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."