Tuesday
Aug192014

Prem Week 01: Van Gaal sweats, Fab delights

The Premier League season 2014/2015 kicked off with close games across the board, the ‘shock’ result coming at Old Trafford where Manchester Utd succumbed to a 2-1 defeat to Swansea.

Utd still look to be carrying the burdens of last season. Lacking in confidence and nervous at home, I watched most of the game and it seemed that half the team wanted to attack and the other half was frightened to. Understandable, considering Rio Ferdinand has never been replaced, and with Vidic gone too, the team cannot function adequately while the defence is martialled by distinctly average players such as Tyler Blackett and Chris Smalling.

Utd need to spend big, yet have been quiet due to Van Gaal’s late return from the World Cup and his need to analyse from their opening games exactly what they need. Expect some big spending late August, with Real Madrid’s Angel De Maria a plausible option on the attacking side.

Props to Gary Monk who is doing a great job at Swansea in giving continuity to the passing philosophy instilled by Michael Laudrup (now manager of Lekhwiya in Qatar).

Man City looked a completely different team to the one Arsenal trounced in the Community Shield nine days ago and swatted Newcastle Utd aside comfortably away from home, 2-0. Chelsea are my tip for the title, but having watched £12m defensive midfielder Fernando in action, that might have to be revised; he was an absolute beast.

Liverpool struggled at Anfield, narrowly beating Southampton 2-1. Despite losing a plethora of players in the summer, Southampton played well and were unlucky not to get a point. Last season, Liverpool conceded too many goals but had the firepower to overcome that. Now their threat has been blunted with the departure of Suarez, they’re going to struggle to adapt – and I think we saw that at the weekend.

Monday evening, Burnley were two yards off Chelsea all night, yet managed to get an early goal after sloppy defending from a set piece. Chelsea stormed back and were 3-1 up by half time. Diego Costa equalised within minutes then got booked for a dive when a penalty should have been given and Burnley keeper Tom Heaton sent off.

Fabregas ran the show from midfield. His half-volley pass for Andre Schurrle’s goal - Chelsea’s second, was exquisite. It’s only one game, but on this evidence Fabregas will be the signing of the season.

At the Emirates, sleepy Arsenal were dismal against a Palace side coming to terms with the departure of manager Tony Pulis. Aaron Ramsey popped up in injury time to complete a fight back after Arsenal conceded a first half header to Palace debutant Brede Hangeland. The poor performance of Santi Cazorla might be deemed a concern – he looked distracted amidst rumours of cash rich Atletico Madrid sniffing around, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Wenger tried to claw back some of the £63m he’s spent this summer by letting the Spaniard go.

Goal of the weekend came at Filbert Street, where Aidan McGeady scored a cracking curler from the edge of the box in Everton’s 2-2 draw with Leicester City. West Ham were the weekend’s chumps, missing a penalty against 10-man Tottenham, then losing the game in the last few minutes to debutant Eric Dier.

By all accounts, Dier is a classy, composed ball-playing centre-back. Not so surprising… until you discover he’s English.

Aston Villa got off to a good start, beating Stoke 1-0 at the Britannia Stadium. Ron Vlaar and Philippe Senderos looked a commanding centre-back pairing. Early days, but with Roy Keane on hand to add his experience and death stares, Villa could be one of the season’s surprises.

—oo— 

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Saturday
Aug162014

Chelsea is my tip for the title



I’m tipping Chelsea for the Premier League title.

I thought Mourinho did a good job on his return to the club last season, but he was clearly hampered by a strike force of collective duds. Therefore the £32m signing of Diego Costa is likely to be an upgrade, and while Didier Drogba is unlikely to terrify defences the way he used to, he will still be a good addition if used intelligently.

Cesc Fabregas is an inspired signing. Still only 27, we all know of his creative quality, but Fabregas could get double figures from midfield too. However, I am very surprised that Fernando Torres is still at the club. His goal record is poor and he’s lost a yard of pace since his Liverpool days – I can only imagine his wages are too high to provoke an offer.

Chelsea had the best defence by a mile last season, so Mourinho’s focus will be on the attacking end, and with Costa, Drogba and Fabregas supplying additional firepower - and the rapidly improving Andre Schurrle pushing on, I can see them getting close to the 90 point mark.

Fighting Chelsea for the title will be Man City. They have too much talent to fade away, but will need to start better than they did last season and be more focused throughout. Despite being Premier League champions, they were sloppy at times and a mess at the back whenever Vincent Kompany was absent. But the £32m signing of centre back Eliaquim Mangala and addition of defensive midfielders Fernando and Bruno Zuculini provide evidence that manager Manuel Pellegrini is looking to address these defensive concerns.

With Louis Van Gaal in charge, I would be astounded if Man Utd did not make the top four this season. Obviously, he has an aura about him that David Moyes did not, and that, married to his experience and the fact that United do not have the distraction of European football should make a big difference to them.

