Saturday, 17 September 2011

Andrey Arshavin set for Arsenal 'Playmaker' role

Tomorrow, Arsenal face Blackburn with no less than three first team midfielders missing, as well as a lingering question mark over Aaron Ramsey’s fitness ahead of the game. This has led to speculation that Arsene Wenger has been considering playing Andrey Arshavin in a new role within the side.

The rumours started earlier today; stating that the 30-year-old Russian is set to play in the advance midfield role, which has been occupied by three other players this season; by Yossi Benayoun against Borussia Dortmund, Aaron Ramsey against Swansea, and the departed Samir Nasri against Liverpool.

Cesc Fabregas played the majority of this position last season, with Jack Wilshere and Alex Song the two deeper players. Now it seems, with Tomas Rosicky and the aforementioned Wilshere both out with injuries, it seems Wenger could overlook Benayoun and play Arshavin in support of Van Persie.

Now of course, every Arsenal fan knows Andrey Arshavin has undoubted ability. He has a fair amount of pace, and relies on his tricky footwork and skill to take on opponents. He has spent the majority of his Arsenal career on the left side of the front three in Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1 formation. More of an inside forward rather than an out and out winger (which Walcott is on the right flank).

It paid dividends last season, as he racked up 17 assists in all competitions last season. His best tally since the 2007 season, where he was playing in Russia with Zenit St. Petersburg.

Now, this opportunity for Arshavin, would allow him to revert to the position he played so successfully for Zenit and for Russia. Most recently, Russian national team manager Dick Advocaat criticized Arsene Wenger saying he was using Arshavin incorrectly, and that he would more affective playing behind the striker. In the manner of how Dennis Bergkamp used to play.

Now, obviously Arsene Wenger doesn’t pay attention to what other managers say, but it would seem that option was always in the back of his mind, more so with the two big departures this season, and tomorrow he’ll get the opportunity to prove his worth.

With Gervinho brought in to play on the left flank, effectively taking Arshavin’s place, it seems that with the exit of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas, that attacking midfielder/playmaker role is up for grabs. Tomas Rosicky was the obvious option, but after his injury two seasons ago, he hasn’t been the same since, and hasn’t impressed. With Jack Wilshere out injured, our ready-made replacement for Fabregas, Arshavin could now step in to fill the void.

Arshavin hasn’t overly impressed over past two seasons, and his bad habit of cutting back in when playing wide left, taking on a defender, cutting back onto his right foot and eventually losing the ball, which has been frustrating for all. He’s also always been a candidate for substitution due to his average performances.

To play in this attacking midfielder role, he’ll need to be more disciplined, as he gets extremely lazy out on the left, and doesn’t track back. This new role can’t be used as an excuse for him now calling himself a forward, and not press from the front. His tracking back has become anonymous, and it has frustrated a large majority of the Arsenal supporters.

He was excellent in this playmaker role at Zenit, under the management of Advocaat. His creativity during this periods, as well as his form, was superb. His vision, threading passes to the forwards, after receiving the ball on the turn and running at defences. He’d receive these passes from the likes of Tymoshuk, Zyranov and Denisov in the 4-3-3 formation which led to Arshavin in a free role behind striker Pavel Pogrebnyak/Fatih Tekke. This is the side that won the 2008 UEFA Cup and the basis for this example.

football formations

Blackburn are expected to line up with two central midfielders, N’Zonzi and Dunn, however due to their precarious position in the league, and the pressure on manager Steve Kean, I think they might put another midfielder in the middle. This would mean an extra man to deal with the threat of Arshavin and gladly it show Arsenal fans whether AA23 could actually play that role.

If it was a simple 4-4-2 by Blackburn, the two Arsenal centre midfielders would compete with Rovers two, leaving Arshavin to roam behind the midfield and in-between the lines. Pretty much giving him the opportunity to play effectively. One way to combat Arshavin, would be to have one of the centre backs step up and interject whenever he picks up the ball. I don’t exactly think Samba or Dann are quick enough to afford to get caught on the turn so it’ll be intriguing to see how Steve Kean plays it.

football formations

I hope to see an improved Arshavin this season. He was culpable, just as much as anyone else in the side that were responsible for the 8-2 hammering. Hopefully will grasp this new opportunity with both hands, as it could rejuvenate him and his Arsenal career.

