Thursday, 27 April 2017

Predictions For Premier League Gameweek 35

It's that time of the week again when I attempt to predict the outcomes of the upcoming Premier League games. I did reasonably well last week with one perfect prediction, seven correct outcomes and three incorrect, but again those above me in my predictions league fared better as you can see from the table below.

This is the time for fantasy managers who still have their wild card to use it ahead of double gameweeks in the next two weeks. You can't use any of your other chips in the same week as the wild card so it's time to load up with those players who have extra games to play. I still have my bench boost and triple captain to use and I think it's triple captain in Gameweek 36 and bench boost the week after for me.

BadgesThis WeekPTS
 1 (1)  Karl-Yngve Lund 4+1202310
 2 (2)  Rutland Gooner 5+752045
 3 (3)  Wayne Hubbard 2+1101960
 4 (4)  Michael Sheehy 7+651910

Saturday April 29

Southampton v Hull City

3pm BST, St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton

Southampton lost 4-2 at Chelsea on Tuesday night, but they can still be hopeful of finishing as high as eighth. They have only won six of their 15 home games with only the bottom two clubs scoring less goals at home. They have lost their last two games and conceded seven goals in the process, but they shouldn't find Hull as difficult an opponent as City and Chelsea were in those two games.

Manolo Gabbiadini still looks like the best fantasy choice in the Southampton team to me and they have consecutive double gameweeks coming up.

Hull played most of the game against Watford on Saturday with 10 men, but they managed to grind out a crucial 2-0 win. They have only taken five points from their 17 away games and they have scored less and conceded more goals on the road than any other team. Only Seansea have conceded more goals than Hull, but they will hope to get the points they need to stay up from their remaining two home games.

Kamil Grosicki looks like a pretty good choice for fantasy managers, but only when they play at home.

I think Southampton should be good enough to take the three points in this game when you consider Hull's away record.

Prediction: 2-0

Stoke City v West Ham United

3pm BST, BET365 Arena, Stoke

Stoke lost 2-0 away to Swansea on Saturday, but they're still only a point outside the top half of the table. They lost two of their last three home games, but those defeats were against Loverpool and Chelsea and West Ham shouldn't pose the threat those two posed. They have lost five of their last six games though and they failed to score in four of their last seven.

I can't see any Stoke players to make too much of a difference for fantasy managers at the moment.

West Ham drew 0-0 at home to Everton on Saturday and the seven point gap they have over the bottom three should be enough to see them best the drop. They have lost nine of their 17 away games, but only four teams have scored more goals away from home. They have only won once in their last 10 games, but they have two clean sheets in their last three games even if only three other teams have conceded more goals.

I don't think any of the West Ham players are too likely to do much for fantasy managers for the rest of the season.

This looks like being a close game, but I think home advantage will swing it in Stoke's favour.

Prediction: 1-0

Sunderland v Bournemouth

3pm BST, Stadium of Light, Sunderland

Sunderland lost 1-0 away to Boro on Wednesday night and they could be relegated if they don't win this game. They have only won three of their 17 home games with only Boro scoring less goals at home and only Swansea conceding more. They have only taken two points from their last nine games and they failed to score in eight of those games.

I can't see any Sunderland players to recommend to fantasy managers now or for the rest of the season either.

Bournemouth won easily at home to Boro on Saturday and those three points proved to be very important with both Hull and Swansea winning. They have only won two of their 17 away games with only Hull conceding more goals away from home. That win over Boro was their first win in five games and only Swansea and Hull have conceded more goals.

Josh King continues to impress for fantasy managers and has made himself a must have player in the last few months.

Sunderland need something from this game or they could be relegated, but I think Bournemouth will get the better of them and maybe put them out of their misery.

Prediction: 1-2

West Bromwich Albion v Leicester City

3pm BST, The Hawthorns, Birmingham

West Brom didn't play last week, but they benefited from the teams directly below them all losing. They have won nine of their 17 home games, but they have lost three of their last four at home and failed to score in each of those three games. They have only won once in their last seven games and failed to score in six of those games as their season appears to be petering out.

I can't see any West Brom players who might make a difference for fantasy managers for the rest of the season.

