal are likely to line up with Manuel Almunia in goal if he is fit, although Arsene Wenger has an able goalkeeping replacement in Jens Lehman.

Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna, William Gallas, and Kolo Toure will make up the Gunners defensive lineup. The defense will have their hands full with last season's player of the year Kaka and important strikers Pato and Filippo Inzaghi keeping them busy.

The Gunners strength will come from their midfield, an area of the field where Cesc Fabregas and Alex Hleb will attempt to get past Gennaro Gattuso while Mathieu Flamini will try to keep Kaka and Clarence Seedorf quiet. Either Gilberto Silva or Emmanuel Eboue is likely to grab the fourth and final starting berth in midfield.

Up front top scorer Emmanuel Adebayor will be looking to score yet again. The Togo striker has already scored 19 goals in the Premier League this season, and will be looking to add to his tally against Milan. Croatian striker Eduardo is likely to join Adebayor up front, although Nicklas Bendtner may make a substitute appearance if Arsenal need more firepower against the second best defense in Italy.

Arsenal have only lost a single game at home since moving to the Emirates Stadium last season, and Milan will have a tough time breaking a record. I predict that Arsenal will win 2-0, granting the young Gunners a lead ahead of the second leg in Milan.

**Note: I will be out of town until February 26th, so this will be my last post for a little over a week**

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Manchester United vs. Arsenal: Match Review

Manchester United routed their title rivals Arsenal at Old Trafford to knock the Gunners out of the FA Cup in the fifth round proper. The Luis Nani-inspired drubbing was only Arsenal's fourth defeat in all competitions this season, and manager Arsene Wenger will be hoping that his team can bounce back before an important midweek Champions League clash with AC Milan.

United, on the other hand, will be going into their Champions League match against Lyon full of confidence after annihilating their nearest rivals. Wayne Rooney scored the opener after just 15 minutes, and Darren Fletcher added his first of two four minutes later. Luis Nani scored the other goal, which, in addition to his two assists pinned him as the man-of-the-match.

Lineups: Manchester United: Edwin van der Sar; Wes Brown, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra; Luis Nani, Oliveira Anderson, Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher; Wayne Rooney, Ji-Sung Park

Arsenal: Jens Lehman; Justin Hoyte, William Gallas, Kolo Toure, Armand Traore; Emmanuel Eboue, Cesc Fabregas, Gilberto Silva, Alex Hleb; Eduardo, Nicklas Bendtner

Both managers made five changes to the squads that played in the Premier League last week, with Arsene Wenger choosing to blood some of his younger players while Alex Ferguson rested his big guns Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez ahead of this weeks Champions League matches.

This game seemed to suggest that Manchester United have greater strength in depth than the Gunners, as they got off to a blistering start with the help of Portuguese winger Luis Nani. United scored their first after a corner from the young star was flicked on by countryman Oliveira Anderson. Wayne Rooney was on hand to head the ball past Jens Lehman as United grabbed the lead.

It was 2-0 only three minutes later after Darren Fletcher met a cross from the brilliant Nani. The midfielder headed the ball home off of Arsenal defender William Gallas to double United's lead.

Rooney could have scored a third and a fourth for the home side around the half-hour mark but he twice failed to test Lehman after some good work by his teammates set him up inside the penalty box.

Manchester United made it 3-0 not too long later without Rooney's help, when Nani latched onto a long pass from Michael Carrick. The Portuguese playmaker side-stepped Justin Hoyte before notching a deserved goal with a low drive into the corner.

An impressive first half performance from United looked to have set the result of the match beyond doubt, but Alex Ferguson's stars wanted more, coming out strong in the second half.

Lehman was forced into two saves before Emmanuel Eboue was sent off in the 49th minute after a bad challenge on Patrice Evra. The sending-off only furthered Arsenal's problems as victory began to look impossible.

Lehman saved another shot from Nani after some good work by Evra, before Rooney wasted yet another chance to test the German keeper.

Eduardo had Arsenal's first real chance of the game after the Gunners launched a counter-attack in the 64th minute. A cross from Cesc Fabregas met the Croatian striker in the center of the penalty box, but the striker was uncharacteristically wasteful in front of goal, heading over the top.

Anderson then poked an effort wide of goal before Darren Fletcher scored his second of the night after a cross from Nani.

United could have scored more goals, but a superb showing from last season's Premier League champions was enough to prove to any doubters that they are still very much in the chase for the Premier League title.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Manchester United vs. Arsenal: FA Cup Match Preview

Arsenal travel to Old Trafford this Saturday to face off against Manchester United in a highly anticipated FA Cup clash. The top two goalscoring teams of the Premier League will be sure to entertain in a free-flowing 90 minutes of football.

Alex Ferguson's Manchester United will be looking to prove themselves after taking only one of the last six available Premier League points. A draw away to Tottenham and a loss at home city rivals Manchester City put the Red Devils five points adrift of a young Arsenal side. Having already forced a 2-2 away draw against the Gunners, Ferguson will be hoping to assert his team's efforts with a win in this fifth round FA Cup tie.

Arsene Wenger's squad has gone on a run of four straight wins since embarrassingly losing 5-1 against Tottenham. With Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue back from the African Cup of Nations, the Gunners will provide a tough challenge for Ferguson's United. Unfortunately, a large list of absentees means that Wenger maybe forced to field an under-strength side in an attempt to save key players for Wednesday's Champions League clash against Italian giants AC Milan.

Robin van Persie, Abou Diaby, Manuel Almunia, Neves Denilson, Johan Djourou, Tomas Rosicky, and Theo Walcott are all set to sit out yet another match after missing the clash against Blackburn on Monday due to injury. Gael Clichy and Philippe Senderos are new additions to the injury list with hamstring and knee injuries respectively. Bacary Sagna is another doubt for "personal reasons."

Manuel Almunia is currently suffering from a virus, ensuring that Jens Lehman will feature in goal for the Gunners for a third consecutive game after being Arsenal's second choice goalkeeper for much of the season.

A makeshift defense is likely to consist of experienced center-backs Kolo Toure and William Gallas alongside young full-backs Armand Traore and Justin Hoyte. Traore and Hoyte will have their hands full with Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, and Carlos Tevez knocking at the door.

Arsenal's strength will come from the midfield where Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini, Alex Hleb, and Gilberto Silva are likely to start. Arsene Wenger would have liked to have fielded a younger midfield including Abou Diaby and Neves Denilson, but due to a large number of injuries the manager will be forced to risk injury to his big names.

It will be interesting to see whether Wenger is willing to risk Emmanuel Adebayor up front. The striker has been prolific for his club recently, scoring twelve goals in his last nine appearances, and has become a key player at Arsenal. However, with the capable pair of Nicklas Bendtner and Eduardo da Silva match-fit, Wenger may want to rest his star striker ahead of a tough Champions League tie.

