Saturday, June 10, 2017

Is Wojciech Szczesny an upgrade over Petr Cech?

Arsenal have 3 goal keepers who can compete for the top spot in the first team. Petr Cech is undoubtedly the best and the one with most experience at the top. His arrival ensured the rest of the keepers won't be given much playing time. Szczesny made the decision to move out on loan (right move, in hindsight) and Ospina decided to stay back and fight for the spot. 

Wenger made it easy for Ospina to stay back by utilizing him for Champions League and FA Cup games and Cech for league games, thereby giving two keepers to continue playing regularly and compete for top spot. As a result, you now have Cech and Szczesny playing more regularly than Ospina. It's no surprise that Ospina has now decided to move on. 

Arsenal are now left with Cech as no 1 and no one to compete with him. Arsenal are in market for a top goalkeeper. Szczesny can come back but he will now need assurances to more playing time. And he's not the old Szczesny we know. The boy seems to be a man now! His performances seem to suggest so. Juventus are in market for a new keeper after Buffon and seem to be looking at Szczesny. Isn't that his biggest appraisal? The legendary Buffon to be replaced by Arsenal's own. Are we missing a trick by letting go of him, if it actually happens? 

Let's analyze if Szczesny is actually an upgrade over Cech - 

Statistical Comparison between Szczesny (past 3 years) and Cech (past 2 years) - 

Szczesny vs Cech - Statistical comparison - Part 1 of 2

Szczesny vs Cech - Statistical comparison - Part 2 of 2

The biggest argument against Szczesny being Arsenal's no 1 was the fact that he made a significant amount of mistakes at the post and would hand over the advantage to the opposition. He was more leaky in front of the post and his decision making wasn't top notch. But Arsenal knew he was special talent, just not one of the best. But has that changed now? It appears so, if stats are to be believed. Szczesny's clean sheet count over past 3 years show significant improvement. In 2014/15 season, he had 0.18 clean sheets per 90 minutes which went up to 0.24 a year later (on loan) and 0.37 last year. That's about 2 clean sheets in 5 games. It may not be among the best, the improvement is visible. Even the saves count has improved from 1.68 (at Arsenal) to 2.45 (last season). His distribution accuracy has improved, which indicate he is involved more in the game and making less mistakes. Compare these stats with Cech and you realize you are getting a much improved Szczesny compared to a consistent yet slowly diminishing keeper in Cech. 

The biggest attributes that should excite Arsenal management and fans alike are the "defensive errors" and "Errors leading to goals". This is where Szczesny lost out to Cech. He has improved by leaps and bounds here. 0.05 defensive errors mean 1 error in 20 matches. We couldn't relate that stat with Szczesny when he was with Arsenal, could we?  

Conclusion - It won't be right to state that Szczesny is better than Cech, but we must admit he can now be compared with Cech in terms of stats and ability. The loan move to Roma has improved Szczesny to an extent where he can return to Arsenal and stake claim to what was originally his! Also, we need to note that Cech had better defenders in front of him last season compared to Szczesny during his last season with Arsenal. That plays a part too. Now with added support in defense, there is no reason to believe Szczesny can't flourish in an Arsenal shirt. 

Bring back Szcz. We need him.

Stats compiled from Squawka Comparison Matrix - click here for link

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Sead Kolasinac - A statistical comparison

Arsenal just made their first signing. Sead Kolasinac, Welcome to Arsenal! I will admit it was one of the worst kept secrets, but a relief to know that we are in the transfer market this early and making things happen.

Sead Kolasinac is primarily a left back who played for Schalke and is now in the last month of his contract. Arsenal pulled a march on rival clubs who had Kolasinac in their radars. I am sure Wenger was impressed with few factors that helped Arsenal track Kolasinac and finally winning the transfer battle. For one, he is young (23). He is versatile, an attribute that rates highly for Wenger. He can play left back, left centre back in a 3-4-2-1 system (which reaped dividends in the latter part of last season), left wing-back and, if needed, further forward as a left winger. Add to this, the fact that he was available for free transfer was the icing on the cake for Wenger. In more ways than one, he is a young and ideal replacement to an ageing yet effective Nacho Monreal. 

