Friday, 11 August 2017

Arsenal v Leicester City Preview

Was it just me or did the summer seem to drag out longer than usual as we waited patiently for the new football season to come around. It makes it's return tonight when Arsenal play at home to Leicester and I can't wait for the game even if it is on a Friday night. I still can't say I think Friday night league football is a good idea, but Arsenal did have their greatest ever victory on a Friday night back on May 26th 1989.

Transfer activity has stalled for Arsenal since the arrival of Alexandre Lacazette with him and Sead Kolasinac the only arrivals so far. As difficult as it has been to buy new players it's been even harder to offload players and we have a squad that looks too big if that's possible. Even with a squad that looks too big we still have a few issues and time is running out with a top class central midfielder needed as soon as possible.

At the moment our options in the centre of the park are limited with Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka as the first choice duo and Mohamed Elneny, Francis Coquelin, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla in reserve. Cazorla is injured with no certain return date while Wilshere is never too far away from his next injury and the chances of Ramsey not missing a large chunk of the season through injury are slim. Coquelin is injured at the moment and even when he returns he is limited in what he can do while Arsene Wenger showed virtually no trust in Elneny in the second half of last season and is rumoured to be willing to let him leave if the right offer comes in.

That leaves an awful lot of pressure on Xhaka and hopefully his disciplinary record can improve this season. He struggled to adjust to the Premier League for much of last season, but I think we will see a better player this season who is more clued into this league and who will also be utilised better by the manager. We need to bring in a player who can fit in with either Xhaka or Ramsey, but who he is and what he will cost is another matter.

Anyway I digress and I should be looking at the game with Leicester tonight and the team which we will be playing. Alexis Sanchez will miss out because of a slight knock he picked up before the Community Shield if you believe what we are told, but the smart money might be on him "making himself unavailable"as he pushes to leave the club. I hope that's not the case, but I have a horrible feeling that's exactly what's happening.

Laurent Koscielny is suspended so that's another one of our first choice players unavailable with Gabriel Paulista, Cazorla and Coquelin obviously out too. There are real doubts over Mesut Ozil, Ramsey, Per Mertesacker and Shkodran Mustafi too and suddenly it looks like we're struggling to put out a strong team. We haven't started well in recent seasons and we need to get three points on the board.

Without all of those players the manager will have to get a little creative and play both Nacho Monreal and Kosalinac as part of the three central defenders. That would leave Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as the left wing back and Hector Bellerin on the right with young Rob Holding as the third central defender. It's certainly a makeshift defence in the centre in particular and those players are going to have to be switched on for every minute of the game. 

The rest of the team would probably be the same as it was in the Community Shield and we played well against Chelsea, but it wasn't a competitive game in the true sense. The pace against Leicester will be a lot faster and the tackles a lot harder too with no quarter asked or given. I can't remember the last time we looked prepared for the opening game of the season and that's something that needs to change.

Leicester have some injury problems of their own and they will want to get the season off to a good start too after a very disappointing season last season. They didn't exactly defend their title from the previous season too well, but they did recover when Craig Shakespeare replaced Claudio Ranieri and managed to finish twelvth. With no European distractions this season they will at least want to put some pressure on the teams chasing for those European places.

With the rest of the games not taking place until Saturday and Sunday we have a chance of showing everyone else what we can do before they play. With the right attitude and concentration we should be too good for Leicester once we arrive ready to play. It's going to be a long hard season and the league can't be won in August, but it certainly can be lost by the end of September.

Usually by now I should have written my season preview, but in recent seasons there has been no point in writing it until the transfer window has closed. I can't see this season being any different with so many possible changes to our squad and to other clubs too. With a dreaded international break at the end of the month it seems like the perfect opportunity to write my preview and hopefully it can be a fairly positive one.

At the moment I'm somewhere in between positive and negative and it seems to change by the day. I don't think we can win the league with our current squad and that's really what it's all about, but that could change with the right additions and if Alexis stays. I do think we can and will beat Leicester and I just hope I'm proven right.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Predictions For Premier League Gameweek One

The new season is upon us and with it we have the return of my Premier League Predictions. As per usual I will give my predictions for every single Premier League game from here to the end of the season and a few tips on which players I think might be of interest to fantasy managers. I've been doing this for far too many seasons now and the chances of me stopping are somewhere between slim and none.

