Posts Tagged Arsenal

Not Every Whistle Blower Can Be a Collina But


Former Tottenham Hotspur striker Garth Crooks made a legitimate analysis on BBC Sport’s post-match analysis of the fiery London derby between Chelsea and Arsenal on Saturday, which the Blues won 2-0 courtesy of a Kurt Zouma header and a deflected Eden Hazard goal early and late in the second half respectively.

Before the goals however, it would not have been much of a surprise if the match had gone on to finish goalless, or to have seen either side steal a win with a fortuitous goal. Arsenal were hardly at their fluid best at Stamford Bridge but nonetheless were holding their own against a Chelsea side that can probably be seen as on a resurgence having secured back-to-back wins for the first time this season, scoring six and conceding none to boot.

In another realm of reality, Zouma scoring his first Premier League goal against a rival could have been the major talking point. Another realm of reality could have chosen to ponder on whether Hazard’s so far form is on the mend having scored, albeit off Arsenal defender Calum Chambers.

Perhaps we could have been going on about how Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger managed a (rather frosty) handshake before kick-off but ‘forgot’ or were too occupied to share another at full time, with Wenger walking right down the tunnel while Mourinho, understandably, shared a warm hug with a man he still trusts completely, John Terry.

As we would have it though, in whatever realm of reality you choose to exist, the major talking point had to do with two Brazilian born players, each on either side who threw up what perhaps has been missing in a lot of so-called derby matches in the English top flight; tempers!

Arsenal defender Gabriel reacts after being sent off against Chelsea, while Diego Costa watches on.

Arsenal’s Gabriel Paulista struggling with Chelsea’s Pedro and Branislav Ivanovic while Diego Costa watches on

That happened just before halftime and imagine after such altercation, both players remained on the field for the rest of the encounter, all riled up and just itching for the other to as much as glance along their path for a proper brawl to break out and perhaps for more slaps to be served two or three involved faces.

Arsenal fans and many neutrals can go on all week about how insert your feelings about the striker’s behaviour here disgusting, despicable, unacceptable, unsporting, irritating and appalling Costa’s part in getting Gabriel sent off was but what is a derby if neither side has at least one player being a tick in the skins of his opposition all game?

Didier Drogba held a psychological card on Philippe Senderos and Arsenal for a long time, same hold Costa seems to be having on a lot of opponents in the Premier League having previously been involved in confrontations, but somehow not getting sent off in his ‘two’ seasons so far in the Premier League.

Everton's Tim Howard confronts that man Costa

Everton’s Tim Howard confronts that man Costa

Which is why I agreed 100% with Spurs fan Crooks, ironically riled about an injustice to an Arsenal player when he said, “We all want to see 11 against 11. It’s a great game” and indeed it was, until referee Mike Dean felt it appropriate to send off one party in the altercation and leave the other on the field with just a yellow card for his troubles. Would not have been the 11 on 11 one wanted, but 10 on 10 was not a bad option at all. Alas.

Dean’s only fault as it turns out, was not showing that red card to Costa as well when he showed it to Gabriel for if he had, we probably would be scrambling for the best resolution footage of a classic tunnel bust-up between both players and possibly their teammates off the field and bench… along with the coaching staff… and both managers, tantalisingly.

However, showing just one red card brought an imbalance to what was – to that point – a contest of two sides looking to bounce back for different reasons. Instead, we were left to consume a largely one-sided second half (inevitably) which saw Santi Cazorla get himself sent off to add a feeling of injustice for Arsenal fans and a need for justification for Chelsea fans.

Good old days, one would have had a good time or held a proper grudge (depending on what side of reality you existed) at Martin Keown for (in)famously rubbing Ruud van Nistelrooy’s penalty miss in the final minute of that match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford in 2003.

I mean… Keown was just getting started but look at Ashley Cole too

… Keown was getting warmed up now even though Ruud was all cool…

… think the angle in the last one did an injustice to this moment…

… but very few moments beat this ‘point driven straight home’ part of this moment of what used to be a proper rivalry.

After the incident (between Costa and Gabriel that is), Keown tweeted he would have loved to play against the Chelsea striker. That tweet reeked of an emotion missing in current Arsenal players and a whole lot at others club who have to be ‘appropriate’ or risk being farcically charged by the trigger happy FA for the comment deemed ever so slightly inappropriate.

The Arsenal manager and others of his kind should not always expect the opponent to play nice and allow the other team be the better team. That is not how the football gods (not Messi and Ronaldo but their mythical ancestors) ordained the procession to go, otherwise they would be a bunch of bored lawmakers who doze off during once-a-quarter sessions.

But all of that is for another feast of sporting battles.

Admittedly not every Mike Dean can be Pierluigi Collina great, not even Collina’s compatriot Nicola Rizzoli who saw PSV Eindhoven’s Héctor Morono get his Ryan Shawcross on and do a Ramsey on poor Luke Shaw during a UEFA Champions League encounter, which Manchester United eventually lost 2-1 with Morono scoring one of those goals for PSV.

Excuse me while I do a Crooks complimenting Dean before slating him, Rizzoli is a top official otherwise he would not have been named Serie A Referee of the Year in 2011, 2012 and 2013 nor would he have been chosen to officiate the final of the 2010 UEFA Europa League, the 2013 UEFA Champions League final and the 2014 FIFA World Cup final.

Luke Shaw injured during PSV v Manchester United

Luke Shaw injured during PSV v Manchester United

But in the Champions League group stage match in Eindhoven, Rizzoli covered himself in all the aforementioned adjectives for Diego Costa when he (for the benefit of doubt) forgot to book Morono for his rash challenge on Shaw. Had he done so, and given the player the red card he deserved, would PSV have won?