Leicester almost got a point at Arsenal on Wednesday night, but their 1-0 defeat leaves them needing one more win to secure their Premier League status for another season. They have only won once in 17 away games with only Hull and Bournemouth conceding more goals away from home and this is their fourth league game in a row away from home. They didn't exactly defend their Premier League title too well and it's difficult to believe they were close to winning the title at this stage last season.

With an extra game to play in two weeks Jamie Vardy has to look like a good option to fantasy managers at the moment.

This looks like being a very close game and the chances are it will end in a draw.

Prediction: 1-1

Crystal Palace v Burnley

5.30pm BST, Selhurst Park, London

Palace won away to Liverpool on Sunday, but lost at home to Spurs on Wednesday and three points in this game would more than likely be enough to keep them up. They have lost more home games than any other team and only four other teams have scored less goals on their home patch, but their recent form at home has been a lot better with only one defeat in five games. They have won six of their last nine games and some of them were against some of the best teams in the league.

Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke have done well for fantasy managers recently and they could do well in this game.

Burnley lost at home to United on Sunday and the end of the season can't come quickly enough for them as they continue to slide down the table. They're the only team without an away win and only Hull have scored less goals away from home. They have only won once in their last 11 games with only Sunderland and Boro scoring less goals and they will hope to insure their survival in their remaining two home games.

As I've said for quite a while now the Burnley defenders are decent fantasy choices, but only when they play at home.

I think Palace's current form suggests they will win this game to insure they beat the drop.

Prediction: 2-0

Sunday April 30

Manchester United v Swansea City

12.00pm BST, Old Trafford, Manchester 

United won away to Burnley on Sunday and then drew 0-0 at City on Thursday night to stay fifth in the table. They have only won seven of their 17 home games with nine draws in those games and only Spurs have conceded less goals at home. They are unbeaten in 24 league games with 11 draws in those games and they have only conceded one goal in their last six games. 

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic injured the United player to have could be Marcus Rashford while their defenders have all done well recently too.

Swansea won 2-0 at home to Stoke on Saturday, but they're still in the bottom three after Hull won their game too. They have lost 13 of their 17 away games with only Hull, Bournemouth and Leicester conceding more away goals and they gave lost their last six games on the road and failed to score in the last three. Only Sunderland have lost more games with no other team conceding more goals and they will hope to get something from the three games after this in their attempt to stay up.

Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente returned to form for Swansea last week and they are the Swansea players to have for fantasy managers if Swansea are going to stave off relegation. 

Despite their numerous draws at home and current busy schedule I think United will take the three points in this game.

Prediction: 2-0

Everton v Chelsea

2.05pm BST, Goodison Park, Liverpool

Everton could only draw 0-0 at West Ham last week and the chances are they will finish seventh. Only the top two have won more home games and only three teams have scored more goals at home and they have won their last eight home games, scoring 29 goals in the process. Their chances of a top six finish are fading as the games run out, but only three other teams have conceded less goals.

Romelu Lukaku has been in great form for fantasy managers in home games in particular, but they only have one home game left after this game.

Chelsea beat Southampton 4-2 on Tuesday night and they progressed to the FA Cup final by beating Spurs last Saturday. No other team has won more games away from home, but they're not among the top scorers on the road despite all of those wins. Their lack of draws are one of the reasons they have a four point lead at the top of the table and only Liverpool have scored more goals.

Eden Hazard is in sparkling form for fantasy managers at the moment while Diego Costa retuned to form against Southampton.

This looks like being a very close game and I think Everton might just open the title race up by taking a point off Chelsea.

Prediction: 1-1

Middlesbrough v Manchester City

2.05pm BST, Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough

Boro lost heavily at Bournemouth on Saturday, but their 1-0 win at Sunderland on Wednesday night kept their slim chances of staying up just about alive. Only the two Manchester teams have drawn more games at home and no other team has scored less goals on their own patch. No other team has drawn more games than Boro and the win against Sunderland was their first win in 17 games with no other team scoring less goals.

I can't see any Boro players to interest fantasy managers for the rest of the season.

City lost their FA Cup semi final to Arsenal on Sunday after extra time and could only draw 0-0 at home to United on Thursday night. No other team has won more away games than City and they're the highest scorers away from home too. They have only won twice in their last seven games, but they have kept clean sheets in their last two.

Sergio Aguero continues to impress for fantasy managers while Leroy Sane hasn't done too badly recently either.

I think City's away form should be too much for Boro and they will take the three points with relative ease.