This was a guest blog post by a Tumblr blog called "Real Talk Arsenal" which can be found here

Monday, 12 September 2011

Champions League 11/12 Preview - Group F

Group F

Arsenal FC

Last season:

4th Premiership
Champions League, round of 16
Carling Cup runners-up

Manager: Arsene Wenger

Key Man: Robin Van Persie

Stadium: Emirates, capacity 60,361

Arsenal has finally put a summer of turmoil behind them, which saw them lose their talismanic captain Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona. Arsene Wenger responded by spending £50 million on nine new players this summer to add depth to his squad. It’ll be interesting to see how they respond, and whether the staggering amount of injuries could make the group difficult to navigate. Arsenal overcame Udinese in a tricky two-legged tie in the qualifying round.

I had Jack Wilshere at the club’s key player, but due to his ankle injury, he won’t feature in any of the group matches, a big miss. New signings Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun will look to impress for their new club at the highest level.

Best Starting XI:

Olympiacos FC

Last season:

1st Greek Super League
Europa League third qualifying round

Manager: Ernesto Valverde

Key Man: Kevin Miralles

Stadium: Karaiskakis, capacity 33,334

In a same group as Arsenal two years ago, Olympicos qualified ahead of AZ Alkmaar and Standard Liege, and also beat Arsenal 1-0 on their way. The Greek side are coming off a successful league campaign last season where they won the title by 13 clear points, and conceded 18 goals in 30 matches.

Best Starting XI:

Olympique de Marseille

Last season:

2nd Ligue 1
Coupe de la Ligue winners
Trophee des Champions winners
Champions League, round of 16

Manager: Didier Deschamps

Key Man: Loic Remy

Stadium: Stade Velodrome, capacity 60,031

Didier Deschamps’ side has an array of attacking individuals in his starting line up, and young exciting players from the bench. It would seem Marseille are strong in knockout matches, collecting two domestic trophies last season. They’ll look to improve on their round of 16 finish, losing to eventual finalists Manchester United last year.

Best Starting XI:

Borussia Dortmund

Last season:

1st Bundesliga
Europa League group stage

Manager: Jurgen Klopp

Key Man: Mario Gotze

Stadium: Signal Iduna Park, capacity 80,720

Dortmund returned to the summit of German football, winning their first domestic title for nine years. Manager Jurgen Klopp had the Black and Yellows playing some sensational attacking football which blew their opponents away. Not to discredit their defence either, the likes of Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels saw them only concede 22 goals, the best defensive record in the league.

They’ve lost one of their best players; Nuri Sahin to Real Madrid, but still has undoubtedly quality in Mario Gotze and Shinji Kagawa in midfield, and Lucas Barrios up front. A tough team, and could run out group winners.

Best Starting XI:

Champions League 11/12 Preview - Group E

Group E

Valencia CF

Last season:

La Liga 3rd
UEFA Champions League, round of 16

Manager: Unai Emery

Key Man: Roberto Soldado

Stadium: Mestalla, capacity 55,000

Perennial underachievers in the Champions League in recent years, many fans are disappointed that the Spanish club have failed to reach the latter stages on the tournament of the competition for some time, which has led to some unfair extra pressure on manager Unai Emery.

This season, Valencia have strengthened and have a lot more options going forward and more strength in depth. Watch out for star striker Roberto Saldado, and playmaker Pablo Piatti, who is seen as the replacement for Juan Mata, who has joined Chelsea.