Let's have a look at how Kolasinac fares in comparison to Arsenal left-backs and Danny Rose (included in PFA team of the season as a left back for 2016-17 season) - 

Defensive Statistical Comparison - 

Sead Kolasinac Squawka Comparison Analysis - Part 1 of 2 Defense

From a defensive standpoint, Arsenal have definitely got an upgrade on our existing left back and a player comparable to the current best left of the league. That is quite a statement! Kolasinac is statistically better in many of the defensive attributes in the comparison. He has won 2.22 tackles per 90 minutes and it's better than even Danny Rose. Same can be said about his interception count (3.39 per 90 minutes) and defensive errors (0). He is behind Monreal on blocks count but better than Rose (0.22 v/s 0.31 for Monreal) but you must know that Monreal has played in a centre back role where blocking a shot has more weightage. He has received more yellow cards than Monreal (experience counts) but much less than Danny Rose. His clearance count and fouls committed as the worst in the comparison (which will be the attributes he plan to improve given that he's only 23).

Attacking Statistical Comparison - 

Sead Kolasinac Squawka Comparison Analysis - Part 2 of 2 Attack

A defender's primary and clear responsibility used to be to help teams to concede no / less goals. Anything more was usually a bonus. Not anymore. Defenders contribute to the attacking prowess of the team as well. Kolasinac has scored more goals and provided more assists per 90 minutes than any of the players listed here for comparison - which is definitely a match for a team like Arsenal who is more attack minded. So when Arsenal switches from defense to attack, expect Kolasinac to sprint down from the left side of the field and be ready to support the attackers. His attack score and total score are not the best but definitely comparable to the best that Arsenal has and the best in the league. 

Conclusion - Arsenal have opened the transfer dealings on a positive note. Kolasinac is definitely an upgrade over the existing setup. And with age on his side, expect him to continue his development and get even better. The only downside is his injury background. But Arsenal backroom staff are better equipped in that level going by their performance in the last season (least injuries compared to previous seasons). Some of the Arsenal fans may not be excited by Kolasinac joining and that's primarily due to his transfer amount - 0. But we need to understand, he chose to see off his contract (a sign of loyalty, if you may) and get the best possible deal for himself and his new team. Kolasinac ends up as a winner in this deal and Arsenal joins him in the winning list as well. 

Stats compiled from Squawka Comparison Matrix - click here for link.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Potential departures at Arsenal for 2017-18 season

2016-17 season's done and Arsenal ended up at the fifth position in the league - their worst position in the past 2 decades. That's right, we were always in the top 4 for the past 20 years. It became so routine that fans - within and outside - started ridiculing the consistency. Wenger kept on harping that top 4 in the premier league is nothing short of a trophy in itself. Football fans ridiculed him for this statement. And now, when you see top managers like Guardiola, Klopp and Mourinho fighting for the "coveted" top 4 position, we start to realize that Wenger was way ahead of times. 

This is by no means a defense of Wenger. 

As an Arsenal fan, I admit I am disappointed. We were among the top mid season only to lose out of reckoning the way only we can do. We kept on losing and dropping points and the contenders around us kept on minting points. It reaches a virtual knockout situation and we won 10 out of last 11 games with FA Cup and a 5th position in the league. Tottenham finished above Arsenal for the first time in last 20 years, to add insult to injuries. 

But that's past now. Post that, Wenger signed a 2 year extension. That clears the air regarding the managerial position. The next step is to strengthen the squad - retaining top talent, buying those crucial elements to complete the squad and removing the fringe players. Ozil and Sanchez saga appears to continue. I want them retained. Ox is another player I want to remain with us. He can be a huge asset in the wing back position (more so if Bellerin goes back to Barcelona) and also in his preferred position of central midfield. More on this later. 
Arsenal - which players will be sold this season in transfer window
Let's talk about potential departures. Following players, I feel, might / should be allowed to let go by Arsenal - 

GK - David Ospina: No one wants to play second fiddle in a team. Petr Cech is rightfully the better player and deserves to be no 1 at Arsenal. That doesn't mean Ospina is bad. He is a great player and needs to play often. He will leave, for sure. 

Defender - Gibbs: Gibbs is a long timer at Arsenal but failed to cement the preferred left back at Arsenal. He had his moments when Cole left, but failed to fully capitalize. Wenger then bought Monreal and hasn't looked back since. Monreal can also be the backup centre back in case of injuries or rotation. The only issue with Monreal is his age and Arsenal needed a young left back to compete. Enter Kolasinac. Sadly, that means Gibbs has to leave. 