No matter what teams are fielded, Manchester United v. Arsenal is always a huge game. With a promise of frenetic pace and a healthy injection of skill, this cream-of-the-crop tie should not disappoint. I predict that Arsenal will force Manchester United into a replay with another 2-2 draw.

Manchester United v. Arsenal Match Still Important Say Arsenal Players

With both Manchester United and Arsenal still in three competitions (the Barclay's English Premier League, UEFA Champions League, and FA Cup) it has been suggested by some fans that tomorrow's FA Cup 5th round tie between the Premier League giants will be of little consequence.

A large number of injuries to the Arsenal squad, along with Arsene Wenger's tendency to blood his younger players in the domestic cups have led to further accusations of a devaluation of the FA Cup. However, Arsene Wenger, Abou Diaby, and Emmanuel Adebayor all claim that this match is important to both teams and will not lack intensity.

"We will dig deep tomorrow because we want to win the game and we want to qualify," said Wenger.

"Manchester United are a big club and certainly they will want to respond to the two disappointments they had recently, so it promises to be an interesting tie tomorrow.

"We will fight, don't worry. It's always better to win because it makes you stronger. I believe highly in that influence. You want to win and you want to win the big games especially because it makes your whole squad stronger.

"And I certainly feel they are still in the title race anyway. Two games ago we were second. That shows you how quickly it can change from one day to the next. And this year, it changes very quickly."

"I expect them to play a full strength side," he continued. "Maybe I’m wrong but I expect them to play with their best possible team.

"Of course you can never predict it but usually the cup games [between these sides ] are very good and both teams go for it.

"Both teams will do that because we don’t want a replay and Manchester United don’t want a replay as well that is why it should be an exciting game."

Young midfielder Abou Diaby feels similarly, promising that his teammates will try just as hard in the FA Cup as in any other competition.

"I think we want to play well in every competition whether it's the FA Cup, the Champions League or the League," Diaby told Arsenal TV. "We want to win all of them because we are a big club and we want to win trophies. This Saturday is very important to us.

"Maybe a win will give us a psychological advantage. We just want to give our best and win the game."

Top scorer Emmanuel Adebayor was in similar mind as well, stating that "the United game is important for [Arsenal] and [its] fans."

"I don’t think this match is less important than the league games. It is an important game because we want to win as much as we can," Adebayor said. "We will be playing to win and, speaking for myself, I just want to win as many trophies as I can in my career. The United game is important for us and our fans.

"Even if United had beaten Manchester City 5-0 last week, they would want to beat us as they want to win the FA Cup, just like us. After losing, they will want to show their fans they can beat us. But we want to show our fans we can keep winning."

For a preview of the match, including predictions and a projected Arsenal lineup, click here.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Arsenal vs. Blackburn: Match Review

Arsenal went five points clear of Manchester United at the top of the Premier League table after defeating a hard working Blackburn Rovers side. The win also ensured that the Gunners have goal differential equal to that of Manchester United. Mark Hughes' Rovers failure to win any points saw them slip down to 9th falling behind Portsmouth, who beat Bolton on Saturday.

Arsenal won an early lead through Phillipe Senderos after a corner from Eduardo, but an inspired performance from Blackburn keeper Brad Friedel kept the Rovers in the game for the majority of 90 minutes. However, Blackburn could not grab a goal back. A late strike from in-form forward Emmanuel Adebayor guaranteed three points for the Gunners in second half stoppage time.

Arsenal: Jens Lehman; Bacary Sagna, William Gallas, Philippe Senderos, Gael Clichy; Alex Hleb, Mathieu Flamini, Cesc Fabregas, Gilberto Silva; Eduardo, Emmanuel Adebayor

Blackburn: Brad Friedel; Stephen Warnock, Andre Ooijer, Bruno Berner, Zurab Khizanishvili; David Bentley, Brett Emerton, Tugay Kerimoglu, Steven Reid, Benni McCarthy; Roque Santa Cruz

Arsenal rushed out of the gates with a flurry of early forays, eventually resulting in a corner kick. An unmarked Philippe Senderos easily headed home after a good corner from Eduardo.

The opening was just what Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger wanted, and the Gunners could have doubled their lead only a few minutes later when Emmanuel Adebayor headed wide after a free-kick from Eduardo.

Mathieu Flamini should have added another for Arsenal after 22 minutes, but the defensive midfielder could only shoot straight into the legs of American goalkeeper Brad Friedel after some impressive buildup play from Cesc Fabregas and Adebayor.

Blackburn took note of Arsenal's inability to kill them off though, and it soon looked as though the Gunners would be in for a long night, with former Gunner David Bentley spraying crosses into the box. None of Bentley's good work could lead to a clear-cut chance for his team though.

Rovers had their best chance of the first half when both Benni McCarthy and Roque Santa Cruz failed to get any meaningful contact on a cross from Brett Emerton. The South African striker seemed to take the ball off of the head of the incoming Santa Cruz.

The half ended with Blackburn on the ascendancy, as Santa Cruz skied a shot well over the bar after a cross from Stephen Warnock.

The second half began much the way the first had ended, with Blackburn on the offensive. David Bentley nearly embarrassed Jens Lehman when he sent a free-kick around Arsenal's defensive wall. The German keeper managed to get down just in time to clear the ball instead of making yet another defensive blunder.

As the Arsenal fans cheered for a second goal, the Arsenal squad regained their footing, soon coming close when Alex Hleb hit Friedel's post. Adebayor nearly grabbed a second for Arsenal minutes later, but once again shot straight into the legs of Friedel.

Fabregas came close after a pass from Adebayor, but drilled his shot just wide in the 67th minute.

Adebayor kept Friedel busy though, twice forcing him to save at his feet. Hleb then came close with a fine dipping effort which was well-read by the American. The deadly combination of Hleb and Adebayor could not be held off forever though, and Arsenal's second breakthrough finally came in stoppage time when a pass from Hleb put Adebayor in pole position to rifle a shot into the bottom corner of Friedel's net.

The win put Arsenal on a good track to win their first title since the 'invincibles' of 2004. United now need to make up five points in twelve games to catch up with Arsene Wenger's young Gunners.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Results Go The Right Way, But Can Arsenal Run Away?

All of the results went the right way for Arsenal this weekend. Manchester City defeated Arsenal's nearest title rivals in a 2-1 victory at Old Trafford, while Liverpool held Chelsea to a goalless draw at the Stamford Bridge.

The results leave Arsenal two points ahead of United and five points ahead of Chelsea with a game in hand against both. A victory tomorrow against Blackburn would leave the league leaders a massive five points ahead of their nearest competition, with Chelsea eight points off the pace.