My Fantasy Premier League mini league will be running again this season and as usual there will be €50 to the winner. You can find the details of how to sign up to play here and join my league with the code 57957-16522 when you are up and running. Anyone who was in it last season will automatically rejoin once they set up a team and good luck to all who choose to play. I'll also be running my predictions league again this season with weekly updates here and you can sign up to play here and join my mini league with the code tq3c5 when you are up and running. 

Friday August 11

Arsenal v Leicester City

7.45pm BST, Emirates Stadium, London

Arsenal failed to finish in the top four for the first time in Arsene Wenger's reign last season and they will have to cope with Europa League football on Thursday night's as they attempt to challenge for the league this season. They only lost two of their home games last season with only the top two taking more points at home and only Spurs and United conceding less goals at home. If they're going to put in a genuine title challenge they still have some strengthening to do before the transfer window closes and they will have to hit the ground running too.

Alexis Sanchez was the top performer for fantasy managers last season and it's hard to look past him again this season as long as Arsenal hold on to him while Alexander Lacazette, Aaron Ramsey and Hector Bellerin are worth considering too.

Leicester didn't defend their title too well last season, but they will hope to do better than twelfth place without the distraction of European football this time around. They only won two of their away games last season with only Watford and Hull conceding more away goals. If they're going to improve this season that away form is going to have to be an awful lot better.

Jamie Vardy should definitely be considered by fantasy managers while Kelechi Iheanacho might be an option too with Riyad Mahrez also a possibility and maybe even rotating a Leicester defender into your team when they are playing at home.

I think Leicester will give Arsenal a bit of a scare, but Arsenal will ultimately take the three points with a couple of goals to spare.

Prediction: 3-1

Saturday August 12

Watford v Liverpool

12.30pm BST, Vicarage Road, Watford

Watford finished only one place above the bottom three last season, but they did have six points to spare over the relegated teams. They won more games than they lost at home last season and new manager Marco Silva will be hoping to get them a lot closer to a mid-table finish this time out. They could have their work cut out trying to stay up though and it could be a long hard season for them.

At the moment I can't really see any Watford players who might interest fantasy managers, but that might change if Silva can work his usual magic at home.

Liverpool managed a top four finish last season and they could find it hard to maintain a challenge in the league with Champions League football to play. Only Chelsea lost less games away from home than Liverpool and only Chelsea and City took more points on their travels. They have brought some new players in, but they will need to keep hold of Phillippe Coutinho if they hope to make a real impression this season.

If Coutinho stays he's a good option for fantasy managers along with Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Frimino and maybe even James Milner if he takes their penalties again this season.

I think Watford will be far from a pushover, but Liverpool should have too much firepower for them.

Prediction: 1–2

Chelsea v Burnley

3pm BST, Stamford Bridge, London

Chelsea won 30 of their 38 league games last season and won the title with seven points to spare. They won 17 of their home games and scored more goals than any other team at home, but Spurs did take more points at home. There's been plenty of changes at Chelsea so far this summer with more still to come and they need to get their squad settled as soon as possible to have any hope of matching last season's heroics.

Both Willian and Cesc Fabregas could do well for fantasy managers, but neither of them are certain starters while their defenders did very well last season, but not so much towards the end of it and Alvaro Morata will do well to match Diego Costa's performance.

Burnley finished two places and six points above the bottom three last season after a pretty poor run in. They won 10 of their home games last season and took all but seven of their points on their home patch. They have added to their squad from last season, but the loss of Michael Keane to Everton was a blow and avoiding the drop has to be their priority yet again this season.

Burnley defenders did very well in home matches last season and it could be worth considering Ben Mee, Stephen Ward or Tom Heaton to rotate in and out for their home games.

Despite arriving at the new season in a somewhat unprepared state Chelsea should still have too much for Burnley and should win with a few goals to spare.

Prediction: 3-0

Crystal Palace v Huddersfield Town

3pm BST, Selhurst Park, London

Palace were at the wrong end of the table for too long last season and only finished seven points above the relegated teams. Only two other teams took less points than Palace at home last season and they will have to improve on their own patch if they are going to do better this time. Their squad isn't too different from last season, but they will hope to get the best out of their more high profile players.

Wilfried Zaha finished last season very well and has to be a consideration for fantasy managers while Ruben Loftus-Cheek is a cheap alternative who just might flourish.

Huddersfield somehow or other managed to get promoted last season despite only scoring one goal in their three playoff games. Like any newly promoted team their home form will be crucial and they could find themselves struggling at this level away from home. They have invested in their squad for this season, but anything other than going straight back to the Championship would be a great achievement for them.