Defender - Debuchy: Debuchy just didn't fit in at Arsenal. He was expected to replace outgoing Sagna. What made matters worse for Debuchy was the resurgence of Bellerin as the first choice right back. Add injuries and you have a player who hardly made a name for himself at Arsenal. He will leave Arsenal, maybe to France.  

Midfielder - Wilshere: Sometimes you need to make a decision you don't like. Maybe it will end up being a bad decision. But something's got to give. Personally, I am a big fan of Wilshere when in full form. His goal against Norwich is a goal for the ages. His passion for Arsenal is unparalleled. He used to be Wenger's blue eyed boy. I always felt he will truly replace Cazorla and be the future captain of Arsenal. But that is yet to happen. Injuries played a huge part. He had a productive season playing for Bournemouth as a loanee until injured, again. Arsenal needs to let him leave. For his benefit, for his future and for his career. 

Forward - Perez: I made a mistake analyzing Perez' arrival at Arsenal last year. I expected Perez to compete with Giroud for the lone strikers role. Wenger used Sanchez instead. And the plan worked. For Arsenal, not for Perez. Maybe Wenger thought of Perez as a backup option for Sanchez and Giroud. Then Welbeck came back from injury and Perez lost out. It completely backfired for Perez who now wants to leave (and rightfully so). His departure will be a loss to Arsenal, but has to happen. Perez, thank you for that amazing hat-trick in champions league. 

Forward - Sanogo: He didn't fulfill his promises, got injured, contract ends in June this year and will leave. It didn't work out. All the best to Yaya. 

Other players who can be considered in possible departure list include Coquelin (especially if Xhaka cements his position in midfield, Walcott (lots of promises but lacks consistency) , Bellerin (not sure if he has it in him to reject Barcelona). 

Let's see how ruthless Wenger will be in the transfer window. Until next time. 

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Win, somehow win

This Premier League season is one of the most intriguing of them all. And this is despite Chelsea being clear favorites to win the league. Behind Chelsea, there is a mad rush to determine who's most equipped and capable to challenge the best team in this season. Amidst this chaos, even a draw in the last game ensured Chelsea increase their lead from 8 to 9 points. And to make it worse for us Gunners, Spurs rose to second and we moved down to third with Manchester City right behind us. 

It would be a safe argument to say that none of the teams from 2nd to 4th are putting any sort of pressure to Chelsea. The lack of consistency in Spurs, Arsenal and Manchester City is helping Chelsea's cause. But to be fair, Chelsea are in a zone of their own. They are winning the relatively easy games. And they are ensuring the other top teams don't win against them. Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea is a case in point and loss to Spurs and Arsenal are their only blip this season. Also, the teams in the top quarter of the table have to play against each other too. All this plays into Chelsea's hands. It will only be a catastrophe if Chelsea were not to win the league this season. 

One moment can, however, dampen Chelsea's progress. And it could happen on 4th Feb. Chelsea will be hosting Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. They are 9 points apart. A win for Chelsea will stretch the lead to 12 and it will be all over for Arsenal as far as winning the league is concerned (even for the most optimistic fan). A win, however, for Arsenal will close the gap to 6. This is what most of the other teams will be hoping for. A loss won't hurt Chelsea much but will be a huge boost for all other teams in the top 5. Chelsea can mathematically afford to lose thrice and still win the league. 

From Arsenal's perspective, it seems to be a gigantic task. We have been terrible on occasions and sublime on other days. Typical Arsenal in a way! On days, we proved we can beat anybody convincingly (Arsenal 3-0 Chelsea) and on some days, we just couldn't score and win. Draws, when we should have won, have also contributed to our inconsistent performances. Non footballing reasons are also not helping. Ozil and Sanchez are yet to sign an extension. Wenger is keeping every one guessing on his own extension. Horrific performances against Everton, Manchester City and Watford (all 1-2 losses) mean we are now fighting for top 4 once again. Chelsea game will be a turning point for us this season - whatever happens. If we win, we are in it somehow. If we lose, it's back to retaining our top 4 position. A draw will also mean top 4 will be our plan B.

This season we boasted of depth in the midfield so much that Wilshere decided to go out for loan! Who would've thought that we will head into the crucial game against Chelsea with a non-regular midfielder in either Ox or a youth prospect. Santi Cazorla is injured for a long time now. Granit Xhaka is foolishly suspended. Md. Elneny is playing for his country in African Cup of nations and also injured too. Aaron Ramsey injured himself during the last game against Watford. Thankfully, Francis Coquelin is back which is a huge boost. I would love to have Ox team up with Coquelin. Ox had a game to remember against Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League a couple of years ago. In the long term, I still feel either he or Wilshere will be the heir to Cazorla's position. You may not like both of my choices, but I have a gut-feel that our counter attack will be much smarter, quicker and stronger with them in the team and injury free! Of course, for this to happen, we need Coquelin to boss the defensive midfielder role. 