United had the joint best away record in the Premier League last season, keep that up and rectify their baffling home form and they’ll be right up there. However, my doubts about Utd’s ability to sustain a title challenge revolve around their defence; I’m really surprised they haven’t bought a centre back yet. Although there’s still time, it’s hardly ideal preparation for the new season.

Obviously this is a concern for Van Gaal, hence the 3-5-2 formation used in pre-season, and such doubts make me wonder whether United are capable of putting in a strong title challenge.

I expect the battle for fourth place to be between Arsenal and Liverpool, with Arsenal edging it. The effect of Luis Suarez’s departure, and the fact that Liverpool will be playing in Europe next season, cannot be underestimated. Suarez was a force of nature. The Uruguayan took all the pressure off the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Stirling; they excelled alongside him but will now have to step up and shoulder the burden of winning matches – a big ask.

Having said that, Brendan Rodgers is clearly a very intelligent and flexible manager. Rickie Lambert will give them another option, Adam Lallana further attacking threat – but for me they need to buy a world class striker capable of scoring 20+ a season, and so far their attempts appear to have hit a brick wall. Centre-back Dejan Lovren has joined Lallana from Southampton, but for me Liverpool are still weak at the back and for all his influence and ability to control a game I don’t see the ageing Steven Gerrard as the right man to shield the back four.

As for Arsenal, the signing of Alexis Sanchez is an excellent one. If the Chilean can duplicate his attacking prowess at Barcelona, he will certainly add goals from wide positions. When Theo Walcott is fit, Mesut Ozil will have multiple angles to hit, which should make him more effective following a dismal debut season.

Still, Arsenal’s problems remain much the same, notably Wenger’s tactical inflexibility and a squad that is blunt at both ends. Olivier Giroud doesn’t cut it against the top sides, and if he gets injured for a long spell there is no one that can be relied upon to deputise. Arsenal’s defence has the same problem, threadbare with only Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker as trusted centre backs, while there is a question mark over whether new signing Mathieu Debuchy has the same defensive quality as the departed Bacary Sagna.

Then of course there’s the defensive midfield role, still occupied by Mikael Arteta, who is inadequate at shielding the defence in key games. Following the departure of Sagna and Thomas Vermaelen, Arsenal’s defence appears to have gone backwards, and asking 19-year-old Calum Chambers (£16m) to fill the void and provide the quality required to compete for major trophies is a typical Wenger gamble that could backfire.

Finally, Everton and Spurs are likely to provide stubborn opposition. Everton have blown £28m on Chelsea’s Romelu Lukaku and Gareth Barry has joined on a free from Man City, but these players were already at the club last season, so the Toffees have not upgraded anything yet.

Tottenham have also been slow to make additions, but do have a bright managerial prospect in Mauricio Pochettino. This could make Spurs the surprise package next season in the battle for fourth, but I wouldn’t’ hold my breath, or open my wallet and bet on it.

Of course, we still have the mad scramble known as ‘Deadline Day’ on August 31 to look forward to, but at present this is how I see the top 7 finishing:

1.       Chelsea
2.       Man City
3.       Man Utd
4.       Arsenal
5.       Liverpool
6.       Tottenham
7.       Everton

—oo— 

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Friday
Aug152014

New season, new Arsenal Truth

My last post was fourth months ago and during the summer I have been mulling over what to do with Arsenal Truth - close it or drastically change what I write about.

Observant followers will have noticed the recent Arsenal Legends Series. The main reason for the series was to monetise the site to help pay for the cost of running it. However, that was not the only reason; I enjoyed uploading the videos and in my research got to learn a little about players that have been part of Arsenal's great history - especially players from a bygone age that I was not very familiar with. It was something I always wanted to do.

Indeed, my favourite part of working on the series was digging up those old black and white photos and re-imagining the past.

It was good fun putting sound to the images too. I could have used video, but that would mean a crazy amount of editing and of course, for the majority of my Arsenal legends, there is no substantial video - so I wanted it to be a case of equality for all.

Even though I mostly did it for myself, the channel can act as a library of the past for fans to dip into whenever they feel nostalgic.

As mentioned earlier, this blog will no longer focus on Arsenal in the way it used to, it will focus more on my thoughts about football and the Premier League in general. Obviously, I cannot ignore Arsenal, they are as much a part of the Premier League as any other team, but I will not be going into much detail any more than any other club or topic.

Premier League 2014/2015 kicks off tomorrow, and I'm excited about the new season. Tomorrow I will be writing about who my favourites for the title are, and why.

—oo— 

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Friday
Aug152014

ARSENAL LEGENDS SERIES: 100 Ian Wright

ARSENAL LEGENDS SERIES: 100 Ian Wright

1991-1998
Starts: 279 Sub: 009 Total: 288
Goals: 185



AT Rating: 10

Comments related to Ian Wright only, all others will be ignored.

Friday
Aug152014

ARSENAL LEGENDS SERIES: 99 Pat Rice

ARSENAL LEGENDS SERIES: 99 Pat Rice

1964-1980
Starts: 521 Sub: 007 Total: 528
Goals: 13



AT Rating: 9

Comments related to Pat Rice only, all others will be ignored.