If Arsenal can seize this opportunity, Arsene Wenger's squad could be running away with the Premier League title this season.

One of the team's strongest assets is the maturity of its young players. Wenger was particularly complementary of Cesc Fabregas, who at the tender age of 20 is the linchpin in Arsenal's dominating midfield.

"They are all more mature now," said the Arsenal boss. "Cesc is committed and you always like your players to have a winning attitude.

"Sometimes it can go a little bit over the top, but Cesc has behaved remarkably well this season - I cannot remember one incident.

"There was maybe a stage, for about six months, where he went a bit the wrong way - but he corrected that very well, without any special management from me.

"If I feel that the players aren't managing to do it themselves then I will help them to do it. But in his case, there was no need. He apologized and from then on there have been no problems with him.

"He is so intelligent that he realized that is not the way he wanted to go."

Let's hope that Cesc's maturity can inspire our injury-ravaged team to a win at Blackburn tomorrow!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Kolo Toure Rested As Cote D'Ivoire Fall To Ghana

Kolo Toure may be rushed back from the African Cup of Nations in order to feature for Arsenal against Blackburn on Monday.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will be missing defender Johan Djourou and may be without Philippe Senderos, leaving the Arsenal squad with only one fit central defender, captain William Gallas.

23 year-old fullback Justin Hoyte or Brazil captain Gilberto Silva have both been used as center-backs for Arsenal, but an inexperienced Hoyte and aging Gilberto would have difficulty chasing down dangerous Blackburn striker Roque Santa Cruz.

"I don't know," said Wenger when asked if Toure might feature on Monday. "Ivory Coast play on Saturday afternoon. I have not called him yet but I will try to see if he can take a flight from Accra to London. Otherwise it will be Gilberto, who is back, or Justin Hoyte at centre half."

Toure was a conspicuous absence in the Cote d'Ivoire starting XI as the Elephants fell to Ghana's Black Stars in the 3rd/4th place playoffs of the African Cup of Nations. After having recovered from injury, it seems as though the central defender may have been rested by Cote d'Ivoire manager Gerard Gili.

The Ivorian star's return would be a huge boost to a thinly stretched Arsenal side, and with no midweek games this week, Wenger might just be tempted to risk a fatigued Toure in order to stay at the top of the Premier League.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Arsenal vs. Blackburn: Match Preview

Mark Hughes' Blackburn Rovers travel to the Emirates this Monday to face off against league leaders Arsenal. Blackburn, who are currently in 8th place in the Premier League, have already faced Arsenal twice this season, taking two points off of the Gunners in a 1-1 draw at Ewood Park, and losing 2-3 at home after taking a Carling Cup tie into extra time.

Arsenal's recent form is impeccable, with the Gunners having scored three goals in each of their last four Premier League matches. Arsene Wenger's squad has responded very well to a 5-1 Carling Cup loss to arch-rivals Tottenham, winning their next three matches in a row.

Blackburn, on the other hand, have not won in their last three games, instead drawing against Everton, Aston Villa, and Middlesbrough. With injuries to defender Andre Ooijer and midfielder Steven Reid, a Blackburn victory seems improbable. Manager Mark Hughes will be fielding a relatively inexperienced squad as key midfielders Morten Gamst Pederson and David Dunn and center-back Christopher Samba are also set to miss the match due to suspensions.

Arsenal are facing there own injury crisis as well, though. Phillipe Senderos, Mathieu Flamini, and Manuel Almunia are all doubts, while none of Johan Djourou, Robin van Persie, Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby, and Neves Denilson are going to feature due to injury. Alex Song will be playing in the finals of the African Cup of Nations on Sunday, and Ivorian defensive pair Emmanuel Eboue and Kolo Toure are both likely to feature for their country on Saturday in the 3rd/4th place playoff game.

Jens Lehman is ready to replace Almunia in goal if necessary, and injury-free defenders Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy will be full of energy up and down the flanks. However, Wenger is facing a crisis in the center of defense.

William Gallas is Arsenal's only fit center-back, and Arsene Wenger has claimed that he may even attempt to get Toure back in London for the game against Blackburn. The other options are to play the inexperienced Justin Hoyte or holding midfielder Gilberto, who may be needed to replace Mathieu Flamini. No matter who Wenger decides to field, we will have our hands full for a full 90 minutes against Roque Santa Cruz.

Cesc Fabregas and Alex Hleb are certainties in the midfield, and if Mathieu Flamini is unable to feature he will likely be covered by the aging Gilberto. Tomas Rosicky will be more difficult to replace with Abou Diaby and Neves Denilson out. This leaves just Theo Walcott or Eduardo to play on the left wing, although Eduardo has finally been getting used to playing up front alongside Emmanuel Adebayor.

Adebayor is sure to feature in the Arsenal strikeforce, although his partner will be more difficult to predict. Eduardo has been starting in the absence of Robin van Persie, but his guile might be needed on the left flank with Rosicky injured. This would leave Adebayor with another tall frontman, Nicklas Bendtner.

Arsenal's injuries are disturbing, but I feel that the Gunners will prevail against a Blackburn squad with a similar amount of absentees. I predict a 3-1 home victory, moving Arsenal five points ahead of title rivals Manchester United.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Arsenal Fitness Boost As Trio Return From Injury

Blackburn Rovers were already in for a tough match at the Emirates on Monday, but the returns of Mathieu Flamini and Manuel Almunia to the Arsenal squad will make victory even more improbable for a hapless Mark Hughes.

Arsenal's Spanish goalkeeper Manuel Almunia was injured in training ahead of Arsenal's match at Manchester City last Saturday. The keeper was replaced by a capable Jens Lehman, but after yet another blunder by the 38 year-old German, Arsenal fans will feel much safer in the hands of the consistent Almunia. 30 year-old Almunia should recover from his twisted thumb in time to face Blackburn.

Mathieu Flamini was taken off of the field due to injury this Tuesday. The holding midfielder had received his first senior international start, but had to be recalled after picking up a thigh injury. The knock seems to be less serious than first feared though, and Flamini may be ready as soon as Monday.

"It is just a little tight spot behind the right thigh," he said.

"It is nothing serious, I hope I will be ready for Blackburn."

Gilberto is also likely to return to the squad by Monday, although Tomas Rosicky, Robin van Persie, and Johan Djourou are still on the road to recovery.

In other news, Kolo Toure seems to have recovered from a knock picked up while playing at the African Cup of Nations. The stalwart central defender started for the Ivory Coast today in the Nations Cup semifinals against defending champions Egypt. It was at first feared that Toure would miss a large part of the remainder of the season, but it now seems as though the 26 year-old will be able to feature as soon as he returns from international duty.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Internationals: Flamini And Diaby Injured, Walcott Scores

Arsenal midfielders Mathieu Flamini and Abou Diaby both suffered injury scares as a reserve side from France faced the Democratic Republic of Congo.