At the back, despite being crappy, our defense picks themselves. Cech will play as #1 despite not being in the best of form. Bellerin should return to right back role. Koscielny, Mustafi and Monreal complete the back 4. Up front, we have a problem of riches. I would love to see Sanchez playing as a striker. Giroud is a great player but his presence completely changes our attacking strategy. Moreover, Ozil and Sanchez have that understanding to find each other when we are in the final third. Walcott will return as the left winger and I would like to see Perez start at left wing. Perez is in great form despite not being played regularly. A start for him against Chelsea will do a world of good for his confidence. 

My playing 11 for Arsenal vs Chelsea 04 Feb 2017

Chelsea's formation of 3-4-3 have been their strength so far. Having 3 centre-backs in the playing 11 gives them extra cover while defending. Kante has been the key piece of the puzzle. He, as defensive midfielder, has been the best so far and has given Chelsea the assurance of having only 3 in defense. Costa, Hazard, Pedro and Moses complete their team from an attacking perspective. It would be rather interesting to see how Wenger tackles this formation. Personally, I feel Giroud will be a liability here as he will have 3 defenders to cope with. To win against such formations, you need to be strong in your counter attacking moves. With Sanchez, Walcott and Perez up front, we are potent there. Welbeck and Giroud and will be great as subs late in the game. Ozil versus Kante will be another battle to watch our for. 

Strategies can be made and discussed at length. But at the end, what matters is those 90 minutes. We need to, somehow, win this game. A draw will favor Chelsea. Nothing other than a win will do. 

Win, somehow win! 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Arsene Wenger and the contract conundrum

Arsene Wenger's contract with Arsenal will be over this June. This is no news to you. Wenger has a 2 year contract extension from Arsenal on the table. This is no news to you either. A sizable section of Arsenal fans want Wenger to leave this June. This comes as no surprise to you, especially if you are part of "that" group (Read: Wenger Out brigade). Arsenal's top two players (Sanchez and Ozil) are having a contract standoff with Arsenal over wages (I presume) and now Ozil has expressed the (main) reason that is preventing him from signing an extension. 

Reason: Arsene Wenger's contract standoff. 

Before we get to that, let's try to understand Arsenal's perception in the footballing world. For the past 2 decades, Arsenal have been managed by Arsene Wenger. Although Arsenal was a popular club back then, Wenger put Arsenal on the world map by his footballing philosophy. In the past 2 decades, Arsenal moved from a top team in the league to a global brand and among the best in the footballing world. A team who were once called the invincibles (49 game unbeaten streak), the unique one-touch passing style (known as tika-taka to some) and a team that plays the most eye-catching football in the world. It's truly a pleasure to watch Arsenal when in full flow. All this was possible because Arsene Wenger made it happen. 

As it stands today, we still play the most beautiful football (the frequency of which has reduced significantly) sans the desired results. The stadium project took a toll on Arsenal's winning ambitions. The ambition was there, the resources and results not so much. But things started to change when we bought Mesut Ozil, one of the best attacking midfielders on the planet. So much so that Cristiano Ronaldo criticized Real Madrid for going ahead with this transfer. Arsenal turned a page into the future. The next year, we bought Alexis Sanchez and the signs of a turnaround was on the horizon. 

Contract signing - Time for Arsenal players to sign the ting - Arsene Wenger

Now here's the interesting part - if you read their first interview after joining Arsenal, they mentioned that Arsene Wenger played a huge part in them joining Arsenal. And it's not only them, many of Arsenal players have said the same. Jack Wilshere considers Wenger as his father figure. Remember, when Wenger's contract was about to be over last time, Wilshere went on record saying he will leave if Wenger leaves. And this statement is coming from a lifelong Arsenal fan in Wilshere. Aaron Ramsey was snatched from the clutches of Manchester United by Wenger. Xhaka was excited to be part of Wenger's project. Cech joined from Chelsea for the same reason. Ok wait, he joined because he wanted to stay in London. But most of the players joined because of Wenger and / or his salesman-like persuasion of the Arsenal project. 