So, one must disagree with Crooks when he implied that referees should not try to be in the spotlight. In fact, they should have the spotlight right on them as much as the one beaming on Costa’s [insert adjectives] behaviour in order to make the referees realise how much their decisions actually impact on results.

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Over the Weekend: Hewitt on Course for Djokovic Match, Bale Sale Sealed and More


Barack Obama went George Bush on Iraq, on Syria when he declared that the United States will get a military campaign going in the Middle Eastern nation. Then Yung6ix did a Kendrick on Control, on twitter when he declared himself best rapper in Nigeria. Then I went… no, I only did the needed, picked beans for the week while watching as much sports as I could. Here goes…

Years ago when Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were the Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic of tennis, a certain Australian was the Andy Murray that tended to upset the balance every now and then till injuries ravaged his career to a halt and allowed Roger Federer and Nadal reign supreme after Sampras and Agassi were done dominating tennis.

Over the weekend however, Lleyton Hewitt rolled back the years as he first upset sixth seed Juan Martin del Potro in a thrilling five set second round win before getting a 6-3 7-6 (7-5) 3-6 6-1 win over Evgeny Donskoy and make the fourth round at the US Open for the first time in seven years.

It is an unlikely run for the 32 year old Hewitt who will now face either Mikhail Youzhny or Tommy Haas, fellow 30+ year olds against whom he holds healthy head-to-head records, thus making him favourite to set up a potential quarterfinal match with world number one Novak Djokovic.

The Serbian top seed was ruthless as he dropped just three games on his way to a straight sets win in his third round match, and was joined in the fourth round by defending champion Andy Murray who also won his match against German Florian Mayer in straight sets, having beat Leonardo Mayer of Argentina (no relation to Florian) in the previous round.

Also through to the last 16 is Tomas Berdych who has greatly impressed at Flushing Meadows and hasn’t dropped a set so far while in the women’s section, defending champion Serena Williams won her last 16 clash with Sloane Stephens; the young woman touted to replace her soon, in straight sets to set up a quarterfinal against Spanish 18th seed Carla Navarro.

While Navarro flies Spain’s flag proudly far away at New York, the natives back at her home would surely be forgiven for being distracted by activity from the Santiago Bernabeu, home of is-money-your-problem? side Real Madrid.

And Samuel Eto’o must have gone ‘been there, done that’ when confirmation of Gareth Bale’s world record transfer to Real was made. No, not because of the £85.3m/€100m transfer fee involved but because of the weekly wage the Welsh winger’s set to earn… a staggering £300,000, or not.

Bale’s weekly earnings will actually be £170,000 after tax, so yes, Eto’o can still feel good about himself that he once earned all three hundred grand every week while at Russian club Anzhi before his move to Chelsea where he’ll ‘humbly’ be earning around £135,000 every week.

More importantly, Bale’s record move – which eclipses the one that brought Cristiano Ronaldo to the Bernabeu – will not see him earn more than the Portuguese ace so egos may be bruised slightly but definitely not entirely upset eventually.

Putting pen to a six year deal ends the highlight saga in this year’s transfer window and thanks to the hierarchy governing when to shut that window, we may yet witness quite a number of high profile players move around in a domino effect off Bale’s transfer before the end of the day.

One such muted move sees Mesut Ozil suddenly close to sealing a €45m move from Real Madrid to Arsenal on a €7m per annum salary while Kaka could leave the Bernabeu for AC Milan for free four seasons after leaving Milan for Madrid for £56m. Lord!

There’s talk of Luis Suarez leaving Liverpool for money no be problem Madrid, a move which could see Karim Benzema leave the Bernabeu for none other than Arsenal just as Angel di Maria reportedly remains an option for the Gunners.

Simply put, today’s the sort of day the fainthearted stay offline and avoid the legendary and infamous rush of transfer day deadline updates… a day trolls will reign, medicals will hold, moves will break down at the last detail and what not. E! is the perfect channel for your kind, or a channel showing reruns of matches from over the weekend… just so the football fan in you stays sane.

A fainthearted Arsenal fan for instance would be very pleased to watch the club’s 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in Sunday’s north London derby, a match Mathieu Flamini made a telling second Arsenal debut and which was settled by Olivier Giroud’s well taken strike early on.

That win helped the Gunners rise to fourth on the Premier League table with six points, going above their £107m spent neighbours by virtue of goals scored, and champions Manchester United that fell two points behind after a lone goal loss at archrivals Liverpool.

On a day new players Victor Moses (on loan from Chelsea) and Mamadou Sakho were in the stands, some way off a disgruntled England manager Roy Hodgson, it was Daniel Sturridge’s instinctive finish – his third in as many – that settled the battle of the Reds at Anfield and hand the winning Reds a third win in as many matches and a two point lead atop the league table.

In some other Premier League matches, second half goals from Alvaro Negredo and Yaya Toure’s sweet freekick got Man. City a 2-0 win at home to stubborn Hull City (Tigers [never forget]), Swansea City won 2-0 as well at West Brom and Everton drew a third consecutive match in a goalless stalemate at Cardiff City.

Jermaine Pennant’s freekick helped Stoke City to a lone goal win at West Ham United and fifth place, Paolo di Canio was left miffed and ‘brainless’ was used as a qualifier after Sunderland’s 3-1 loss at Crystal Palace while ‘sublime’ would be a suitable qualifier to describe Hatem Ben Arfa’s late strike in Newcastle United’s lone goal win at home to Fulham.