21 year-old Diaby, who has featured for France only three times, failed to start the game with a calf problem. France manager Raymond Domenech moved to to ensure that the injury was minor, though, meaning that the midfielder should be fit to rejoin the Arsenal squad on Monday as they host Blackburn at the Emirates.

"He has a small concern with the calf, I did not want to take a risk, so he remained at rest," said Domenech to allay the concerns of Arsenal fans.

Mathieu Flamini is more of a doubt, although it has been reported that the 23 year-old's ankle injury is not a serious one. Flamini has been one of the driving forces behind Arsenal's title push, and while Brazil captain Gilberto Silva is ready to step in in the case of a more serious injury, Arsene Wenger will be hoping that Flamini recovers in time to face Blackburn.

In other international news, Arsenal left-back Gael Clichy featured for his country for the first time in France's 0-0 draw with the Congo.

Theo Walcott also showed some of his promise by scoring a thunderous goal against the Republic of Ireland in a 3-0 victory for England's U21 squad. Walcott picked up the ball on the left flank before cutting inwards and releasing a right-footed rifle into the far corner of the net. He was taken off to a standing ovation five minutes before the end of the match.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Does Arsenal Have What It Takes To Win The Title?

Arsenal went to the top of the Premier League last weekend after defeating Manchester City and watching Manchester United slip up at Tottenham.

The win took Arsene Wenger's team to 60 points in 25 games, two points ahead of last season's champions United and six ahead of title-challengers Chelsea. With 13 league games left, anything could happen. Does the Arsenal squad have the necessary depth, belief, and skill to sustain its title charge for until May? Let's take a closer look:

Depth: Arsenal's squad is not the biggest, but the quality of the club's second-tier players is more than enough to make up for an apparent lack of numbers. Wenger has often been criticised for his seeming reluctance to splash cash during transfer windows. This January was no different as Wenger failed to bring in a single player despite losing Lassana Diarra to Portsmouth and Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Eboue, and Alex Song to the Africa Cup of Nations. The Arsenal manager claimed that he did not want to burden his squad with too many players when his African stars returned from international duty.

Despite the outcry of Arsenal fans who wanted to welcome a center-back to replace Toure, Arsenal have won three of their four Premier League games since Toure, Eboue, and Song departed. With only one more league game to play before the African trio returns, it seems as though Philippe Senderos, Justin Hoyte, Armand Traore, and Johan Djourou provide enough cover for our defence in case of injury.

The Gunners also have one of the deepest midfield line-ups in the league. The recent form of Mathieu Flamini has been enough to keep Brazil captain Gilberto Silva from starting many matches, and Neves Denilson, Eboue, and the improving Abou Diaby are all ready to cover for Alex Hleb, Cesc Fabregas, and Tomas Rosicky.

Up front, Emmanuel Adebayor has proved his worth at the right time. The departure of Thierry Henry and a long-term injury to Robin van Persie could have been a major crisis, but Adebayor's brilliance has lifted the squad. With Eduardo beginning to settle in and Nicklas Bendtner showing his potential, van Persie's absence is barely noticeable and Theo Walcott's mediocrity can be forgotten.

Although Arsenal's official website lists only 25 numbered first team players, the Arsenal squad has a strength in depth enough to make up for any number of potentially dangerous injuries.

Belief: Arsenal's youngsters have the mental strength necessary to win the title. Skipper William Gallas, along with a large number of his players, have often stated their desire to win the title this season, and often show their aspirations on the pitch. They always seem capable of pulling the game round even on the rare occasions when they concede early on. In fact, 20 of Arsenal's 52 league goals have come in the final 15 minutes of a match.

One of the most exciting games of the season was a 3-2 Carling Cup victory over Blackburn Rovers, in which some of the Gunners' younger players showed their mental and physical endurance. Early goals from Abou Diaby and Eduardo saw Arsenal 2-0 up within half an hour of the start, but a goal from Roque Santa Cruz grabbed one back for Blackburn before half time. Santa Cruz bagged his second around the hour mark to force Arsenal into extra time. However, despite the mental fatigue of having surrendered a two goal lead and the physical fatigue of an added 30 minutes of play time, Arsenal went on to win the game when Eduardo scored his second.

Just as the squad never gives up on a game, not a single one of Wenger's boys will give up on the title challenge. Arsenal are the comeback kings, and having regained the lead last weekend, they are sure to show their amazing belief required to challenge for the title.

Skill: Although they are young, Arsenal's players are some of the most skilful in the league. Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy have both proved to be rock-solid in defending. Their offensive capabilities are what makes them the best full-back pair in England. While neither has scored a goal for the club, the Frenchmen have confounded defenders and assisted their strikers in scoring goals, while shielding the Arsenal goal.

Flamini's box-to-box action has finally earned him the respect of Arsenal fans. The 23-year-old's pinpoint tackles have often prevented opposition goals and Flamini has even added a few goals of his own to the mix. Fabregas and Hleb are two of the most accurate passers on the planet. Hleb's skill with the ball at his feet and Fabregas' newly-discovered penchant for scoring goals makes the pair invaluable to Arsenal's cause.

Emmanuel Adebayor has improved dramatically since last season. No longer a wasteful finisher, the Togolese striker's incredible leap has added a number of headed goals. His silky control is incredible for such a tall footballer and his powerful shot has seen him contribute 18 league goals this season.

Arsenal's starting XI is one of the most skilful groups of footballers in the world, and with the depth and belief to back up their footballing prowess, they should be taken as contenders, if not favourites, to win the 2008 Premier League title.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Manchester City vs. Arsenal: Match Review

Arsenal climbed back to the top of the Premier League table for at least a few hours after defeating Manchester City 3-1 at the City of Manchester Stadium. The win saw the Gunners leapfrog Manchester United, who play against Tottenham at White Heart Lane later today. It was City's first home defeat this season.

Arsenal grabbed an early lead through a 9th minute strike from Emmanuel Adebayor. Eduardo scored Arsenal's second with an overhead kick, but City got one back before halftime when an error from Gael Clichy enabled Gelson Fernandes to score in the 28th minute. City looked unlikely to score in the second half, and Adebayor put the match beyond doubt just before the end of regulation time with his 18th league goal of the season.

Manchester City:
Joe Hart; Vedran Corluka, Micah Richards, Richard Dunne, Michael Ball; Blumer Elano, Dietmar Hamann, Stephen Ireland, Gelson Fernandes, Marti Petrov; Daniel Sturridge

Arsenal: Jens Lehmann; Bacary Sagna, William Gallas, Philippe Senderos, Gael Clichy; Abou Diaby, Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini, Alex Hleb; Emmanuel Adebayor, Eduardo

Arsenal were in trouble early when Dietmar Hamann lobbed the ball up field to Stephen Ireland. Ireland assumed that Lehmann would reach the ball first and half-heartedly gave chase, only to find the German keeper rooted to the spot. Luckily for Lehmann, Ireland's hesitation gave him just enough time to reach the ball before the City midfielder.