I can't see any Huddersfield players to recommend to fantasy managers at the moment, but that might change as the season progresses.

I think Palace should be good enough to win this game and get their season off to a positive start.

Prediction: 2-0

Everton v Stoke City

3pm BST, Goodison Park, Liverpool

Everton finished seventh last season and they had fifteen points to spare over eighth placed Southampton. Only Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal won more home games than Everton last season with only Spurs and United conceding less goals at home. They have invested heavily in the squad for this season, but it remains to be seen if they can replace the goals of the departed Romelu Lukaku. 

With Lukaku gone the Everton players to impress for fantasy managers could possibly be Wayne Rooney or Leighton Baines while Davy Klaassen could be an outside bet.

Stoke finished pretty much in mid-table last season after a slow start to their season. They didn't do as well as expected at home with only seven wins and they will need to improve on their own ground this season. Their additions have been fairly uninspiring so far and they have a bit of work to do to get their squad in shape for the new season.

I can't see any Stoke players who might make an impression for fantasy managers this season unless they come up with a new player or two to add to the team.

I think Everton will continue their good home form from last season and win this game with a couple of goals to spare.

Prediction: 2-0

Southampton v Swansea City

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

Southampton managed to finish eighth last season, but they were nowhere near seventh placed Everton. Only three other teams took less points at home than Southampton last season with only Sunderland scoring less goals at home. They haven't really added much to their squad from last season with the exception of yet another new manager in Mauricio Pellegrino.

Southampton's defenders look attractive to fantasy managers with Cedric Soares, Ryan Bertrand and Fraser Forster worth considering while Nathan Redmond and Manolo Gabbiadini are possibilities too.

Swansea finished 15th last season, but they were right in there in the midst of the relegation fight far too long. They lost 13 of their away games last season and only five other teams conceded more goals away from home. If they are going to avoid the drop again this season it's crucial for them to hold on to Gylfi Sigurdsson, but they could be fighting a losing battle on both fronts. 

If he stays Sigurdsson is always a good choice for fantasy managers while Fernando Llorente is worth considering when he comes back from injury and Angel Rangel is available at a very good price.

Southampton need to improve on their home form of last season and I think they will get off to a good start with the three points in this game.

Prediction: 2-1

West Bromwich Albion v Bournemouth

3pm BST, The Hawthorns, Birmingham

West Brom just about squeezed into the top half of the table last season after a fairly poor end to their season. They won more games than they lost at home last season, but only three other teams lost more games at home. Their signings so far have been far from impressive and like a few other teams they need to strengthen their squad before the transfer window closes.

With Ben Foster available at a good price he's very popular with fantasy managers even if he didn't set the world alight last season.

Bournemouth finished in the top half of the table last season and only six teams scored more goals than them. They won nine of their 19 home games and there were more goals in their stadium than any other with the exception of Stamford Bridge. They have added players who should make their team stronger, but it will still be an achievement if they stay up.

With Josh King listed as a striker he might not be as popular as last season with fantasy managers while Charlie Daniels still looks like a good option despite all the goals that Bournemouth let in.

I think this will be a very close game and the chances are it will end in a draw.

Prediction: 1-1

Brighton & Hove Albion v Manchester City

5.30pm BST, AMEX Stadium, Brighton

Brighton finished just behind Newcastle last season to gain automatic promotion to the Premier League. They had a good record at home last season and look quite solid defensively on their own patch. Like Huddersfield this is a big step up for them and their main aim for the season will be to avoid relegation. 

It's not so easy to see which Brighton players might do well for fantasy managers, but their defenders could do well at home and Anthony Knockaert is the best option besides those defenders.

City started so well last season, but they had to settle for third place a distant 15 points behind Chelsea. They only lost one league game at home, but their seven draws cost them an awful lot of points with only United drawing more games at home. They have invested heavily this summer and still haven't finished yet which has to make them favourites to win the league.

Kevin de Bruyne is probably the City player most likely to perform for fantasy managers, but there are so many more to choose from such as Kyle Walker, Leroy Sane, Gabriel de Jesus and Sergio Aguero as long as Per Guardiola doesn't rotate too much.

I think City will get off to their customary good start and win this game with a few goals to spare.