In Italy, Juventus bashed Lazio 4-1 on Saturday with Carlos Tevez scoring the final goal there and help Juve maintain a perfect start to the season, though last season’s runners-up Napoli now lead the league thanks to goals scored following a 4-2 win at Chievo Verona.

Inter Milan and AS Roma follow Napoli on the table with six points apiece following respective 3-0 wins against Catania and Hellas Verona, with Fiorentina now in fourth with six points as well – ahead of Juve thanks to goals scored – as a brace each from Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Gomez sealed a 5-2 at Genoa while AC Milan won 3-1 at home to Cagliari for their first league win.

PSG got a second league win after four Ligue 1 matches as stoppage time goals from Adrien Rabiot and Zlatan Ibrahimovic saw off Guingamp and lift the reigning champions to fourth on the table with eight points, two points behind new leaders AS Monaco that came from behind to claim a 2-1 pyhrric win at Olympique Marseille; a match Monaco’s Radamel Falcao scored the equaliser before going off injured.

In Spain, Lionel Messi put his recent injury troubles behind with a first half hattrick that helped Barcelona to a 3-2 win at Valencia whose goals were scored by Helder Postiga before half time. The win left Barça top of the league with nine points, just ahead of Atletico Madrid that beat Real Sociedad 2-1 on Sunday.

City rivals Real lie fourth but also with nine maximum points so far courtesy of a 3-1 win over fifth placed Athletic Bilbao while newly promoted Villarreal kept up their surreal start to the season with a 3-0 win at bottom-without-a-point Osasuna with Nigerian striker Ikechukwu Uche scoring the third there.

Elsewhere, Kevin Gameiro scored twice as Sevilla came twice from behind to draw 2-2 at home to Malaga while Espanyol and Celta Vigo remain unbeaten in sixth and seventh respectively, with Espanyol playing a goalless draw with Nosa Igiebor’s Real Betis and Celta being held 1-1 by Granada on Saturday.

Borussia Dortmund meanwhile remain unbeaten and with a perfect record even after four Bundesliga matches, securing a hardfought 2-1 win at Eintracht Frankfurt to regain top spot from Bayern Munich that is two points behind on 10 points.

A trio of teams failed to take advantage of Bayern’s 1-1 slip last week at Freiburg, with Bayer Leverkusen losing 1-0 at Schalke to remain on nine points in third, Mainz losing 4-1 at Hannover 96 to drop to fifth place on nine points behind their conquerors on goal difference while Hertha Berlin lost 2-0 at Wolfsburg to remain on seven points in sixth place.

Moving on to African football, Orlando Pirates maintained top spot in Group A of the CAF Champions League despite falling 2-1 at Zamalek of Egypt. The South Africans, with seven points, however lead on goal difference ahead of second placed Zamalek and their fellow Egyptians Al Ahly that beat Congo’s AC Leopards 2-1 in the other group match.

In Group B, Esperance of Tunisia opened a two point lead thanks to their lone goal win over Sewe Sport in Tunis and Cotonsport’s 1-1 draw at Recreativo do Libolo, a draw that left Cotonsport in second place with seven points.

Finally in the Nigeria Professional Football League, Bayelsa United now lead the table with 49 points following a 1-0 win over Sharks on Sunday. The Yenegoa club is followed by champions Kano Pillars that won 2-1 at home to Enugu Rangers while Enyimba dropped to third with 47 points after a goalless draw at Dolphins on Saturday.

In other matches, ABS of Ilorin drew 1-1 at Shooting Stars of Ibadan, Akwa United thrashed visiting Sunshine Stars 4-0 and Heartland recorded a 1-0 win at second from bottom Wikki Tourists of Bauchi.

On this day, tennis legend Jimmy Connors was born in 1952. Others born on this day include delectable actress Salma Hayek in 1966, former boxing Briton Lennox Lewis in 1965, Malian striker Freddy Kanoute in 1977 and my favourite actor Keanu Reeves in 1964. You should watch his latest film 42 Ronin.

Others born on this day include Liverpool legend Bill Shankly, Bayern Munich’s Spanish midfielder Javi Martinez, former ‘next big thing’ from Brazil Alexadre Pato, English midfielder and twitter troublemaker Joey Barton and Nigerian defender Danny Shittu.

Sadly (or not), Shittu isn’t on the 23-man list of players named by Super Eagles manager Stephen Keshi (and approved by the NFF) for this weekend’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Malawi in Calabar.

All the best to the Super Eagles in that match, and to you in the month of September.

Have a great day ahead. Wenger, you too… please!

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Era of New Men – 2013/14 Premier League Preview 2


Seeing as that game I returned to on football manager was lost eventually, thus adding propane to my already blazing virtual hatred for Javier Hernandez, it’s better to indulge in this writing distraction some more and salvage my season afterwards. Something I fear Arsenal will end up doing yet again this season in the league.

Arsenal could’ve been a true title contender if £55m was spent on Gonzalo Higuain and Marouane Fellaini/some other workhorse of a midfielder such as Luiz Gustavo who’s recent link turned out as nothing having now signed for Wolfsburg. Even Jack Rodwell, if the club had made an effort to sign him early in the window, would have been a very good signing for me.

Alas! Arsène Wenger’s let the economist he is get the better of him so far, to the detriment of his dearly beloved club. News of Mikel Arteta being set to miss four to six weeks with a thigh strain has further dimmed the optimists at the Emirates Stadium, something a Gustavo arrival would’ve prevented.

Wenger’s previously been always on about how the quality players who can fit into the Arsenal way are not on the market or the money to get them isn’t available. A first XI’s worth of those were available this transfer window as was the money (let’s give him and Gazidis the benefit of doubt on the money bit), yet it came down to him expecting Brendan Rodgers to be the fool this year and sell a prized asset to a rival. Such delusion!