The early danger woke up the Arsenal side who quickly rallied to score a goal in the 9th minute. A cross from right-back Bacary Sagna met Emmanuel Adebayor on the edge of the 6 yard box. The Togo striker, who has scored in his last 8 games, made no mistake in firing home to give Arsenal the lead.

The Gunners grabbed a second about a quarter of an hour later when Adebayor headed a cross to Eduardo. The Croatian striker took the ball on his chest with his back to goal and scored with an impressive overhead kick to double Arsenal's lead.

Manchester City have had a tough time scoring goals of late, and looked out of the competition until Gael Clichy handed Sven-Göran Eriksson's side a lifeline two minutes after Eduardo's goal.

The Frenchman, who is normally rock-solid at left-back, lost possession on the byline after trying to play his way out of trouble rather than boot the ball up the pitch. Vedran Corluka fed the ball to Gelson Fernandes who slotted home from right in front of goal, bringing City back into the game.

Arsenal still looked the more dangerous side, though, and Adebayor almost bagged a second on the half hour mark after getting on the end of yet another cross from Sagna, but Joe Hart stood his ground to parry the shot.

Gunners captain William Gallas could have scored ten minutes later, but sent his shot wide of the post.

Manchester City had a great chance just before halftime, but Martin Petrov fired a tame effort wide after being released by Stephen Ireland. The miss meant that City went into halftime down two goals to one against one of the best teams in the country.

Arsenal came out strongly in the second half, with Cesc Fabregas lobbing Joe Hart from the edge of the area after being picked out by William Gallas. His effort flew over the bar though, as City avoided going two goals down.

The Citizens came close to grabbing an equalizer in the 66th minute when substitute Darius Vassell was played through by Hamann. Lehmann managed to clear the ball, but only as far as Blumer Elano. The Brazilian midfielder, normally lethal from range, could only lob the ball over Lehmann's crossbar.

Arsenal should have scored ten minutes later when Emmanuel Adebayor, Cesc Fabregas, and Eduardo were up against only two defenders after a fast break. Adebayor fed Eduardo down the left, but the Croatian's pass, meant for Fabregas, was cut out by Michael Ball to prevent Arsenal's third goal.

Adebayor had another chance from a header not too long after. The lanky frontman connected with a cross from Fabregas, but could not get enough power on his header to beat the alert Joe Hart.

Adebayor's second goal would come soon enough though, finally putting the game beyond doubt in the 88th minute with an easy goal from the center of the area.

Arsenal fans may be rooting for Tottenham to win against title-rivals Manchester United today, as anything but three points for United would leave Arsenal at the top of the Premier League table after the weekend. Arsenal's three points were well-earned and the Gunners are beginning to rediscover the form that saw them lead the league earlier in the season.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Almunia And Gilberto Out of Manchester Clash

Manuel Almunia and Gilberto Silva were ruled out of tomorrow's game at Manchester City. The injured duo will join Johan Djourou, Robin van Persie, and Tomas Rosicky in the stands. Arsenal are also missing Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Eboue, and Alex Song due to the African Cup of Nations.

Almunia twisted his thumb in training but should only be out for about a week. Jens Lehmann, Arsene Wenger's first-choice keeper at the beginning of the season, will stand in for the injured Spaniard.

Gilberto is out with a stiff back, but was unlikely to start in Arsenal's congested field of midfield talent which already contains Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini, and Alex Hleb.

Wenger is ready to see the end of the African Nations Cup, as his missing African trio means that Arsenal have only 14 fit outfield players and 2 fit goalkeepers.

"Manuel Almunia is out," revealed Wenger. "He has twisted his thumb. He did it in training today.

"It should be only one week so Jens Lehmann will come in tomorrow. It is a chance for him to play well and to come back with a win. Gilberto is out as well. He has a stiff back.

"For me it is time for the African Nations Cup to finish now," the manager continued.

"We have lost Denilson and Gilberto so we are short in the middle of the park. Tomorrow we are down to 14 outfield players."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Manchester City vs. Arsenal: Match Preview

Second-placed Arsenal take on sixth-placed Manchester City this Saturday in the day's early fixture. Arsene Wenger will be hoping to become the first manager to win at the City of Manchester Stadium this season, as City look to break back into the European spots.

The stadium has become a fortress for City this season, seeing the Citizens drop only 6 points in 12 home games. Sven-Göran Eriksson's side has yet to lose at home, but could be facing their toughest test of the season against a determined Arsenal side.

Traveling to a stadium in which the home team is undefeated is always a tough task, but an Arsenal team full of belief will still be full of confidence. The team are also provided continuity by the fact that Arsene Wenger's squad on Saturday will be the same as the squad that defeated Newcastle 3-0 on Tuesday.

Robin van Persie has returned to training but will not be fit in time for the match. Tomas Rosicky is expected to be back in contention before next weekend's game against Blackburn, and Johan Djourou is expected to be out for three more weeks. Emmanuel Eboue, Kolo Toure, and Alex Song are all on international duty at the African Cup of Nations.

Manchester City are relatively injury free with only Danny Mills, Michael Johnson, and loanee Nery Castillo likely to miss the match due to injury. Eriksson's side will be low on confidence though, having dropped two points to Premier League whipping boys Derby on Wednesday.

Arsene Wenger will likely field the starting XI from the Newcastle game again, with Manuel Almunia in goal. Bacary Sagna, William Gallas, Gael Clichy, and the vastly improving Philippe Senderos will make up the back four.

In the midfield Cesc Fabregas, Alex Hleb, and Abou Diaby will try to provide for their forwards. Mathieu Flamini will have a tough time bossing around Blumer Elano and Martin Petrov, but after an incredible performance on Tuesday, the Frenchman will feel up to anything.

Emmanuel Adebayor will most likely start alongside Eduardo again, although Nicklas Bendtner may feature due to his height. Even Adebayor won't be winning too many headers against the huge backline of Manchester City which includes giants Richard Dunne and Vedran Corluka.

Although Micah Richards and the City defense have done an impressive job this season, Arsenal always seem to find a way through, and are likely to do so again this Saturday. Eriksson's squad lacks attacking power up front, and Arsenal's impressive midfield lineup should be able to stifle the contributions of City's top scorer Blumer Elano. This advantage should be enough to keep Arsenal at least level on points with Manchester United at the top of the Premier League table. I predict a 2-0 win for the visitors.

Flamini Wants To Stay At Arsenal

Mathieu Flamini has made it clear that he wants to stay at Arsenal.