So Arsenal fans, let's accept it - Wenger is a huge part of Arsenal brand. Whether you like it or not. And I don't find anything wrong, given the current situation, that Ozil wants to wait for Wenger's future to be sorted out before committing. As a fan I am not necessarily happy about it, as it should always be Arsenal FC not Arsene FC. But in a corporate setup (and Football is no longer just a game, it's now a full-fledged industry), resources leave their current project for better opportunities which includes money, location and an understanding boss. Arsenal with London as base and Wenger as boss provides a conducive atmosphere for players to play to their potential. If one of the two mentioned cogs (location and boss) are removed, the wheel will find it difficult to move ahead. This is where Arsenal management sans Wenger should come in and restore faith among the players and fans. And the management will have a huge role to play here. One bad decision can destroy the brand and one good decision can elevate Arsenal to levels closer to Real and Barcelona in terms of success. No kidding, it's possible.

I personally want Ozil and Sanchez to sign contract extension sooner than later as the next 3-4 years (in their late 20s) will see them reach their full potential as players. And I want it to happen despite Wenger's contract standoff. I am a Wenger fan and will always be one. I still believe Wenger is not part of the problem but is part of the solution. At the same time, I feel by extending Arsene Wenger's contract, we are delaying the inevitable problem of identifying a successor without impacting the Arsenal ship. Wenger will move on one day for sure. If Arsenal management doesn't have a well laid-out continuity plan, we will fall head over heels like it happened at Manchester United. 

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Arsenal and this January Transfer Window..

The month of riches and creativity has arrived. Not for you and me, I am talking about the Football media groups. Let's have more gossips of players leaving and joining other clubs, about players declining contract extensions and general discontent regarding lack of playing time. In between all of this, you will have a genuine need to strengthen your squad for the challenges that lie ahead. 

English clubs will have an added challenge starting January (Emirates FA Cup). Some teams are in UEFA champions league and some in Europa league. The league cup will end in January with semifinals and finals to go. African Cup of nations will force some teams to add numbers to temporarily replace the outgoing players. Add to that, the injury concerns and sudden availability of top players will force clubs to delve into their rich coffers. 

Arsenal, this season, have been relatively better that previous seasons in terms of injury concerns. Yes, we have lost Santi Cazorla for months at length but we have backups in Xhaka, Coquelin (injured), Elneny and Ramsey fighting for 2 positions at the center. More on central midfield later. Suffice it to say that different combinations were used and have been decent enough to replace Santi. Our defense is now better with top centreback combination of Koscienly and Mustafi, with Gabriel, Mertesacker and Holding as backups. Our strikers are doing good with Sanchez and Giroud having a strong and healthy competition for the lone strikers' role. With Perez and Welbeck returning from injury, our backup in that department is also strong. Number 10 role is owned by Ozil, and I have no complaints there. Iwobi can be used there too. Wingers are also doing reasonably good with Ox, Walcott and Iwobi utilized specifically for these roles and Sanchez and Perez providing healthy competition. Don't get me wrong, there is always scope to improve the squad. But this is January Transfer Window so we can't expect major changes from any of the top teams unless a world-class player suddenly becomes available. 

Areas where Arsenal needs to strengthen in January Transfer Window 2017

Central midfield was finally considered to be the strongest in recent years so much so that we shipped off Wilshere on loan! Cazorla and Coquelin are our best midfield pair. However, both are now injured. Elneny is off to African Cup of nations. This leaves us with Xhaka (great and silly in equal measure) and Ramsey as last men standing. Ox can be used in central midfield too, but am not convinced if Wenger feels the same too. Another injury and we are looking at makeshift options! The situation is demanding enough to warrant for a dip in the market for options. Maybe a longterm replacement for Cazorla (No, Xhaka is not yet there). But, Wenger being Wenger, I won't be surprised if he goes for make-shift options or promotes someone from youth setup for a month till Coquelin returns. 

Another place where I feel Arsenal need to invest is the full back positions. We have one of the best young right-back in Bellerin who appears to first choice right back for a long time to come. But we don't have a suitable backup to Bellerin. This season Gabriel was utilized when Bellerin was out injured. Although he did a decent job, he's still a makeshift option. Rob Holding is considerably young and inexperienced for this role. Debuchy will be sold or will leave on a bosman. Calum Chambers is doing good with Middlesbrough and may be suitable to compete for this position from next season. Maybe he will not. But that's future and is uncertain. What is certain is that we don't have a like-for-like backup to Bellerin. 