Wenger’s continued stance to not adapt entirely to the transfer market dynamics (despite the clear fact that breaking ‘the bank’ for two quality players will not scratch Arsenal’s finances) will have Arsenal not in the running for the league title once more. The Gunners however could finish higher than usual in third, if his (a bit thin) squad, show the grit and form from the closing weeks of last season.

Having virtually same set of players allows for a sustained progression, off that close season run from the night in Bavaria which every player at the club would readily want to remind fans and critics alike. But injuries (as Arteta’s might show), possible suspensions and inevitable burnouts (Cazorla and Giroud will testify) will greatly threaten that.

The best Arsenal can do now is win a Cup, something they embarrassingly refrained most casually from doing last season. That would tear a veil of sustained failure from the club’s loins and set it on track for further successes, especially in the league.

Take a look at Swansea City. Despite switching off in the league for about two months after romping to the Capital One Cup, one can argue that the Swans had a relatively better last season than Arsenal. It was understandable that the Welsh team, with a decent (numerical) but very talented squad, faded in the league after winning a Cup.

Which makes the summer signings there all the more impressive. Wilfried Bony hit 30+ goals last season. You may want to be condescending about it since it was only the Dutch league, then you remember, a lot of very good players such as Luis Suarez came from that league. Make no mistake, Bony and Michu will bring torment upon the rest of the league and I expect that to start right from Matchday One, fittingly against the reigning champions.

Michael Laudrup did very well to keep Ashley Williams at the club, my thought being that Laudrup played the Sinclair card there. He also did well to get Jonathan de Guzman back on loan for a second season just as the arrival of Jonjo Shelvey gives his midfield more depth to ensure they put up a commedable display in their debut in Europe while also faring better than last season in the league.

In fact I feel the Swans can finish in the top 5 this season, making them the biggest threat; not Tottenham Hotspur, not Liverpool and certainly not Everton, to the teams that finished in the top four last season. I’m even envisaging Liverpool having a better season than Spurs would… it’s just a thought, I don’t necessarily believe it but it’s an enticing thought.

Of all the pretenders, Spurs have quite a bit to prove largely no thanks to the Modric-esque saga of Gareth Bale. The Welsh winger should’ve been cashed in, replaced with Gervinho (who’s now at Roma) or a Scott Sinclair with a fraction of the transfer fee received, using the rest to bring in good defenders. Instead, Spurs will start the season with a makeshift defence.

The arrivals of striker Roberto Soldado, winger Nacer Chadli and midfielders Paulinho and Etienne Capoue add needed potency and stability to their respective positions. Succeeding in keeping Bale would go a long way as well, but the defence – if left without reinforcement – will be their undoing this season.

Spurs’ back line is up for easy picking this season, as newly promoted Ligue 1 side Monaco vehemently showed the world just over a fortnight ago. Jan Vertonghen’s absence should’ve been highlighted much more than Bale’s was. Even then, having him fit does little to sort the similarities with a poorly built structure in ghetto Lagos.

The backline at Anfield is in a fairly better state, Simon Mignolet is a good goalkeeper, Glen Johnson, Jose Enrique and Aly Cissoko on loan from Valencia are good full backs and while not world class, the combination of Martin Skrtel, Sebastien Coates, Daniel Agger and Kolo Toure at the centre should be decent enough through the course of the season.

Liverpool’s midfield is usually climatic; one day piss poor irrelevant only to be championship (no, not the lower league) material the next day, and Philppe Coutinho – along with a fit Lucas Leiva – will be central to whatever orchestrations are composed from there this season for a forward line that actually can be impressive on their day. Given, Daniel Sturridge can be a pipe of a player at times, he always is a threat in the area.

Suarez may sulk through the opening weeks of the league but fortunately (when the big picture is well observed) for the Reds, he’s going to sit out the opening six matchdays… enough time to quell a good number of the demons toying with his emotions about leaving Anfield or staying.

Unlike Christian Benteke who had a sudden epiphany at Villa Park and signed an extension to his Aston Villa stay, the latest instalment in Suarez’s eventful time at Anfield could end up being a good catalyst that’ll see Rodgers’s side having a real go at Champions League qualification next May. It is Suarez’s desire to play Champions League football, Rodgers is very determined to keep the Uruguayan forward at the club hence, the ambition there would be to finish in the top four this season or have little choice than to let go of their prized asset.

Rodgers (AVB and maybe Moyes too) obviously hasn’t sought Paul Lambert’s advice on such matter, seeing as the Aston Villa manager managed to keep his prized asset. Not to say Villa will fare greatly this season but Benteke’s presence upfront, along with Brad Guzan’s in goal, will help Lambert steer Villa through a decent season.

Lambert’s former club Norwich however look like they’ll fare better this season, with Ruddy back in goal after missing most of last season injured. Then there are the quite impressive signings of strikers Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel, arrivals that should ensure the club won’t miss Grant Holt who now plays at Birmingham City.

Newcastle United have reinforced their options upfront, adding Loic Remy on loan from QPR and Yoann Gouffran on a permanent basis from Ligue 1. The Magpies also got right back Mathieu Debuchy from the French league, to add to the dominantly French speaking squad, which the club would hope translates to a good enough season fighting for a Europa League spot at best.

Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Sylvain Marveaux and Moussa Sissoko will be key in midfield for Alan Pardew’s side, who also has the options of Cheick Tiote, Jonas Gutierrez, Gabriel Obertan and Dan Gosling to make for quite a decent group of midfield players at St. James’ Park to last a gruelling season.