The Frenchman's contract runs out this summer but Arsene Wenger will be looking to extend Flamini's time at the club. An impressive goal from 25 yards out was a fine addition to the string of excellent performances that has seen the 23 year-old keep Brazil captain Gilberto Silva out of the starting XI.

Flamini's strength and athleticism have won over admirers both at the club and away, attracting Juventus and a few other suitors.

However, Flamini has publicly stated that he would like to stay at the club, and assured fans that contract talks are continuing.

"My priority is to stay here," he said. "I'm very happy here. I'm happy to play in the team and everything is good. My representatives are talking with the Club and I hope everything will be good. I want to play game after game. The rest, we will see later."

After almost leaving last summer, Flamini has secured his place as one of the most important figures in the red and white of Arsenal this season. Part of this is because he protects the back four while Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas forays forwards. The two seem to have established a close partnership both on the pitch and off.

"We are very close on and off the pitch," said Flamini of Fabregas. "We chill with each other off the pitch. That is important. But when we have to speak on the pitch we are doing it and finding a solution.

"I'm bit more defensive than him. He goes forward more so I cover Cesc, Alex [Hleb] and Tomas [Rosicky] in the midfield. I'm trying be the insurance policy and be a little bit bossy. That's my role. But I'm also trying to help the players up front and help Cesc as well because he is going forward.

"Sometimes he's tired and I try to help. Sometimes it's him and sometimes it's me. But I think we are a very good complement for each other."

The pair form one of the strongest central midfield partnerships in the Premier League, and it comes as great news that Flamini will be staying with Arsenal.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Arsenal vs. Newcastle: Match Review

Arsenal will be at the top of the Premier League for at least 24 hours after defeating Newcastle United 3-0 for the second successive time in only four days. The Gunners, who also beat Newcastle 3-0 in the FA Cup on Saturday, are now three points ahead of Manchester United, who face Portsmouth at Old Trafford tomorrow.

Arsenal went ahead in the 40th minute when Emmanuel Adebayor scored his 9th goal in 7 games to go within one goal of Cristiano Ronaldo's total of 17. Mathieu Flamini bagged Arsenal's second with a fabulous strike from 25 yards out and Cesc Fabregas put the game beyond doubt with a goal in the 80th.

Arsenal: Manuel Almunia; Gael Clichy, William Gallas, Philippe Senderos, Bacary Sagna; Abou Diaby, Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini, Alex Hleb; Emmanuel Adebayor, Eduardo

Newcastle: Shay Given; Claudio Cacapa, Stephen Carr, Steven Taylor, David Rozenhal; Nicky Butt, James Milner, Charles N'Zogbia, Damien Duff; Michael Owen, Alan Smith

Arsenal were in control right from the start and almost got an early lead when a quick exchange between Gael Clichy and Cesc Fabregas was halted on the edge of the penalty box by a fine tackle from Steven Taylor.

In the 17th minute Arsenal had another great chance when Abou Diaby got his head to a cross from Alex Hleb. Unfortunately for Arsenal fans, Diaby was put off just enough by a challenge from Nicky Butt, and his diving header went far off the mark.

Shay Given nearly scored an own goal a few minutes later as Adebayor pressured the keeper into a cheeky backheel from only a few yards in front of his own goal. Kevin Keegan was irate, but Given got away with it, controlling the ball well enough to give away a corner rather than a goal.

Arsenal finally got on the scoreboard in the 40th minute when Adebayor got his head onto a cross from Mathieu Flamini. The perfectly weighted cross was turned into the net by the prolific Togolese striker, as déjà vu began to hit the Newcastle fans.

The goal ensured that Arsenal went into halftime with a lead, and Kevin Keegan's side seemed well-beaten after having only managed one shot on goal in the first half.

Newcastle came out far stronger in the second half though, refusing to die down despite being a goal behind at the Emirates. Good work up the flanks was undone by a failure to find the correct final pass, and all of Newcastle's early possession in the second half barely even won the Magpies a shot on goal.

Given was tested again in the 66th minute when he showed fine reactions to get down to the ground and save a low drive from Flamini.

A few minutes later, Nicklas Bendtner came on for Eduardo, pairing the young Dane with Adebayor for the first time since their argument at White Heart Lane. There was no conflict between the two players though, as the bust-up seems to have been worked out.

A strong performance by Flamini was rewarded only minutes after the substitution when the Frenchman released an incredible drive from 25 yards out to double Arsenal's lead. The 72nd minute strike was even better than Flamini's cross for the first goal, and cemented the 23 year-old as the man of the match.

Cesc Fabregas provided a third for Arsenal after reaching a centering pass from Nicklas Bendtner. The midfield maestro looks to be getting back into the form that he showed in the beginning of the season.

Newcastle almost got a late consolation goal when Nicky Butt crashed a free-kick onto Almunia's crossbar, but the game was already lost for the Magpies as Arsenal hit the top of the Premiership.

Monday, January 28, 2008

FA Cup Draw: Manchester United To Host Arsenal

Arsenal will travel to Old Trafford in February to face their title-rivals Manchester United in the fifth round of the FA Cup. The draw was as tough as it could get for the two sides, who sit at the top of the Premier League with only goal differential separating Alex Ferguson's squad from Arsene Wenger's.

Only six Premier League sides are left in the last sixteen of the FA Cup, and the other four managed to avoid drawing each other, with Chelsea facing Huddersfield Town and Liverpool clashing with Barnsley. Portsmouth and Middlesbrough will travel to Preston North End and Sheffield United respectively.

Arsene Wenger will no doubt be disappointed to have drawn the toughest team in the competition but neutrals' mouths will be watering with the prospect of another clash between this season's top Premier League title challengers.

Unfortunately for Arsenal, the clash comes only four days before the Gunners host Italian giants AC Milan in the Champions League, meaning that Arsene Wenger may face some tough player decisions or risk having fatigue lessen the effectiveness of his players.

Nevertheless, the game should be one of the highlights of the season.

The FA Cup Fifth Round Draw

Bristol Rovers vs. Southampton
Cardiff City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Sheffield United vs. Middlesbrough
Liverpool vs. Barnsley
Manchester United vs. Arsenal
Preston North End vs. Portsmouth
Coventry City vs. West Bromwich Albion
Chelsea vs. Huddersfield Town

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Arsenal vs. Newcastle: Match Preview

Arsenal face off against Newcastle for the second time in four days this Tuesday as they look to record yet another win against the Magpies.

The Gunners have already defeated the Magpies twice this season, although they were held to a 1-1 draw in the league in early December. The latest match between the two sides was a 3-0 home win for Arsenal as the Gunners progressed to the fifth round of the FA Cup on Saturday.