Best Starting XI:

Chelsea FC

Last season:

Premier League runners-up
Champions League, quarter-finals

Manager: Andres Villas-Boas

Key Man: Fernando Torres

Stadium: Stamford Bridge, capacity 41,841

Chelsea has a fresh face in charge, and have started the Premier League season strongly, although not setting the world alight. Villas-Boas’ side have been quietly picking up results and it’s interesting to see how they’ll fair in a very tricky group. Away trips to Leverkusen and Valencia will be tough ties; while Michael Ballack and Juan Mata will both be interesting plot twists as both face their respective former clubs.

I’ve named Fernando Torres the key man, because for £50 million he has to start reproducing at some level. Torres could be one of Villas-Boas’ biggest achievements is he can get the Spaniard firing again.

Best Starting XI:

Bayer 04 Leverkusen

Last season:

Bundesliga runners-up
Europa League, round of 16

Manager: Robin Dutt

Key Man: Sidney Sam

Stadium: BayArena, capacity 30,210

The Bundesliga runners-up will believe they have a great chance of making it out of the group and into the knockout stages for the first time in six years. Their side is full of quality and technical players, strong going forward, but this team leaked 44 goals in the league last season, the third most in the Budesliga top 10.

Look out for winger Sindey Sam and Brazilian playmaker Renato Augusto. Former Chelsea fans favourite Michael Ballack will make his return to Stamford Bridge.

Best Starting XI:

KRC Genk

Last season:

1st Belgian Pro League

Manager: Mario Been

Key Man: Kevin De Bruyne

Stadium: Cristal Arena, capacity 24,956

Don’t expect too much from the Belgium champions, as they will have a tough task on their hands to make it out of the group. They beat both Partizan Belgrade and Maccabi Haifa on route to the Champions League group stage.

Watch out for left winger Kevin De Bruyne who was linked with a transfer to Chelsea in the summer.

Best Starting XI:

Champions League 11/12 Preview - Group D

Group D

Olympique Lyonnaise

Last season:

3rd Ligue 1
Champions League, Round of 16

Manager: Remi Garde

Key Man: Michel Bastos

Stadium: Stade de Gerland, Capacity 40,494

The dominant force in French football over the last few years, have struggled to recreate their strong domestic form on the European stage. Semi-finalists two years ago, and with new manager Remi Garde in charge, and a new sense of excitement around the club, Lyon will look to challenge once again. They qualified for the group stage by beating Rubin Kazan 4-2 on aggregate.

Lyon are quite familiar team around the world, Lisandro Lopez, undoubtedly their best striker, will miss the next month of action through injury, but should return to have an impact in the latter half of the group matches. Michel Bastos, the Brazilian flying winger, is the man to watch out for.

Best Starting XI:

GNK Dinamo Zagreb

Last season:

1st Prva HNL
Croatian Cup winners
Europa League, group stages

Manager: Krunoslav Jurcic

Key Man: Milan Badelj

Stadium: Stadion Maksmir, Capacity 38,923

The Croatian champions have reached the Champions League group stage for the first time in 10 years, making a long awaited return. They beat Malmo 4-3 on aggregate over two legs in the last round.

Players to look out for in the Zagreb squad include; 24 year old midfielder Sammir, who already has 3 goals in 5 Champions League games this season. Also promising full back Sime Vrsaljko, and deep lying playmaker Milan Badelj who has been watched by some English Premiership clubs. Familiar faces in the squad include club captain Igor Biscan, who won the Champions League as a Liverpool player. Jerko Leko, who used to play for Monaco and defender Josip Simunic who spent nine years playing in Germany, with Hertha BSC.

Best Starting XI:

Real Madrid CF

Last season:

2nd La Liga
Copa Del Rey winners
Champions League, Semi-final

Manager: Jose Mourinho

Key Man: Cristiano Ronaldo

Stadium: Santiago Bernabeu, capacity 81,254

The biggest club in the world, what we can automatically tell is that they have closed the gap on rivals Barcelona, and I expect them to reach this year’s final. A manager with a game plan, and two Champions League titles to his name, Jose Mourinho will look to formulate a plan to get Real’s hands back on the trophy, which has eluded them for nine years.