Pardew will also be pleased to have Remy and Gouffran to call upon now should first choice striker Papiss Cisse fail to show a more lethal touch in front of goal as he largely did last season. All that said, Newcastle have the potential to finish in the top half of the league and even go for a spot in next season’s Europa League.

Newcastle, on paper, should perform better than Everton even. Unlike Pardew who’s been at St. James’ for a bit, Roberto Martinez is new at Goodison, but that’s about it really. Martinez is a talented manager who is attack minded, a philosophy players such as Marouane Fellaini, Leighton Baines, Stephen Pienaar, Kevin Mirallas, new signing Arouna Kone and, to an extent, Bryan Oviedo, Victor Anichebe and Nikica Jelavic can live up to.

Martinez couldn’t deliver much while at Wigan Athletic due to a shambolic defence. He however has a resilient set of defenders at Goodison Park so all he can hope for is that the players deliver in the final third for him. It’s that or opposing teams will pick the Toffees apart on the counter and Tim Howard then won’t be able to keep balls from the net.

There’ll be goal line technology to assist Howard and other Premier League goalkeepers and defenders settle controversial moments now, having being installed in all Premier League stadia. Could end up being the difference between a team being relegated or staying up.

My favourites for relegation this season include West Brom; now without Lukaku who’s back at Chelsea and still with a poor back line, Stoke City now managed by Mark Hughes, Hull City despite some decent signings and whose chairman wants to change the club’s name to Hull City Tigers… rugby union behaviour!

There’s also Crystal Palace (and I promise you it’s not because Marouane Chamakh has joined them) and Cardiff City; promising dealings in the transfer market but still doesn’t seem right to me. I’d like to be proven wrong with Cardiff though.

Fulham and West Ham should do well for a midtable finish, as should Southampton ably led by Ricky Lambert. Sunderland, with almost a new set of first team players signed so far, including American forward Jozy Altidore and Italian midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini from Juventus, Black Cats manager Paolo Di Canio could leave quite a good impression on the league this season. (Wanted to comment on the quality of his goal tenders but that would overshadow the potential of the rest of the team, so… ).

… so I’ll end it here and look forward to the opening weekend, which kicks off at Anfield where Liverpool host Stoke City in the early kickoff. Arsenal then host Aston Villa, Manchester City welcome Newcastle’s French gang to the Etihad, Chelsea host Hull City (Tigers) and champions United embark on a tricky trip to face Swansea in Saturday’s evening kickoff.

Here’s to another entertaining season. And to all Arsenal fans… just take it easy.

Saturday
Liverpool vs. Stoke City (12:45)
Arsenal vs. Aston Villa (15:00)
Norwich City vs. Everton (15:00)
Sunderland vs. Fulham (15:00)
West Ham United vs. Cardiff City (15:00)
West Brom vs. Southampton (15:00)
Swansea City vs. Manchester United (17:30)

Sunday
Crystal Palace vs.Tottenham Hotspur (13:30)
Chelsea vs. Hull City (16:00)

Monday
Manchester City vs. Newcastle United (20:00)

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During the Week of Comebacks and More


For the first time in 16 seasons, there will be no English club in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, but Arsenal came mighty close to sustaining that record after a generally unexpected victory at Bayern Munich in a week seemingly impossible deficits were cancelled out though only two sides notably got the required results and made the next stage.

Malaga’s reverie debut season with the elite continues as the Andalucians out-thought FC Porto in a 2-0 home win, qualifying for the last eight with a 2-1 aggregate score and setting up a tantalising clash with enterprising Germans Borussia Dortmund.

Fellow Spaniards Barcelona had a 2-0 deficit to deal with and after only five minutes in the second leg, Lionel Messi scored his first goal from open play against Italian opposition in a most technical fashion, doing a one-two with Xavi before sending a curling effort into Abbiati’s top corner from the midst of four AC Milan players.

That goal for me shows just why the diminutive Argentine is easily loved by many as equally as he is easily despised and for the latter group, winning the World Cup should appease their grievances. But that’s another day’s discussion.

In the present, Messi scored another on the night, David Villa showed he still has it with a fine third before Jordi Alba showed great fitness (EPO induced like the rest of the team is suspected? Ah well) to put the tasty toppings on a sumptuous performance from the Catalans who now face glamour French side PSG in the last eight.

Arsenal needed similar performance against Bayern Munich and though it wasn’t pretty, it was efficient enough to draw level on aggregate. The Gunners’ 2-0 win however wasn’t enough as Bayern went through on away goals where Italian champions Juventus await.

It was the first time this season a team had kept Bayern from scoring at home, it also ended a run of 11 successive victories and 23 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Painfully for the Gunners and gooners, that win (‘gallant’ as the one over Milan last season) will likely mean the obvious need to make the club capable of actually competing for titles rather than the world’s sympathy will yet again be overlooked.

Over at the other north London club meanwhile, overlooking the importance of having a team capable of at least not falling apart without Gareth Bale as it did at the San Siro on Thursday night is what Andre Villas-Boas shouldn’t be doing on his part.

Tottenham Hotspurs’ manager was of the opinion that his side basically do not have to prove its worth without the Welsh talisman in the side, only to go 3-0 down at Inter after regulation time before losing 4-1 after extra time on the night but go through to the last eight of the Europa League thanks to the away goals rule.

With or without Bale, most definitely with Bale, the continued participation of Spurs, along with Newcastle United and Chelsea, in Europe’s second tier competition would be key in keeping England’s coefficients on the up.