Arsenal's FA Cup win, which saw Newcastle defeated by an under-strength Arsenal side, will instill the young Gunners with confidence. Kolo Toure, Alex Song, and Emmanuel Eboue are all on international duty at the African Cup of Nations. Arsene Wenger will also be missing Johan Djourou, Neves Denilson, and Robin van Persie due to injury, but a nearly full-strength Arsenal side should be able to handle the off-color Magpies.

Newcastle on the other hand have not won in their last six Premier League outings, and although manager Kevin Keegan will be looking to improve on that record, he openly admits that his players are low on confidence. Injuries to Tim Krul and Peter Ramage will do nothing to help Keegan's cause, although the absences Nigeria's Obafemi Martins, Cameroon's Geremi, and Sengal duo Habib Beye and Abdoulaye Faye will be more conspicuous.

Manuel Almunia will return in Arsenal's goal after Jens Lehmann took up the gloves in the FA Cup.

The back four is likely to see only one change from the side which faced Newcastle on Saturday, with Justin Hoyte likely to be replaced by the more experienced Bacary Sagna. Captain William Gallas, the vastly improved Philippe Senderos, and the ever-impressive Gael Clichy will complete an Arsenal defense that will be happy with no less than a clean sheet.

Tomas Rosicky looks to have recovered from the injury which saw him limp off of the field in the FA Cup, so he should rejoin Cesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini in the midfield. Alex Hleb, who made a late substitute appearance on Saturday should take the place of ball-hog Abou Diaby for the more important League fixture.

Up front Emmanuel Adebayor is a sure-shot starter, after bagging 8 goals in his last 6 games, including a brace against Newcastle. Eduardo is the most likely candidate to join the tall Togolese striker, although Nicklas Bendtner could feature if, as Adebayor has suggested, the two have reconciled from an argument at White Heart Lane.

Kevin Keegan may do a great job at Newcastle, but I doubt that he will start winning at the Emirates, a ground where Arsenal have only lost once. I predict a 2-0 victory for the Gunners.

Arsenal Chase Everton's Joleon Lescott

Rumor has it that Everton defender Joleon Lescott is on Arsene Wenger's radar. However, the Arsenal manager has stated that he is unlikely to splash out any cash in the January transfer window.

Arsenal are without defenders Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue for much of January and February due to the African Cup of Nations and a recent injury to Toure may rule the central defender out for a longer period of time. Swiss defender Johan Djourou has also been injured, leaving Arsenal with only two fit central defenders in William Gallas and the injury-prone Philippe Senderos.

Wenger does not want to overload his squad with unnecessary players, and considers holding midfielder Gilberto a candidate for a spot in the center of defense if the need arises. However, With Manchester United also reportedly interested in bagging the England international defender a transfer to Arsenal looks extremely unlikely.

Nonetheless, Lescott would be a great addition to the Arsenal squad. A versatile defender, he has often been deployed at left back although his natural position is center back. This means that he could cover for Gallas, Toure, and Gael Clichy, making him a great squad player.

Lescott's hight would make him useful in defending set pieces, which has been one of Arsenal's major weak points over the last few seasons. In addition, the 25 year-old's goalscoring prowess would add yet another dimension to Arsenal's impressive offensive capabilities. Lescott has scored 5 league goals for the Toffees in 24 starts this season, a great return for a defender.

Lescott would be a great signing for Arsenal, although he would cost a tidy sum of cash considering that Everton manager David Moyes would be unwilling to part with one of his key players. I can't see the transfer going through, but I can always hope!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Arsenal vs. Newcastle: Match Review

Arsenal emphatically defeated Kevin Keegan's Newcastle in the FA Cup Fourth Round to dim memories of an embarrassing defeat at White Hear Lane. The Gunners won 3-0 at the Emirates thanks to a second half brace from Emmanuel Adebayor and a late own goal from Nicky Butt. Arsene Wenger will be hoping that his team can repeat the victory when Newcastle travel to London to face Arsenal in the Premier League on Tuesday.

Arsenal: Jens Lehmann, Gael Clichy, William Gallas, Philippe Senderos, Justin Hoyte; Abou Diaby, Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini, Tomas Rosicky; Emmanuel Adebayor, Theo Walcott

Newcastle: Shay Given; Claudio Cacapa, Steven Taylor, Jose Enrique, Stephen Carr; Nicky Butt, James Milner, Charles N'Zogbia, Damien Duff; Michael Owen, Alan Smith

Arsenal started brightly, nearly snatching a fifth minute lead after a long ball from central defender Philippe Senderos. The ball fell just ahead of Cesc Fabregas who was unable to generate enough power at full stretch to beat Shay Given.

Gunners boss Arsene Wenger was then forced into an early substitution as Czech Republic captain Tomas Rosicky limped off the field in the 9th minute to be replaced by Croatian striker Eduardo.

The highly offensive lineup left Arsenal susceptible to counterattacks, and Newcastle nearly grabbed the lead after a quarter of an hour when Alan Smith saw his shot cleared off the line by the head of Gael Clichy.

The French left-back was active at the other end soon after, forcing a save out of Shay Given after curling a goalbound effort from the corner of the Newcastle penalty box.

Given, who was kept busy all night, was forced into a near post save from Eduardo after a defensive error Stephen Taylor let the goal poacher into the 18 yard box.

Arsenal were beginning to pressure the Newcastle defense, with Emmanuel Adebayor heading just wide and Abou Diaby forcing an acrobatic save out of Given before half time. The Magpies managed to hold the game level at 0-0 until half time and looked a far better side under Kevin Keegan's management.

They could do nothing to stop Adebayor's first goal in the 51st minute, though. Eduardo made himself some space on the edge of the penalty box and sent a curling shot against Given's post with the keeper well beaten. Newcastle's defenders failed to clear the ball and Adebayor powered the ball into the left corner to grab Arsenal's 100th goal at the Emirates.

Newcastle were not yet beaten though, and Michael Owen thought he had won his side a penalty when the ball looked to have been flicked up onto Senderos' arm in the box. Referee Martin Atkinson waved play on though, and it was Arsenal who would once again score as the game began to open up.

Adebayor showed a huge amount of class to hold off two defenders and draw Shay Given out of goal. The Togo striker, who has already scored 16 league goals for Arsenal this season, finished brilliantly with a low shot past last man Steven Taylor.

Arsenal were already in the fifth round with a 2-0 lead, but Nicky Butt granted the Gunners a third goal when he headed into his own net after a Cesc Fabregas free-kick. The third goal was harsh, and Newcastle fans will feel that the scoreline did not accurately depict the nature of the game.