Prediction: 0-3

Sunday August 13

Newcastle United v Tottenham Hotspur

1.30pm BST, St. James's Park, Newcastle

Newcastle bounced straight back to the Premiership by winning the Championship last season. They should never have been allowed to reach the point where they were relegated and they will need to get as many points as possible at home to make sure it doesn't happen again. They still haven't added the class of players they will need to make sure they don't get caught up at the wrong end of the table, but there is still time left for them to do so.

Matt Richie looks like he might do well for Newcastle as he is on set piece duty while Rob Elliot is a good option as a reserve goalkeeper at a good price if he plays.

Spurs fell just short last season and their 86 point haul could easily have taken the title in another season. They won less than half of their away games last season, but only City scored more goals on the road and only Chelsea conceded less. They haven't added to that squad though and the loss of Kyle Walker to a rival will only have weakened them.

Despite no new arrivals yet there are still plenty of very good fantasy options in the Spurs team with Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen all very good choices and their defenders well worth a punt too.

Newcastle will want to get their return to the top flight off to a good start, but I think Spurs will be too good for them.

Prediction: 1-3

Manchester United v West Ham United

4pm BST, Old Trafford, Manchester

United could only finish sixth in their first season under Jose Mourinho, but winning the Europa League at least qualified them for the Champions League. They only lost one of their home games last season, but they drew 10 of them and only Spurs conceded less goals at home. They have spent plenty of money yet again and will be expected to put in a much better title challenge this time around.

Romelu Lukaku has scored plenty of goals elsewhere and must be a firm favourite to do so for United too while their defenders, goalkeeper and possibly Paul Pogba all looked quite good too.

West Ham just missed out on a top 10 finish on goal difference last season, but they did flirt with the wrong end of the table for a while. They only won five of their away games last season, but only five other teams scored more away goals and they scored a lot more goals on the road than they did at home. They will hope the additions to their squad will help them to a higher finish this season and they might even challenge for a European place.

The arrival of Javier Hernandez has proved quite a hit with fantasy managers while Robert Snodgrass, Manuel Lanzini and Michail Antonio could all do well too.

United need to hit the ground running and I think they will take the three points, but it won't be as easy as some might think.

Prediction: 2-1

That's it for this week

See you next week

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Arsenal v Chelsea: Community Shield Preview

It's not quite the return of real football today, but a game between the Premier League champions and the FA Cup Winners is probably the next best thing. Keeping that in mind this is still more or less a pre season friendly and it certainly doesn't count as a trophy despite some United fans considering it as the first leg of their "treble" last season. It's always nice to win a game and lift a trophy at Wembley, but it will count for nothing come next Friday night when the real thing gets going.

We've done well in the Community Shield in recent seasons having won it in 2014 against City and 2015 against today's opponents Chelsea. Despite all the hype of beating Chelsea a couple of seasons ago and putting the Mourinho hoodoo to bed we still started our league campaign badly with a 2-0 loss at home to West Ham. As much as I would love Arsenal to win today, I won't be too bothered by the result as long as we reach next Friday night fit and ready to go and get the three points against Leicester.

Arsene Wenger has almost a full strength squad to choose from with the exceptions of Santi Cazorla, Gabriel Paulista and Francis Coquelin. Alexis Sanchez and Shkodran Mustafi are only just back to pre season training after their international duties this summer and they probably won't be playing from the start. With Alexis's natural fitness and desire to play football every minute of every day I would certainly expect to see him at some stage and it wouldn't even surprise me if he did start.

The summer has been full of rumours and conjecture about his future, but Arsenal have held firm and it really does look like he is going nowhere. It might mean we lose him for nothing next summer which will be a big blow when it comes, but I think it will be worth it when the other options are considered. There's still a chance we will get him to sign a new contract and maybe stick in a clause which will allow him to leave next summer if he chooses I suppose.

As for today the team won't be too different from the one to play Leicester I imagine with the obvious exception of Laurent Koscielny who will be suspended for that game. I imagine we will see both Alexander Lacazette and Sead Kolasinac in the team and we will go with three central defenders too. I have a feeling Nacho Monreal is going to get a lot more game time on the left of that trio with Kolasinac playing the wing back role this season.

Chelsea have splashed a fair bit of cash this summer and Antonio Conte seems determined to put his own stamp on the team despite delivering the league title in his first season in charge last May. They have to be one of the favourites to win it again this season and their chances certainly look a lot better than Arsenal's at the moment. We still need to add at least two more players before the transfer window ends if we're going to have any real chance of competing for the title this season and time is slowly clicking towards the shutting of the transfer window.