The coefficients are points used by UEFA to grade every European league based on each league’s teams’ performances in the Champions and Europa League, so the farther a league’s representative(s) go on the continent, the more points gained in its coefficients.

And more teams from a league going farther is an added advantage for that league, which explains the fuss about no English side making the last eight of the Champions League. Thankfully for the Premier League, there are three teams in the Europa League’s last eight.

There, Spurs have been drawn against Swiss side FC Basel, Chelsea will have to overcome Russian side Rubin Kazan as they look to ‘replicate’ FC Porto that won the Champions League and old UEFA Cup in successive seasons, and Newcastle face Benfica of Portugal in perhaps the toughest draw of the last eight.

As a result, Newcastle’s priority now lies there, making Wigan Athletic favourite to come out winners when the Magpies visit the Latics in one of this weekend’s Premier League fixtures, especially as Wigan are involved in the relegation battle.

In the pick of this weekend’s programme, bottom of the table QPR’s quest to escape relegation continues in a daunting trip to fellow strugglers Aston Villa that lies just a place above the drop zone.

Without saying, a win for QPR, or even a draw for Harry Redknapp’s side is crucial, more so with Reading – in 19th place above QPR only by goal difference – away at league leaders Manchester United.

Elsewhere Arsenal visit Swansea as the Gunners continue their chase for a top four finish, while Everton host second placed Manchester City, Liverpool visit Southampton, Tottenham face Fulham and Chelsea host West Ham United in two London derbies.

Elsewhere in Europe, third placed Bayer Leverkusen host Bayern Munich on Saturday, looking to complete a double on the Bavarians in the Bundesliga and at least postpone the visitor’s inevitable title win.

Personally, looking forward to the start of the Formula One season this weekend in Australia. My favourite driver Jenson Button’s title chances are virtually non-existent with the likes of Lewis Hamilton – now with Mercedes – and Fernando Alonso of Ferrari at the fore to depose reigning champion Sebastien Vettel, a tough ask seeing as Vettel has won the last three championships.

Along with the tennis at Indian Wells, where Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer to reach the semis, along with preliminary stage matches in Africa’s Champions League and Confederations Cup, it is a loaded weekend, as always.

Have a good one.

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2011/12 Season Taught Me…


It’s How Well, Not How Long
It’s become easy for the longevity of some managers career to become inadvertently ridiculed by the exploits of some younging that’s propped from retirement from active football (a.k.a. from nothing) to become a better paid and/or a more acclaimed manager.

Depending on your viewpoint, Wenger’s greatest acclaim would be leading Arsenal through the 2003/04 season unbeaten, or leading the club to 15 consecutive appearances in the group stage of the lucrative UEFA Champions League.

There’s also the favourite of mine, his ability to ‘unearth’ such names as Thierry Henry, Nicholas Anelka, Emmanuel Adebayor and Francesc Fàbregas and make surreal profits off their departures from the club for the club. Hopefully Wenger will skip the economics this time and suceed in extending Robin van Persie’s contract.

All that said, Jose Mourinho was nobody when Wenger ruffled the established order that was Sir Alex Ferguson back in the late 90s. Now, the self acclaimed Special One has so far won the Champions League twice at two different clubs.

While Mourinho’s case is still much palatable to bear; being a ‘nobody’ in the managerial sense, here is Roberto di Matteo who was still active on the field when Wenger ruffled the established order… as was Pep Guardiola.

RDM has a Champions League title to his name, Pep has two to his along with two Club World Cup wins and as many European Super Cups. Wenger? Shishi!

Obviously one cannot discard his managerial abilities but Wenger needs to stop whatever fantasy that is making an inception seem to be the reality of his life and get dead serious with the job of winning trophies again or else, Guardiola, Mourinho et al will become the legends in the game and leave le Professeur to be just a manager respected just because…

At least, Sir Alex can say he’s won the Champions League twice. Wenger will say he lost a final… you see that? Lost? Remember that Valencia team that reached two successive Champions League finals after winning the UEFA Cup? History has them in the “ehyaa” folder, same folder that Arsenal team of 2005/06 is in.

Take Your Chances
Barcelona could have had 100% possession in either of the semi-final legs against Chelsea, yet we all know how that turned out for the Catalans as well as for the Bavarians afterwards.

It can be argued that Chelsea was most fortunate in both affairs but then again, Messi should’ve been a bit more precise with his penalty… or Robben should’ve hit his the other way of Cech.

In other words, all that possession will come to nothing if the team with the ball most of the time doesn’t take the chances when such come its way. And the danger in that is, possessive teams can become profligate in front of goal just because the players believe “we’ll create another chance… “… that’s fatal procrastination and how Real Madrid and Chelsea ‘unfairly’ pipped Barcelona in late April is good proof.

Penalty Won Isn’t Penalty Scored
Lionel Messi hadn’t missed a spotkick all season yet fate contrived to have him miss against Chelsea… Barça lost. A day later, Cristiano Ronaldo scored one in normal time only to see his spotkick during the shootout against Bayern saved… Real lost.

Arjen Robben scored two penalties that day, in normal time and during the shootout. Yet, Cech saved the Dutchman’s penalty in extra time that otherwise would likely have won the Champions League for the German club. He didn’t step up in the subsequent shootout… Bayern lost.

Juan Mata had his penalty saved by Manuel Neuer that night too but his teammates rallied well. Summarily, the very best players can miss six-yard sitters afterall. Even Stewart Downing did on the final day of the Premier League. Sheesh!