Nonetheless, Arsenal will be high on confidence going into Tuesday's important league fixture against Newcastle, and look to be getting back on track after a disappointing loss to Tottenham last week.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Kolo Toure Injured In Ivory Coast Match

Arsenal and Ivory Coast defender Kolo Toure may have picked up a long term injury on international duty with his country. The center back was stretchered off on the stroke of half time as his country defeated Benin 4-1 in the African Cup of Nations.

Toure set up a goal for his brother, Barcelona's Yaya Toure, in the 44th minute, but was stretchered off holding his groin minutes later. The injury is suspected to be a groin strain, which could keep the defender out for two to three weeks.

With the African Cup of Nations due to end on February 10th, Kolo Toure is unlikely to feature again for the Ivory Coast in this tournament. Due to the nature of his injury, Toure could be out for as long as six or more weeks, making him a major doubt for the Gunners February 11th fixture against Blackburn even in the unlikely situation that his country fails to make it far into the tournament.

More importantly, Toure could miss Arsenal's Champions League knockout stage match against AC Milan at the Emirates on February 20th.

The central defender, one of the most important figures in the Arsenal squad, has already been sorely missed during his Cup of Nations absence. His presence could be one of the key factors in Arsenal's chances of progression to the next round.

Although Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has Johan Djourou, Philippe Senderos, and Alex Song to replace Toure at center back, Gunners fans will feel far more secure as soon as their first-choice central defensive pairing is ready to play.

Wenger will be hoping that Toure's injury is not as serious as expected, as the defender's injury could, in part, decide this season's Premier League winners.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Flamini Seeks New Deal At Arsenal

Arsenal midfielder Mathieu Flamini, who almost left the Gunners in the summer, is hopeful that the club will extend his contract. The Frenchman's current contract runs out this summer, and although he has been in talks with the club, the two parties have yet to agree to a new deal.

Flamini's contract situation has seen the holding midfielder linked with Italian giants Juventus and Spanish team Valencia. However, Flamini insists that he would like to stay at Arsenal.

"I'm talking with the club. I am very happy and have some close friends here," said Flamini.

"I really hope that I will be staying and I'm very optimistic about it.

"Arsenal is my priority and I hope that everything gets sorted out because I love this club - the atmosphere is amazing, the new stadium, the supporters, everything.

"We are creating a new story here and I want to be part of that story."

Flamini was frustrated by a lack of first-team chances last season, but his impressive form this term has seen him take the place of Brazil captain Gilberto Silva. A virtual ever-present in the heart of the Arsenal squad alongside Cesc Fabregas, Flamini would be very difficult to replace.

Arsenal fans will be hoping that a new contract deal comes through before too many offers begin to come in.

Arsenal vs. Newcastle: Match Preview

Kevin Keegan's Newcastle United will travel to the Emirates this Saturday to face Arsenal in the fourth round of the FA Cup. The 12th placed Magpies will be hopeful of pulling off an unlikely victory after Arsenal crashed out of the Carling Cup in a 6-2 aggregate loss to Tottenham Hotspur.

Keegan would like to get his second managerial spell at Newcastle off to a winning start, but he faces tough opposition in the Gunners who will see the returns from injury of Gael Clichy and Philippe Senderos. Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger will still be missing Robin van Persie and Johan Djourou, and Neves Denilson, who featured against Tottenham midweek, is a late addition to the injury list after straining his muscle in the 5-1 loss.

Newcastle will have nearly their full complement of players available, with only Mark Viduka and Peter Ramage likely to be absent. The Magpies will also be full of energy, trying to prove themselves to their new manager.

Arsenal will also be looking to prove themselves after the embarassment at White Heart Lane a few nights ago, but the Gunners will also be facing some tough conditions after reports of a bust-up between strikers Emmanuel Adebayor and Nicklas Bendtner.

Arsene Wenger has assured Arsenal fans that he will rotate the squad from the one which faced Tottenham on Tuesday, although the manager is likely to rest some of his key players ahead of a Premier League game against Newcastle only three days after this match.

Jens Lehmann may start in goal as he did in the third round of the FA Cup against Burnley as Manuel Almunia gets a deserved rest.

In the defense, Armand Traore, Philippe Senderos, William Gallas, and Justin Hoyte are likely to feature as Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna rest for the more important league fixture.

In the midfield, Gilberto Silva and Abou Diaby should be the only survivors from the side that started against Tottenham on Tuesday. The pair will most likely be joined by Tomas Rosicky and Cesc Fabregas who will bring some creative impetus into the side. The battle may be won or lost in the center of the pitch, as an impressive force of Charles N'Zogbia, Damien Duff, James Milner and Nicky Butt is likely to line up against the Gunners.

Up front Nicklas Bendtner may start up front alongside Eduardo, although Emmanuel Adebayor may also feature if he has sorted out his episode with the Danish youngster.

This game is not too important in and of itself, but Wenger would like to continue blooding his youngsters in the cup, and the winners will have a decisive advantage in the Premier League game between the two next Tuesday.

A mixed Arsenal side will face a tough challenge against Newcastle, but the players will want to prove themselves after a huge defeat, and should manage to win even against a full strength Newcastle side. I predict a 2-1 win for the home side.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

FA Investigate Adebayor-Bendtner Clash

Arsenal fell apart in yesterday's thrashing by Tottenham. Already down 4-1 and with the game already lost, two Arsenal players were involved in an altercation which saw Nicklas Bendtner and Emmanuel Adebayor forced apart by Gunners captain William Gallas.

Adebayor allegedly headbutted the young Dane, who proceeded to confront the peacemaker, Gallas. Referee Howard Webb was called in to restore order, and managed to do so without producing a card of any color.

Webb has since revealed that he did not witness the spat in its entirety and the English Football Association will therefore be asking television broadcasters to provide the FA with any relevant footage they might have. If Webb decides that he would have brandished a red card for violence, the FA will retrospectively issue the card and its resulting ban.

The infighting was quite possibly the single worst moment of the 5-1 defeat to our most bitter rivals, and should it result in a retrospective dismissal, it would not be completely unfair. As much as our team would miss Adebayor and Bendtner, their actions were inexcusable and I would be very surprised if either player escaped punishment at the hands of Arsene Wenger.

The fight was a disgrace and an embarrassment to both of the players and to Arsenal. Realizing this, Adebayor has apologized and claimed that the loss will only spur Arsenal on to greater victories.

"We are a strong unit and what happened last night against Spurs will strengthen our desire and determination to compete for other targets," he said.

"Overall I think that we should have been more calm during the game and although I was pleased to get a goal back for the team when I came on, I am sorry for the disagreement with my team-mate Nicklas.

"We are both passionate about this Club and sometimes that can be projected in the wrong way. It was a mistake. We want to focus on the games ahead and rely on our squad’s great togetherness to achieve a fantastic season."

I hope that Bendtner follows a similar approach to the issue and that the players sort out their problems. Arsenal has no room for feuding teammates.