Prediction: 0-3

Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal

4.30pm BST, White Hart Lane, London

Spurs lost their FA Cup semi final to Chelsea on Saturday, but they bounced back to win 1-0 at Palace on Wednesday night and keep the pressure on Chelsea at the top of the table. They have won more home games than any other team and they have won their last 12 games on their own ground with no other team scoring more goals at home. They have won their last eight games with 23 goals scored in those games and clean sheets in five of them.

Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Heung-Min Son and the Spurs defenders are all excellent fantasy choices at the moment.

Arsenal just about managed to sneak a win at home to Leicester on Wednesday night to finish a good week which saw them reach their third FA Cup final in four seasons. They won their last away game at Boro, but they had lost the previous four and they have conceded more away goals than the rest of the top six with only City scoring more away goals.

With two double gameweeks coming up the Arsenal players are looking very attractive to fantasy managers with Alexis Sanchez by far the best of them.

As always I'm predicting an Arsenal win in this game no matter how unlikely that scenario might seem.

Prediction: 1-2

Monday May 1

Watford v Liverpool

8pm BST, Vicarage Road, Watford

Watford lost at Hull on Saturday and they have very little left to play for between now and the end of the season. They have only lost five of their 17 home games and they have won their last three at home without conceding a goal. They have scored less and conceded more goals than any other team in the top half of the table and they will do well to finish in the top 10.

Troy Deeney had been in good form for fantasy managers recently, but it's hard to recommend players from a team whose season is as good as over.

Liverpool suffered a surprise 2-1 defeat at home to Palace on Sunday and it put a big dent in their top four ambitions. They have won just less than half of their 17 away games with only City and Arsenal scoring more goals on the road. Their defeat against Palace was their first in eight games and they're the top scorers in the league with what looks like easiest run in of the teams chasing a top four finish.

Phillippe Coutinho has been the best of the Liverpool players recently for fantasy managers with Roberto Frimino doing quite well too.

I think Liverpool's need for points might just give them the edge in a very close game.

Prediction: 1-2

That's it for this week.

See you next week.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Arsenal v Leicester City Preview

After a great FA Cup semi final victory over Manchester City on Sunday it's back to Premier League action when reigning champions Leicester City come calling to the Emirates Stadium. Leicester haven't exactly defended their title in style and it's only in recent weeks where they have managed to pull away from the relegation zone. As it stands they are six points above third from bottom Swansea and Swansea only have four games left to play. They did of course reach the last eight of the Champions League and only went out to last year's runners up Atletico Madrid by a single goal. 

They did better in the Champions League than Arsenal have done in seven years, but they struggled badly to live up to the heights they reached last season. Their home form hasn't been too bad, but they have only won once in 16 away games with only Hull and Bournemouth conceding more goals away from home. If Arsenal are going to keep their top four hopes alive Leicester are a team they quite simply have to beat.

The teams drew 0-0 when they met in Leicester earlier in the season and there are plenty of points of interest in the game. Jamie Vardy came very close to joining Arsenal from Leicester last summer and I have no doubt the Arsenal fans will give him the reception they feel he deserves. Leicester only lost three league games last season and two of them were against Arsenal, but a mid season collapse meant Arsenal had to settle for second place in the end.

This season hasn't gone as well for Arsenal and they will have to finish very strongly if they are going to retain their regular top four place. They have seven league games to go before they play Chelsea in the Cup Final and seven wins would guarantee them a top four finish. Some of those games are decidedly difficult though and to win all of them would be a tough task if Arsenal were playing at their very best.

They have been far from their best for a long time now though and it would be a brave person who truly believed they will win all seven games. Their record against the rest of the top seven this season has been abysmal with only one win in nine games and three of their last seven games are against teams in the top seven. After Leicester they make the short trip to Spurs on Sunday and they still have to play at home to both United and Everton.

The experiment with three at the back seems to be progressing nicely and we certainly looked like a stronger unit against City than we have done in quite a while. The players also showed some belief and mental strength to come from behind to win even if they did ride their luck a little at times. Those qualities will have to be shown in abundance for the rest of the season if the team are going to reach the goals they have left.

The extra time the players had to play on Sunday could have an effect on some of them and could lead to a few changes in the team. While we were working our socks off to repel City the Leicester players were taking it easy and preparing for this game. I'm sure they would be more than happy to get one over on us and more or less put the final nail in our top four chances.