Circumstances Can Freeze Good Players Out
For various reasons, a number of exciting players became strangers to the field in the last season. Like movie like series, Jack Wilshere didn’t play a single competitive match. Remember the pre-season friendly Arsenal played against Köln? Remember his combination with Gervinho? I was looking forward to a lot of that but made do with Song’s combo with van Persie instead.

Then there’s Aleksander Kolarov at Manchester City, Stefan Savic as well. Both basically became surplus to requirement at the Etihad, Kolarov more due to Clichy’s consistency and Savic more for being far from the Kompany – Lescott quality.

But at Old Trafford, Berbatov’s quality is known but SAF preferred even Danny Welbeck ahead of the Bulgarian who plays at times like he can’t be bothered so Fergie must have thought ‘why bother the bros?’.

Alan Pardew on his part got Demba Ba FOC from West Ham, bang bang bang he went. Pardew got another Demba from Freiburg in January, bang bang bang Papiss went but at Ba’s expense.

All that banging however meant Leon Best became not the best option, coupled with some injury. Best simply slipped into the ‘memoriam’ folder at the Sports Direct Arena.

Then there’s Park Chu-Young. It’s seeming like Wenger only bought him to piss off Lille that was on the edge of signing him at the start of the season so le Professeur must’ve thought “they didn’t sell me Hazard eh?! Might as well jack their move for Park then!”.

The star of frozen out players though has to be Man. United’s Bebe! Seven million just so he can seldom make appearances… for the reserves?! Investigate away UEFA, please!!

Big Teams Can Lose Real Big
And it’s little wonder the north London clubs finished behind the Manchester ones after the former got shredded on the same weekend early in the last season, the weekend Man. City left White Hart Lane 5-1 winners while Arsenal got done 8-2 at Old Trafford.

Then Man. United lived through the massive, right from the gut spit on the face they got from Mario Balotelli and the rest of the noisy neighbour gang. The Red Devils also got the beat down at Newcastle United while Arsenal scored five to defeat city rivals Spurs and Chelsea in games that produced 15 goals between them.

In all that clash of the titans above, Liverpool instead got the wrath of the not titans in losing to opponents that really should’ve been beaten. They lost to Swansea and Wigan Athletic but those two…

Those two were a nuisance to the big teams with Wigan getting the scalp of Liverpool, Man. United and Arsenal before thrashing Newcastle 4-0. Swansea on their part beat Liverpool, Arsenal and Man. City, and left a mark on Chelsea and United.

Miscelleanous
Oil money is good please, very good. City have won the league, Anzhi stays poaching at the big clubs… they’ll get it right soon. PSG have only itself to blame for Montpellier’s Ligue 1 triumph but we all agree le Parisien is set to dominate the Ligue 1 as Lyon did not too long ago.

Chelsea’s oil money finally won a Champions League and now, I can’t but pray Alisher Usmanov buys enough shares at Arsenal! Praying for some tycoon to buy Lazio and restore the glory days of Sergio Cragnotti albeit without the boardroom troubles.

Further up the Italian league and the Old Lady is back. Unbeaten through the league season and beaten by Napoli to the Coppa Italia means Juventus went through the Italian football season with just a defeat… greatness!

While Juventus seems to be back, along with the promotion of Torino to Lega Calcio; bringing back the Turin derby to Serie A fixtures, Italy waved farewell to a number of fond names there.

Alessandro Del Piero played his final game for Juve in the Coppa Italia final loss while veterans Filippo Inzaghi, Gennaro Gatusso and Clerance Seedorf will leave AC Milan this summer. An emotional end to the Italian campaign all round.

And an emotional campaign it was,especially with the Livorno player (Piermario Morosini) that died of a cardiac arrest. May he rest in peace, amen. Makes Fabrice Muamba’s recovery from same situation all the more appreciated.

To Stay Quiet Till Full Time
No I don’t mean how City win the league in the afterlife, sort of. Someone here had wagered on a Bayern win and (no) thanks to Thomas Müller begun to brag how he’d become N30,000 richer.

We were happy for him… then Drogba equalised!

The End.

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Down to the Last Laugh: Chelsea or Newcastle?


Chelsea welcomed Newcastle United to the Bridge with quite a lot of imperative side stories attached to the encounter between sides gunning for a finish in Champions League places.

Though the Blues are in the Champions League final; where a win over ‘hosts’ Bayern Munich will secure a place in next season’s competition regardless of their league position at season’s end, a win last night would put them a point off 4th place and two off third.

But interim manager Roberto di Matteo had an eye and a bit of the other on this weekend’s cup final against Loserpool as evident with the line-up devoid of Lampard, Juan Mata and the Drog from start.

Admittedly though, Chelsea’s line-up was strong enough with Fernando Torres apparently off the hook regarding whatever kept his scoring boots from him along with Mikel, the midield -eses among others.

As for Newcastle, they came into this encounter off of a thumping from my club of April Wigan. And with Manchester City visiting on Sunday, their performance at the Bridge would largely if we should look forward to a City romp or a thrilling affair.

Papiss Demba Cisse hit a drill past Cech just under 20 minutes and let Kompany and company know what to expect on Sunday. And if they missed that memo, the Senegalese bargain made sure they got the message with a speculative, moment of ‘what the sporting fuck did he just do??’ four minutes into the dozen minutes of stoppage time given.

Alan Pardew’s celebration(s) almost summed it up. Coupled with the goal against Swansea, Cisse in my opinion will get the goal of the season award… apologies to my captain vantastic, you get second place here.

So, with Newcastle coming away 2-0 winners, it’s a three-way fight for two Champions League places in the league along with Arsenal (66points) and the Sillywhites (65points) that is ahead of the Magpies on goal difference.