Same is the case for left-back position. With Monreal and Gibbs, we have good depth but Monreal is not getting any younger and is bound to tone down his workrate sooner or later. Gibbs has been with Arsenal for quite a while but he hasn't cemented this position yet. Injuries have also taken its toll on Gibbs. Arsenal need to identify a player to replace Monreal when the time is ready and as on date, Gibbs doesn't seem to be that guy. On his part, Gibbs also should be looking for more playing time which means he may look for a transfer too. This is one more reason why we need to concentrate on this position in the near future. Also, Cohen Bramall, if we eventually sign him, is one for the future and definitely not a like-for-like backup.

January Transfer Window is not usually the time to identify long term solutions. It's pretty much quick fix. Arsenal have had exception to this rule and ironically, Monreal is one such example. I am not surprised that Wenger is not looking to be busy this time of the year. But he will do our team a world of good by looking to strengthen the fullback positions. We need genuine like-for-like backups and not a makeshift option. Fight for the title is still not over and we are in three different tournaments for the rest of the season. Addition to the squad will hardly do any harm.

Over to you, Professor. 

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Sanchez' passion is what we need..

Arsenal dug a hole for themselves and at the last minute barely managed to get out of it. Haven't we heard this script before? Against AFC Bournemouth, we were 3-0 down, thanks largely to our defensive lapses. And then came the comeback. 3-1 (Sanchez), 3-2 (Perez, what a goal) and 3-3 (Giroud). We lost out of time to get the winner. I am sure, with the momentum we had, we were just 2-3 minutes away from the winner. 

We got away with snatching a point from the away fixture. In the larger scheme of things, the appropriate narrative is that we dropped 2 crucial points. The battle to the top was steep and we managed to make it worse. The way we conceded all 3 goals was not worth of the champions we intend to be. Bellerin was the culprit for the 1st and 3rd goal and Xhaka became his usual self inside our penalty box. Emotionally, it was a topsy-turvy game and it ended with mixed feelings. What if? That's how it ended for me. 

Anyway, what I got the see post the match completely defines what an Arsenal fan must have felt. We, as Arsenal fans, are used to our team "committing suicide" during the game and then coming back from the dead just before the game is over. As fans, we don't exactly know how to react. Should we be frustrated at what could have been or should we heave a sigh of relief? I think, for me, it's nothing but frustration, despite coming away with an unlikely point. 

Did anyone see Alexis Sanchez' reaction? 

Alexis-Sanchez-left-frustrated-after-Bournemouth-Reuters

That's exactly how I felt after this match and am sure that's how most of the Arsenal fans have felt. Utter frustration! I can see despair and a feeling of loss from other Arsenal players. But Sanchez took it to an altogether different level, a level most of us fans know. Yes, am sure the manager might have felt frustrated, but he never shows. Most of our players might have been dejected, but they appear to move on. The reaction from Sanchez shows he is just waiting to punch on his next opponent. 

Mirror carried an article saying his passion should be the main reason why he should leave Arsenal. They claim he deserves much better. The second point, I agree. He surely deserves much better than a team bottling up chance after chance to be the best. But I have my reservations against the first statement. He should leave because he is more passionate? That's rude towards both Arsenal and Sanchez. I am actually thinking quite the opposite here. I want the remaining 10 players on the pitch to see his dedication and start lifting themselves to his level of passion and dedication. Why can't they? Sanchez is one of those players who, when in full flow, is a treat to watch but when he is completely out of form, his dedication and work-rate makes him a standout player. Compare this with Ozil, Mesut Ozil is pure class when in form but anonymous when out of form.  

Arsene Wenger has a big job on his hands. If he has to retain Sanchez, he will not only have to shell out what Sanchez is asking for but also relieve him of his frustration by making him play with more top-class players rather than developing talents. Arsenal has to evolve more into a world class team rather than a home of developing players who get bought by world class teams. The signs are truly promising with Ozil, Sanchez, Cech, Koscienly in the lineup. But we need more finished products. 

Monday, January 02, 2017

Giroud does a Scorpion!

Did you see that goal Giroud scored against Crystal Palace? 
  • Yes? So, that means you want to see the goal again!
  • No? You gotta see this to believe it!



Thanks to this goal and another one from Iwobi (will do a world of good for his confidence), we defeated Crystal Palace 2-0 in a game of pure dominance and defensive stability. It's good to have a clean sheet after a while. Only regret, we created a lot of chances and should have had 3-4 goals at the minimum. Goal difference might come into play in the end. Just a single point now separates 3 teams from 3rd to 5th. 