Arsene Wenger has a few options available to him with players like Mohamed Elneny, Danny Welbeck, Francis Coquelin, Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott all looking to get a chance. I don't think he will make too many changes from the City game though and hopefully the players can show more of the spirit they showed on Sunday. It's going to be very tough to finish in the top four and I honestly don't think we will make it, but I don't think our chances will be killed off in this game.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Monday, 24 April 2017

We're The Famous Arsenal And We're Going To Wembley

I have no problem admitting when I'm wrong and I got a few things wrong in my preview of Arsenal's FA Cup semi final with City. Firstly I questioned the mental strength of the team and they proved that they do have some of it by coming from behind to win 2-1 in extra time. I also questioned the three (or five) at the back formation, but it looked a lot better against City than it did in the second half in particular against Boro.

We may have had to defend in depth and in numbers too and we may have rode our luck more than a little at times, but I thought we just about deserved the victory. City can complain all they like about some questionable decisions by the referee, but all of the decisions didn't go in our favour and I didn't hear them complaining when they beat us 2-1 earlier in the season thanks to two offside goals. That game was one of those that destroyed our confidence and started the rot which has seen us fall so badly away in the race for the top four.

Our chances of a top four finish took a turn for the better yesterday though when Liverpool lost at home to Palace to leave us thinking we have a slight chance of making next season's Champions League. We have eight games left this season and if we win them all we will finish in the top four and lift the FA Cup too which means it's not all exactly doom and gloom. We can't get our hopes too high though because there are some very tough games in there and we're still a long way from a good team far too often.

All of our problems haven't suddenly gone away overnight thanks to a win over City, but there are definite signs of improvement. Rob Holding has taken his chance with both hands and he has to be pushing to keep his place in the team when Shkodran Mustafi returns from injury. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had another very good game against City and it appears playing as a wing back might just suit him.

I still think we need to be more mobile up front if we're going to play three central defenders and Olivier Giroud doesn't exactly possess the pace to hit teams on the break. Surely playing Alexis Sanchez in the central striking role makes more sense as it's where he can have the maximum impact. I understand the thinking behind Giroud at centre forward with the formation we're playing, but we still don't get the crosses into the box to suit his needs. When Chamberlain or Nacho Monreal get into a good position they're far more likely to pull the ball back for somebody to run onto.

I wasn't so sure of Aaron Ramsey playing alongside Granit Xhaka and I thought Mohamed Elneny would be a better option, but Ramsey looked like he might be growing into the role against City. I also mentioned that City are the team most like us in terms of their ability to mess things up for themselves and all they have left to play for now is a top four place and next season's Champions League. If we're going to make it ourselves we need to overhaul two of City, Liverpool and United before the season ends.

That quest starts at home to Leicester on Wednesday night and continues at Spurs on Sunday and we quite simply have to win both games. Leicester will be no pushover after their recent upturn and the thought of ending Spurs hopes of winning the league on Sunday has to be one the players should be looking forward to. They showed a real vulnerability in losing their cup semi final 4-2 to Chelsea on Saturday and we need to find a way to take advantage of that vulnerability.

For the moment though we can wallow in the glory of our victory and the knowledge of a trip to Wembley for the Cup Final to come on Saturday May 27. Tickets won't be quite so easy to access as they were for the semi final and I have no doubt plenty of those who decided not to go to the semi final will grab the chance to go to the final. We have the chance to set a couple of records that day and hopefully we can do just that.

No matter where we go from here though I still think it's time for Arsene Wenger to go and that won't change even if we win the cup and finish in the top four. Scraping through by the skin of our teeth isn't enough any more and we need to be putting in a genuine challenge. I just can't see that happening under him any more and for me that means it's time for change. Sadly I think winning our way to the cup final will probably be what tips the scales in his favour when it comes to signing a new contract regardless of whether we finish in the top four or not.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Can Arsenal Show Their "Mental Strength" Against City

Time and again we are told of the mental strength the Arsenal players possess when they manage to overcome a hurdle and take a point or even three from a game. Of course every team faces setbacks no matter how good they are and their mental strength is shown in their reactions to those setbacks. Arsene Wenger is very fond of telling us of his players' mental strength, but I just cannot see it.