They’ve added Fabio Coentrao and Nuri Sahin to their current crop of fantastic players, and the nine times champions will look to match winners Ronaldo, Di Maria and Ozil to take them further than last season.

Best Starting XI:

AFC Ajax

Last season:

1st Eredivisie
Champions League, group stage

Manager: Frank De Boer

Key Man: Christian Eriksen

Stadium: Amsterdam Arena, Capacity 52,960

The four times Champions League winners last collected the title in 1995. Since then, major European teams in leagues with bigger budgets and greater competition have lured away some of their brightest talents, causing them to no longer be the major European powerhouse they once were. They returned to group stage last season after spending a couple of years in the Europa League, and have now secured back to back seasons in the group stages.

The current squad, as usual, feature some of brightest talent in Europe. The key men in this team include; Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen, who is just 19 years old and already, has represented his national team at senior level, and was instrumental to their first Eredivisie win in seven seasons.

Icelandic Kolbeinn Sigþórsson is the main striker at the Amsterdam Arena at the moment. He signed from AZ in the summer and at the moment has 4 goals in 4 games for his new side. He has fantastic movement, and as his record shows, an eye for goal.

They no longer have Dutch number one Marten Stekelenburg, who has joined Roma, so Kenneth Vermeer is the new number one. New club captain Jan Vertonghen is a quality left footed centre half, who partners fellow countryman Toby Alderweireld, another great prospect.

Best Starting XI:

Champions League 11/12 Preview - Group C

Group C

Manchester United FC

Last season:

1st Premiership

Champions League runners-up

Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson

Key Man: Wayne Rooney

Stadium: Old Trafford, Capacity 75,975

Manchester United continued their domination of English football by winning their 19th league title, and progressing to their third Champions League final in four years. Sir Alex Ferguson finally has his United challenging for major European honours on a yearly basis, with nothing less expected than reaching the latter stages of the Champions League.

Man United have replaced outgoing experienced, established stars, with energetic, exciting and enthusiastic youth. De Gea has replaced Van Der Sar in goal, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones in defence, Tom Cleverly and Ashley Young in midfield, and Danny Welbeck with Javier Hernandez up front.

Expected United to be challenging once again.

Best Starting XI:

FC Basel 1893

Last season:

1st Swiss Super League

Europa League, round of 32

Uhren Cup

Manager: Thorsten Fink

Key Man: Yann Sommer

Stadium: St. Jacob Park, Capacity 38,500

The 14 times Swiss Super League winners make their return to the Champions’ League group stages after gaining automatic qualification thanks to their Super League title. This Basel side boast five full Swiss national first team players (more than any other club), as well of two of the most promising players in Europe; midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri and goalkeeper Yann Sommer. Also keep an eye on Swiss legend and goal machine Alexander Frei, who has 46 goals in 61 appearances for the club.

Best Starting XI:

FC Otelul Galati

Last season:

1st Romanian Liga I

Supercupa Romaniei

Manager: Dorinel Munteanu

Key Man: Sergiu Costin

Stadium: Otelul, 13,500

Champions League new boys, Galati is a town on the west coast of Romania, Otelul is the main football club and last year’s Romanian league champions (the first time in their history). Similar to many other football fans, I don’t know too much about the Romanian side, but there are two web pages with have a little more details on the obscurely known club.

Best Starting XI:

SL Benfica

Last season:

2nd Primeira Liga

League Cup

Champions League, Group stage

Europa League, Semi-finals

Manager: Jorge Jesus

Key Man: Oscar Cardozo

Stadium: Estadio de Luiz, Capacity 65,647

Benfica had a frustrating season last year, falling short on both the domestic and European front. They finished miles behind Andres Villas-Boas’ Porto side in the league and they lost to eventual Europa League finalists SC Braga in the semi-finals last season, beating Paris Saint Germain, PSV and Stuttgart en route.

They’ve lost one of their best players in Fabio Coentrao to Real Madrid, but signed midfielder Axel Witsel, left backs Emerson and Joan Capdevila, centre-back Ezequiel Garay and winger Enzo Perez to add to a very good squad. Benfica beat FC Twente 5-3 on aggregate in the Champions League play-offs.