This is what Giroud had to say about his goal - "Alexis gave the ball a bit behind me and I tried to take it with my heel. I had maximum luck! Yeah, I had good balance. It was a great feeling, I wanted to score early from Nacho’s cross but I was a bit short. So it’s nice that I succeeded to get a nice one for the team."

It's good that Giroud included luck as one of the factors in his goal. Even if you are the best striker in this world, you still need that little bit of luck to make such a goal happen? To admit that luck is a factor speaks of his modesty. 

This is what Arsene Wenger said about the goal - "It was up there with strikes like Dennis Bergkamp’s wonder-goals against Leicester and Newcastle, as well as Thierry Henry against Liverpool. I think it was an exceptional goal because it was at the end of a fantastic collective moment, which is what our game is about. He transformed that goal into art – because of the surprise, because of the beauty of the movement and because of the efficiency. That will be remembered as the Giroud goal that nobody will forget. People come to the games to see these kind of goals.

Too much praise from Wenger won't do him and Arsenal any harm as far as the contract renewal with Giroud is concerned. Right? Personally, this is one of the top 5 Arsenal goals that I have seen and, believe me, I have seen quite a few world class goals from Arsenal during the past 15 odd years. All in all, a positive day for the Gunners. We scored 2, kept a clean sheet, went back in 3rd place and are now 3 points behind Liverpool and 9 behind Chelsea. Although we are significantly behind the league leaders, we are not giving up without a fight! And who knows, a bad phase of 3-4 games for Chelsea and Liverpool dropping points coupled with us going on a winning spree, we can make it to the top again! Too much of an ask? Maybe. A tall order indeed but nothings over until it's over.

I couldn't have expected for a better start to the new year. Thank you Giroud for this memory.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Can anyone stop Chelsea?

Date: 11th Sepember 2016. Match: Swansea City vs Chelsea. Result: 2-2
Fact: This was the last time Chelsea drew in a Premier League this year.

Date: 24th September 2016. Scheduled Match: Arsenal vs Chelsea. Result 3-0
Fact: This was the last time Chelsea lost in the premier league this year.

Since then, Chelsea have been unstoppable! They have won 13/13 Premier League games and deservedly, are top of the standing with a safe gap of 6 points from Liverpool in 2nd place. In terms of records, Chelsea are now 2nd in the list of winning streaks in Premier League. The list is led by Arsenal's invincibles for 14 consecutive wins (Feb 2002 - Aug 2002). Chelsea are just one win away from equaling the best and 2 away from beating the best winning streak. And to make it interesting, their next two games are against London rivals (Tottenham) and current champions (Leicester City) - both away. Even a draw against Tottenham will break the streak. This game is an irony for Arsenal fans like me who want Chelsea to lose their winning streak but at the same time want Tottenham to lose anything that comes their way! After a lot of contemplation, I guess I will settle for a draw!

Post the match against Arsenal, Antonio Conte reacted by changing the formation to 3-4-3, with 3 Centre Backs and the 2 "wing-backs" for added support in attack as well as defence. This formation has worked wonders for Chelsea and none of the opponents they faced had an answer to this including their very own Jose Mourinho, whose Manchester United were thrashed by Chelsea 4-0. Another feature of this formation is the role of the CDM, who is even more restricted in his movements and, at times, will act as a virtual CB when under attack. In such occasions, you need a strong and disciplined CDM and Chelsea have that in N'Golo Kante. In attack, Chelsea have Costa leading the line flanked by Hazard and Willian. They have surprisingly formed a destructive partnership post the Mourinho era where something just didn't work right. Add the return to starting place for Fabregas as a box-to-box midfielder and Chelsea are now potent in all areas.

Now, let's come back to my original question, can anyone stop Chelsea? At this juncture, even a draw would mean Chelsea dropping 2 points - such has been their form. They seem to have the desire to win every game they play. The fear has started creeping in for the opposition teams and they will start reacting to Chelsea's winning streak by dropping deep (just like with Stoke did, but eventually caved in to pressure). 