A team with mental strength simply could not be as brittle as Arsenal every time they concede a goal. All it takes is for the opposition to score against them and the whole team as a unit become almost visibly afraid. We are almost as vulnerable when we have conceded as when we score and it happens in game after game.

When we suffer a bad defeat or a surprise defeat to a so called lesser team it can take weeks for the players to even approach the level expected from a team who should be challenging for trophies. Since we lost at home to Watford in January we have spiralled from one crisis to another with the odd unconvincing victory thrown in to avert a full blown collapse. From a position where we were in the last 16 of the Champions League and challenging for at least second place in the league we are now faced with the FA Cup as our only route to success.

To make matters worse for Arsenal it's Spurs who have gone a great run and put the sort of pressure on Chelsea that has made them stumble. It's a sad day for an Arsenal fan when you are happy to see Chelsea win an FA Cup semi final because the alternative was so impalitable. If Arsenal were to somehow manage to beat City today I would have had very little confidence in their ability to beat Spurs if they had reached the final despite Spurs terrible record at Wembley this season.

The FA Cup draw has been very kind to us so far to say the least, but that ends today when we play a City team who have fared only slightly better than us so far this season. Their only chance of a trophy this season is the FA Cup too, but they are far more likely than us to at least qualify for the Champions League. Their mental strength has been called into question too this season, but their manager will be cut a little more slack as it's his first season in the job.

Our manager seems to think he can redeem the season and get the fans back onboard if he can deliver his third FA Cup in four seasons and seventh in his almost 21 years at the club. If he was somehow to scrape into fourth place and win the FA Cup that might be the case with some fans, but I believe the vast majority believe at this stage that the club needs to move on and part ways with him. I still don't want to see him get the bullet, but if he can't see the writing on the wall then that might be the only option.

I'm not laying all the blame for our woes at his door of course and we all know how unfit for purpose the upper echelons of the club are too. We have a majority shareholder who doesn't seem interested in the footballing side progressing as long as his investment continues to gain value and all those in between him and the manager are almost invisible in their inaction. We have at least spent some money in the last few years, but the players needed to advance the squad never arrived and the only change that we can have any chance of achieving is in the management.

Our manager seems to have fallen so far behind the tactics and football needed to win in the game as it is that he cannot be allowed to continue in the job. Opponents do their homework and prepare for us so they know how to combat us as well as how to put pressure on us in the places where we can't handle it. We have been completely out thought by both Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce in recent weeks and they are hardly master tacticians. 

Not only do our opponents know exactly how to combat us, but the reverse just isn't true. It's as if the players haven't been briefed on the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition before every game and that can only come down to one person. If they have been briefed then it hasn't been done correctly and if they haven't then it's incredibly arrogant to think all that matters is what we do with the ball and not what the opposition do.

The players have some responsibility to bear too of course and too many of them have gone missing when they were needed most. Our injuries have been better than they have been for a long time this season, but the same old failings still come through game after game. It's not a personell issue because it happens no matter what team plays which leads us back to the leadership which just isn't right on and off the pitch.

I still want Arsenal to win every single game they play and I would be as delighted as the next fan if we win the Cup and finish in the top four, but it won't change my opinion on the manager. Even if we do manage to somehow make them both happen I think he should see that as the ideal way to sign off on a high and give the club a chance to move on to a new era. Everything comes to an end and it would at least be a good thing to end his reign on a high rather than the low which we seem to be crashing and burning towards.

As for the team today, I think he has to play the strongest team possible despite having a league game against Leicester on Wednesday night. I think that should mean a midfield pairing of Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny which gives a much more stable basis to build on than having Aaron Ramsey in the team. I also think Alexis Sanchez has to go back to the central strikers role and we need players who can hit City with pace on the break which means there should be no place in the team for Olivier Giroud.

I don't think the experiment with three (or five) at the back at Boro was any better than we have seen in other games and we were still just as vulnerable as ever once they equalised. They are heading for relegation and can't score a goal for love or money, but we had to ride our luck when the game was at 1-1. A win is a win though and a defeat in that game would have left us in absolute turmoil before going into today's semi final.

We are capable of beating City even if we were more than a little lucky to draw 2-2 at home to them a few weeks ago. The players are well used to the Wembley surface and atmosphere as they have played there so often in recent seasons and there is some hope of a Cup Final to look forward to. Maybe the players will finally show their mental strength, but I won't be holding my breath.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.