Best Starting XI:

Arthur – Emerson, Luisao, Garay, Maxi Pereira – Javi Garcia, Witsel, Aimar – Gaita, Nolito, Cardozo

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Champions League 11/12 Preview - Group B

Group B

Trabzonspor AS

Last season:
2nd Super Liga
Europa League play-offs

Manager: Senol Gunes

Key Man: Alanzinho

Stadium: Huseyin Avni Aker, Capacity 28,169

Installed into the Champions League in dramatic fashion, replacing Turkish “champions” Fenerbahce, who were removed from the Champions League by the Turkish Football Federation after being instigated in a match fixing scandal.

They were in the Europa League playoffs last season, crashing out 3-1 on aggregate to Liverpool, and finished second in the Turkish Super Liga, missing out on the title on the head to head ruling in favour of Fenerbahce.

Well known names that play for the Turkish club include Marek Cech who signed from West Brom on deadline day, former Spurs midfielder Didier Zokora, and former Schalke winger Halil Altintop. Less familiar names, but a player to look out for is Burak Yilmaz, who is a 26 year old Turkish international striker, who has scored 23 goals in 41 games for Trabzonspor.

Best Starting XI:

LOSC Lille Metropole

Last Season:
1st Ligue 1
Coupe de France
Europa League round of 32

Manager: Rudi Garcia

Key Man: Eden Hazard

Stadium: Stade Lille-Metropole, Capacity 17,754

All conquering Lille had their best season in history, collecting the Ligue 1 for the first time in over 50 years, as well as winning the French Cup to complete a domestic double.

This summer, the success of the 10/11 season saw the clubs star performers become the interest of side all over Europe, as forward Gervinho left to join Arsenal, Yohann Cabaye joined Newcastle and Pierre-Alain Frau left also. Undeterred, Lille spent wisely strengthening by signing central midfielder Benoit Pedretti from Auxerre, winger Dimirti Payet from St. Etienne and most intriguingly Joe Cole on loan from Liverpool.

Best Starting XI:


Last season:

2nd Russian Premier League
Russian Cup
Europa League, round of 16

Manager: Leonid Slutsky

Key Man: Zoran Tosic

Stadium: Luzhniki Stadium, Capacity 78,360 (artificial turf)

The Russian side are regulars in the Champions League, but missed out last season and took part in the Europa League last season, losing to eventual winners Porto. This time round, they make their fifth appearance in the Champions League in the last seven years. With long term injuries to key players Igor Akinfeev and Keisuke Honda, CSKA have a tougher task than usual.

Look out for fomer Manchester United winger Zoran Tosic, ex-Liverpool midfielder Mark Gonzales, and with the injury to Honda, Alan Dzagoev will have a bigger part to play for CSKA.

Best Starting XI:

FC Internazionale Milan

Last season:

2nd Serie A
Coppa Italia
Champions League, quarter-finals

Manager: Gian Piero Gasperini

Key Man: Wesley Sneijder

Stadium: San Siro, Capacity 80,074

After securing a sensational treble from the 2009/10 season, and losing manager Jose Mourinho to Real Madrid, Inter Milan struggled to match those heights last season. First in charge was former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez, whose reign at the top was extremely short due to severe injuries which caused poor results on the pitch, saw him replaced by the turn of the year. Leonardo took over, and guided Inter to second place in the league, and the Coppa Italia trophy.

Inter only had one major exit, and that was talismanic striker Samuel Eto’o to Russian billionaires Anzhi. They reinvested heavily signing experienced forward Diego Forlan from Athletico, winger Ricardo Alvarez, midfielder Andrea Poli from Sampdoria, Luc Castaignos from Feyenoord and Mauro Zarate from Lazio. Firepower to replace Eto’o, while their experienced midfield and defence will need to adapt to Gasperini’s expected formation alteration from 4-3-3 to 3-4-1-2 fast in order to steer clear of any potential upsets.