Here’s the juicy twist though, Chelsea on 61 points isn’t mathematically out of it from the league point of view with two games to play. But last night’s loss makes the date at Munich even more crucial for them and for the three ahead of them.

I’ve always loved Mario Gomez and his crew!

Last night’s result also set up what I hope will be an engrossing encounter between Newcastle and Man. City. I did tweet that City would win the derby but not the league and anything other than a win for City on Sunday would likely vindicate that tweet.

Other Side Stories
Cisse’s brace made it 13 in a dozen for the Senegal international, a record goal return equal with Kevin Phillips and Micky Quinn (BBC).

You have to feel a bit sorry for Demba Ba then, who was denied a goal by Cech’s bar last night to extend his goal drought past the thousand minute mark. Demba’s become a Fernando :(.

Meanwhile, we’ve witnessed a number of scary moments this season and one would’ve thought Mikel Obi had loosened the screws holding Tiote’s head last night.

So the 12 minutes of stoppage time wasn’t a ‘PDP’ move to let Chelsea back in the game (if you didn’t watch the match), though John Terry did see a goal bound effort cleared off the line just before Cisse’s fantasy strike.

While hoping Tiote’s all good, the Sillywhites were kind enough to push Bolton deeper into the relegation water with a 4-1 win at the Reebok… not minding how it’d go with Muamba’s heart.

Either way it was good seeing Muamba in the stadium, his first time in public since his heart stopped while playing same opponent couple months ago.

Over at Firenze though, hearts raged in the 2-2 draw between Fiorentina and Novara. By the end of the night, Delio Rossi had been relieved of his job as Fiorentina manager.

For a neutral, it may have been comical when the incident occured after 30 minutes of the match. With Novara 2-0 up, Rossi substituted Adem Ljajic.

The Serbian, bemused by the sub, applauded his manager’s decision. Rossi was not so pleased by this and menacingly confronted the player down the tunnel.

While it was wrong of Rossi to outrightly lose his cool, I feel the Fiorentina president should have imposed a heavy fine on the manager and player for the confrontation.

Sacking Rossi is a bit heavy handed, especially in light of the Violas sadly precarious place on the Serie A table at 15th position. Que sera…

On a final note, I thought I’d clear it up. Punkenstein is an alter ego of @_deleke, same one that writes occasionally for @goonermemoirs.

Have a pleasant day.

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Retrospects & Prospects


“Some that were with us last year are no more and some that weren’t with us last year live among us now” is pretty much how the year went from my viewpoint, paraphrased from what who-I-can’t-remember-his-name-now said at a public function recently.

Oldest brother got married in February to a nice hybrid of nerd and covergirl and set alight a trail of weddings held during the year with one in June to a beauty, another in September to a fair maiden, two to start and end October, attractive and endowed… and one more in November to a stunner, to round off what became a year of nuptuals.

The children can all like to take semblance of their respective mothers and what do you know, February’s union has been blessed with a child just as the second one that held in October has been blessed too… think of the latter as the result of shots on target from pre-season. These men are no Fernando, so Persic with their execution I tell you.

Obviously the prayer is for the other unions to be just as blessed next year hence, the urge to tag 2012 as the year of the toddlers… leaving me to be uncle to more tots than the two I am one to at the moment… tots? Hmmm…

While we’re nurturing a next generation of the family, it is only appropriate to take a moment and remember the ones who now rest in peace; the aged, the gone too soons/sunset at dawn and even some that lived only a few days or months on earth… bless your souls.

“It never hits until you watch the casket go under” and boy did it hit when her’s went down… rest in peace ‘layo, with your baby. Yours was a most painful loss, coming just days after a wedding from the above for which you played a key part of. Surely you’re in an immeasurably better place.

A place I pray also for those that were taken from life in a most gruesome manner to be, especially through the spate of bombings from you know who over God knows what exactly. And there at the Aso Villa is a figurehead satisfied with reaping the dividends (legitimate until proven otherwise 😦 only to then be let go after the Court’s received its ‘cut’) of presidential life while taking the attacks as just “a burden we would have to bear with”…

I’d rather not delve into how disappointed I am at those who voted olowo ori Patience into office and more so at others who failed to vote because the other candidates “would not win anyway so why bother”, a shallow statement to make from same people that won’t let me hear word when yarns about fuel subsidy, budget and government officials let off the hook after posting ‘farcical’ bails come up… keep deceiving yourselves o.

Writing of deceit, MTN stays ever cursed and probably has taken second place from the Nigeria Police Fu**s as the most cursed organisation in the country, PHCN maintaining top spot as Barcelona currently is when it comes to world football, with or without the spite… *beats palm on Arsenal badge anyway*. There must be a figurine at Peter Hill-Wood’s office seeing as seven years would have passed since a captain lifted a trophy to the heavens 😦

As e bad reach it’s just three Arsenal matches I’ve seen this season, the visits to Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City… all lost. My bp’s improved thereafter though, God knows best *sigh*.

And only God knows why I’ve not seen the movie Inception either *ducks in time to dodge thrown rotten tomatoes*. Wonder what’ll happen when I say I’ll make sure I know how to drive a car in 2012… *makes to scamper off cyberspace*

Compliments of the season as I pray your 2012 is devoid of the Mayans’ theory but full of successes like your life was a box office chart topper as I’m expecting the ‘Dark Knight Rises’ to be. God bless you.

Love, Punkenstein… along with the introvertive Mikho, self explanatory Alcohorlick, d_oA the dual ego -__-, OmoAfonja the razz one, the ever misconstrued Illuminatish, the indifferent one ‘Num, Leksyd the cheerful… and PaGe the new born… okbye!

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