Chelsea's next 5 fixtures - 
Chelsea - Next PL matches - screengrab from Fotmob app
screengrab from Fotmob app
From a neutral standpoint, I expect Chelsea-Tottenham to be an even battle and Chelsea will need all their momentum to get 3 points from this match. The reason why I say this is because these are the 2 best defensive teams of the Premier League and if Tottenham have any ambition of winning the league, they will have to stop the gap between them and leaders Chelsea and this could be their match. As it stands today, Tottenham are 13 points behind Chelsea with a game in hand, which would virtually make it 10 points - still a significant gap.

PremierLeague.com standing - Screengrab as on 31st Dec 2016
screenshot from Premierleague.com
If Chelsea wins against Tottenham, then they will breeze past Leicester City, who were patchy at best and would be without some top players due to their participation in African cup of nations tournament. Their next biggest hurdle will be against Liverpool and I fully expect it to be a virtual decider of the season. Assuming Chelsea continue grabbing points every game and Liverpool continue to impress, this game will be explosive. If Liverpool fail to snatch all 3 points against Chelsea, then we can consider Chelsea as the firm favorites to win the league. Then comes Arsenal. We can claim to have the bragging rights over Chelsea this season, something that Chelsea would be least bothered about anyway. To be fair to Arsenal, we had the bragging rights over last season's champions as well (we did a double on them too!). But again, these are just bragging rights and also shows that we were too inconsistent last season as well as this, in terms of competing for the title. 

Its important for the quality of the Premier League that the leader in the table is not too far from the second. There has to be some amount of competition for the top spot. Liverpool are playing well and are the team most likely to challenge Chelsea, followed by inconsistent teams like Manchester City, Arsenal and Spurs. Let's not dismiss the resurgent Manchester United (who are on a 5 match winning streak of their own in the league). But for now, Chelsea fans - rejoice! The rest - we need to buckle up. There's more to be done next year.

Happy New Year everyone! Stay Blessed.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Chinese Super League!

Here's a trivia for you - Who is the highest paid football player? And your options are - 

  • Cristiano Ronaldo
  • Lionel Messi
  • Gareth Bale 
  • None of the above

Most of you would have gone for either Ronaldo or Messi, simply because they are the best and probably deserve the best remuneration too! Your loyalties would have decided your answer. Anyway, the answer is Cristiano Ronaldo. Closely followed by Lionel Messi and Gareth Bale. However, this should not come as a surprise. But guess what, there's a string of players who are joining this group. And they all belong to one league! No, not the English Premier League.


One among them is Carlos Tevez! Who? You'd ask. No, I am kidding. If you follow Football, you would have heard of this strikers name. If you have been a Manchester United fan, a Manchester City fan, a Premier League fan, a Juventus fan, Italian League fan, or even a fan of Argentina, you know him. There's also Oscar, who's popular and highly criticized move from Chelsea showed how money-oriented footballers are over carving a career playing with the top team. I personally don't find anything wrong with Oscar's move. If you were in that situation where you are being offered more money (actually double or even more) for doing the same job with more exposure and opportunity to be a leader, would you decline? At least you would've give a thought. And even gone ahead!

But how did all this happen? Anyone knows about Chinese Super League? I initially thought the American, Chinese and the Indian Soccer Leagues were for players who crossed their prime (late 20's to early 30's). This is probably their swansong phase of football playing career and start of management. But boy, I was wrong. These clubs have big money to spend and a huge untapped market to tap. China and India are the top two countries in the world in terms of population. More population means more eyeballs, more eyeballs mean more viewership, more viewership means more money and eventually more money means more players ready to take the risk of going to an uncharted territory. That's how Tevez got in. He signed for Shanghai Shenhua.

Carlos Tevez, in a rather emotional move, had rejoined Boca Juniors in 2015 - his childhood club from Juventus. This showed the guy has an emotional connection with his childhood club and their fans. And in the process, he opted not to go for another big money move and compromised on his earnings. This is a rarity in Football now-a-days. But then, a couple of years later, he might have thought that emotions wont give him the luxury he had when he played for some of the top clubs. Parity, unfortunately, was restored. Same goes for Oscar and even Hulk!

Many players are now open to the idea of joining Chinese Super League for more money and a new challenge. Tevez, Oscar, Hulk, Lavezzi and among them. These are the players who can still make a mark in the most challenges leagues in Europe and still be among the top. But they chose an option unknown to most of us. Money is definitely a huge pulling factor here. Doesn't that say something about the clout that Chinese league has over other leagues? I won't be surprised if more players decide to take the plunge! We are in for an exodus and as a premier league fan, it disappoints me. But hey, Football is growing rapidly in newer markets and with far greater fan following. This is not bad either.

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