I expect we'll see a pretty good game today with both teams almost there in terms of fitness for the new season. I have no doubt Chelsea would like some revenge for us beating them in the cup final and preventing them from doing the double, but our record at Wembley in recent seasons is very good. I'd take the defeat if it happens today without much bother if we can keep that Wembley form for our league game against Spurs later this season. 

hope to see our new players fitting in well today and the team shaping up nicely for Friday night against Leicester. A win would be nice, but as I said already it counts for little in the scheme of real football and proper trophies. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Arsenal Transfers Update

With the new season getting nearer and nearer it finally looks like we could be getting the sort of transfer activity which has been promised since last season ended. So far we have seen the arrivals of both Alexandre Lacazette and Sead Kolasinac with Wojciech Szczesny eventually departing to Juventus. I'm very happy with the arrivals of both Lacazette and Kolasinac, but I can't say I was overly happy to see Szczesny go.

He's done very well in his two years on loan at Roma and I honestly think he is at least an equal to Petr Cech and certainly better than any other options we have besides Cech. Maybe his bridges were burned along with that cigarette in the showers at Southampton, but I can't help feeling we might have made a mistake. Time will tell I suppose and playing understudy to Gianluigi Buffon at Juventus certainly won't make him a worse goalkeeper.

He's the only real departure of any note so far even if it does appear there are plenty more lining up at the exit door. It seems there is no place for Lucas Perez, Carl Jenkinson, Mathieu Debuchy, Jack Wilshere, Calum Chambers, Kieran Gibbs and maybe even a few more before the transfer deadline day. I would have thought David Ospina would be one of those on his way, but the sale of Szczesny has to make that fairly unlikely now.

The future of Alexis Sanchez is still uncertain, but the club seem to be determined to keep him even if it means losing him for nothing this time next year. I hope it doesn't come to that and he can be talked into a new contract, but if he can't I have to agree that it's better to keep him at the club for one final season despite what it might do to the bank balance in a year. He is the best player we have and if we are to make any impression next season we need to keep him and see how he can team up with Lacazette and Mesut Ozil.

There are plenty of rumours of the impending departures of Gibbs, Chambers, Perez and Jenkinson, but it might not be so easy to shift Debuchy or Wilshere. They're all on very good contracts at Arsenal and any team looking to buy them will have to think twice about matching their wages. We could be faced with a few of them not finding clubs because the money just isn't there to pay them.

We need to get their wages off the books though so we can pay that bit extra to the likes of Ozil and maybe Sanchez and the money we get for them would of course go nicely towards any upcoming purchases. The two players most likely to come at the moment seem to be Thomas Lemar and William Carvalho with the team/squad needing strengthening in their positions and both players possibly available. If we could add them to what we have already I think we could be almost optimistic about next season and it's been a while since I felt like that going into a new season with Arsenal.

It's also quite possible that we could lose Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain before the window closes as he doesn't seem eager to sign a new contract with only a year left to run on his current deal. It's a bit like the Alexis situation except Chamberlain isn't quite as valuable to us and we have never really found his true position in the team in his seven years at the club. He's a player who can be so good sometimes and the opposite too often too, but I still think he has a role to play in the long season ahead.

Much has been made of the need to sell Theo Walcott as he doesn't fit into our new formation, but playing with wing backs is hardly set in stone and I think we need to keep him too. He scored 19 goals last season and frustrate us as he might at times it won't be easy to replace those goals. Like Olivier Giroud he still has something to offer and I don't think we should be too quick to offload either of them. I would be surprised if Arsene Wenger thinks differently, but you never know what he might do if the right offer comes in.

With the new season comes a new season of "Fantasy Premier League" and as usual my "Ever Arsenal" league is up and running and there's €50 to the winner from my pocket unless a generous sponsor wants to step in and offer prizes galore. There's been well over a thousand teams in my league for the last few seasons and judging by the early uptake there will be again this season. If you haven't played before you can sign up here and join my league after you have set your team up by using the league code 57957-16522. For those who have been in the league before you will automatically rejoin once you set your team up and you can also find an auto link on my Twitter feed.

I'm also running my Predictions League again this season and you can find the link to join here and join my mini league with the code tq3c5. It's on the Talksport site and anyone good enough to predict all 10 scorelines correctly in a week can win £1,000,000 from them, but taking part in my mini league is obviously a lot more prestigious. I'll be updating the league here every week along with my usual fantasy tips and predictions.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.