Best Starting XI:

Champions League 11/12 Preview - Group A


Bayern Munich

Last season:
Budesliga, 3rd
Round of 16 – Lost to Inter Milan 3-3 on away games

Manager: Jupp Heynckes

Key Man: Arjen Robben

Stadium: Allianz Arena – Capacity: 69,901

Bayern Munich have been drawn in the toughest group of this season campaign, and will look to do all they can do to reach the 2012 final, as it takes place at the clubs home ground.

They had a disappointing 2010/11 season, finishing third behind champions Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Leverkusen, while The Bavarians sacked manager Louis Van Gaal in the final third of the season with caretaker manager Andries Jonker securing that coveted final qualification spot.

Club president Uli Honeß instilled Jupp Heynckes for his third spell in charge as manager. He guided his side through the Champions League qualification third round by comfortably beating Swiss side FC Zurich 3-0 over two legs.

Look out for new signings Manuel Neuer, Rafinha, Takashi Usami and Jerome Boateng.

Best Starting XI:

Manchester City

Last season:
Premiership, 3rd
Europa League, round of 16, lost 2-1 on aggregate to Dynamo Kiev

Manager: Roberto Mancini

Key Man: David Silva

Stadium: Etihad Stadium, Capacity 46,802

The richest club in the world have continued their unbelievable spending spree as they look to compete on all fronts and mainly in preparation for their first ever Champions League campaign. They have recruited Sergo Kun Aguero from Atheltico Madrid, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy from rivals Arsenal, as well as promising defender Stefan Savic.

They have a tough group, facing experienced Champions League sides in Bayern and Villarreal, as well as newcomers Napoli, but will look to cause quite a stir and live up to their dark horses tag. They finished 3rd in the Premier League last season, ascertaining the final automatic qualification slot.

Best Starting XI:

SSC Napoli

Last season:
Serie A, 3rd
Europa League, round of 16 lost 6-1 on aggregate to Bayern Leverkusen

Manager: Walter Mazzarri

Key Man: Edinson Cavani

Stadium: Stadio San Paulo, Capacity 60,240

This is Napoli’s first season in the Champions League, with Italian Walter Mazzarri in charge of the side who finished behind AC and Inter Milan in the league.

Look out for new signing Gokhan Inler in midfield, alongside 24 year old Marek Hamsik; who is one of the best playmakers in Italian football. Up front, is undoubtedly Napoli’s biggest asset, with the sensational Edinson Cavani, who scored a total of 33 goals in 47 appearances last season, and was a member of the Uruguayan national team who won the Copa America this summer. Up front, he is partnered by Argentinean striker Ezequiel Lavezzi and Macedonian Goran Pandev, who was a 2010 winner with Inter Milan.

Best Starting XI:

Villarreal CF

Last season:
La Liga 4th
Europa League, Semi-finals lost 7-4 on aggregate to FC Porto

Manager: Juan Carlos Garrido

Key Man: Giuseppe Rossi

Stadium: El Madrigal, Capacity 25,000

Villarreal played some of the best football in Spain last season, but went slightly unnoticed as all eyes seemed to be focused on the duopoly at the top of the La Liga table. However they got their just rewards, finishing 4th in the league, and attaining Champions League qualification.

Villarreal had a stuttering finish towards the end of their league campaign as a tough Europa League challenge took its toll on Juan Carlos Garrido’s small squad. They have strengthen this summer with two marquee signings; Cristian Zapata from Udinese and Javier Camunas.

They’ve sold midfielder Javier Matilla to Real Betis, experienced full back Joan Capdevila to Benfica, while cashing in on playmaker/winger Santi Cazorla for €19 million to rich boys Malaga. The squad is thinner, so they will rely on players from their B side or will have to do some business before the transfer window closes.

Villarreal made it into the group stage, overcoming a difficult two legged tie against Danish side Odense. They surprisingly lost the first leg 1-0, but won the return leg 3-0 and secured qualification.

Best Starting XI: