Monday, 28 February 2011

League Cup Winners 2011

Real Talk Football would like to congratulate Birmingham City FC who upset the odds and beat Arsenal 2-1 at Wembley to win the English league cup.

Birmingham's Nikola Zigic's opening goal was cancelled out by Arsenal's Dutch striker Robin van Persie, until Nigerian striker Obefemi Martins came on for the Blues, to score a last minute tap in after a shambolic mix up in the Arsenal defence.

Birmingham now are guarenteed a European spot, while Arsenal's trophy drought continues, and Gunners' fans patience is now wearing thin.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Carling Cup Final Preview

This Sunday see's the first domestic silverware of the Premiership season come available, with Arsenal facing Birmingham City for the Carling Cup. Wembley will host the first of many football finals this season, with the English League Cup the first trophy up for grabs.

This game is an important incentive for both teams, as it is a benchmark for the rest of the season, with Arsenal still fighting in all four competitions, and Birmingham aiming to boost a team who have been hovering just above the relegation zone.

Arsenal will be looking for their first trophy since winning the FA Cup final in 2005, while Birmingham’s last trophy was the League Cup; which they won in 1963, and they were runners-up in 2001.

Some football fans question the importance of the League Cup trophy, but looking at recent winners of the tournament, they are all clubs who have been competing for that illustrious Premier League top four spot. It’s evident that with the European place also on offer with a victory, and the importance of it being a the first trophy on offer, it is definitely a big incentive.

Previous Winners

2005 – Chelsea beat Liverpool 2-1
2006 – Manchester United beat Wigan 4-0
2007 – Chelsea beat Arsenal 2-1
2008 – Tottenham beat Chelsea 2-1
2009 – Manchester United beat Tottenham 0-0 (4-1 pens)
2010 – Manchester United beat Aston Villa 2-1

With that list of former winners, try telling Alex McLeish or Arsene Wenger the Carling Cup isn’t an important trophy.

Route to the final


- 3rd round – Beat Tottenham 4-1
- 4th round – Beat Newcastle 4-0
- 5th round – Beat Wigan 2-0
- Semi-finals – Beat Ipswich Town 3-1 over two legs

Birmingham City

- 3rd round – Beat MK Dons 3-1
- 4th round – Beat Brentford 4-3 on penalties after 1-1 draw
- 5th round – Beat Aston Villa 2-1
- Semi-finals – Beat West Ham 4-3 over two legs

Injury news

Arsenal: Cesc Fabregas (hamstring), Walcott (ankle), Fabianski (shoulder), Vermaelen (Achilles) all out.

Birmingham: Hleb (knee), Jerome (ankle), Jiranek (thigh) all doubtful, Bentley, Davies, Doyle (all cup tied), McFadden (knee), Valles (foot) are out.

Key Players

Robin van Persie

In 20 appearances this season, the 27 year old has 13 goals and 3 assists. Since the turn of the year, Van Persie has been in great form, spearheading Arsenal’s attack. With Cesc Fabregas missing the final through injury, he will captain the side, aim to lead by example and be the difference on the day.

Jack Wilshere

The 19 year old has come to the forefront as one of the best midfielders in the Premiership this season, despite such a young age. He has started 21 Premier League games this season, and played in 24 league games in total. He is now a full England international, and after his impressive performances in the Champions League have seen him receive plaudits from some of the world’s best players.

Ben Foster

The 27 year old had big shoes to fill after signing from Manchester United last summer. He has been the back bone of the Birmingham side, playing in all 26 league games this season. He has kept 8 clean sheets this season, and can expect to be tested at Wembley by this strong attacking side.

Craig Gardner

The 24 year old centre midfielder scored the winner in the semi-final win over West Ham, sending the Blues to Wembley. He has been a revelation for the midlands club since joining from rivals Aston Villa a year ago, and has chipped in with 5 goals this season.

Probable Line-ups

Arsenal: 4-2-3-1

Birmingham City: 4-4-2

Let us know who you think will win the Carling Cup final by casting your vote in our poll

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Vincenzo Montella - L'Aeroplanino Returns To Rome

Last night Roma returned to winning ways in Italy’s Serie A after beating Bologna 1-0, and picking up their first victory in five league games. The win allowed the Giallorossi to subsequently move up back into the converted European places in the league table.

The reason this win was important is because it signifies the first steps on the road to recovery after former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri quit his post at the Stadio Olimpico after a poor 4-3 defeat to Genoa last weekend, in which Roma were 3-0 up and went on to be defeated.

After this defeat, the 59-year old Italian offered his resignation, and after a day’s consideration, it was duly accepted by the Roma board. The sacking (or resignation) may not have come to a surprise to some, as Ranieri has been sacked from four of his last five managerial jobs.

This season Roma fans had been protesting and expressing their disappointment at the inconsistency shown in comparison to last year where they fought Inter Milan for the Serie A title, taking it to the wire.

Roma have lost 8 of the 26 games they have already played this season compared to the 6 games they last overall last season. This slump, plus rumours of a fall-out with senior squad members, all added to Ranieri’s exit. He left the side lumbered in 8th place.

The man who has taken over the reins in the Italian capital has surprised many, but is seen as a man who knows the club better than anyone else, and despite his non-existent managerial experience, was appointed until the end of the season. This man is former striker; Vincenzo Montella.

Montella, aged just 36-years old, has already been very vocal in expressing his desire to improve this current team, highlighting the issues with the current team being more psychological rather than tactical.

During his professional playing career, he a spent the majority and a total of 10 years in Italy’s capital, racking up 194 Serie A appearances and scoring 83 times. He was a small, clinical striker, with great technique and finishing ability, and was affectionately nicknamed L'Aeroplanino (the little Aeroplane) by the fans. In 1999 he cost Roma €25million when signing from Sampdoria.

Now he is in charge at Roma, in a role which can only be labelled as a “Caretaker manager”, he said he is no “stop-gap” and isn’t concentrating on whether he has a future as boss, or who should be taking charge at Roma, but he is approaching the role as a man who loves the club, and as a man who has a job to do, stating it a role his taking on with “enthusiasm and confidence”.

Montella has already publically rallied the troops stating that the players “need to free themselves from this burden (media pressure) and this is the first step we need to take so that they can play at their true potential”.

He also received acknowledgement from Roma vice-captain Daniele De Rossi, who gave a ringing endorsement of Montella as a player, describing him as having “great character, enthusiasm, determination and clear ideas” with these attributes De Rossi expects Montella to bring as a manager.

As stated earlier, he led them to a vital 1-0 victory last night over Bologna, and his impact could already be seen in the performance. Roma, who had conceded 11 goals in their last 3 Serie A matches, kept their first clean sheet for 4 games, and were credited by opposition manager Alberto Malesani for their strong defensive performance.

Montella also made strong changes to the starting line-up, as expected dropping goalkeeper Julio Sergio and centre back Juan for Alex Doni and Philipe Mexes respectively. The biggest name absent from the starting XI was Roma legend and club captain Francesco Totti who was left on the bench. Ironically Totti had had a falling out with previous coach Claudio Ranieri over that very issue.

Vincenzo Montella now has to build on this good start, continue to pick the right starting eleven and not be influenced by the big names or by former friends. It’s a big task, but with the quality and depth of players available at the club, the great fan base and now a fan’s favourite in charge, the aim of reaching those desired Champions League places is short term, yet achievable objective for Giallorossi.

Real Talk FootballJustify Full

Monday, 14 February 2011

Ronaldo : Il Fenomeno

Il Fenomeno: The Greatest Striker of Them All

Today there was a collective sigh of disappointment amongst football fans across the globe, as one of the greatest strikers of all time announced his retirement from the professional game. 34 year old Brazilian Ronaldo Luis Nazário de Lima, simply known as “Ronaldo” announced his retirement from Football.

The legendary striker kept his announcement short, the disappointment evident on his face, while a wry grin popping up slightly now and again, he stated: "I wanted to continue, but I can't. I think of an action, but I can't do it the way I want to. It's time, my body aches. The head wants to continue, but the body can’t take much more."

In the aftermath of this disappointment announcement, there has been a significant degree of admiration and recognition for one of the greatest players to play the game. The Brazilian’s decision to leave the game has sparked debates that after playing for four of the biggest clubs in the world, competing at the top level for almost 15 years; spanning an 18 year career, and winning almost every individual and collective trophy possible, whether he truly is the greatest striker of all time.

Arguably he is the greatest striker of his generation, although modern greats such as Raul, Filippo Inzaghi, Alessandro Del Piero, Thierry Henry, Francesco Totti, Miroslav Klose, Gabriel Batistuta and Ruud van Nistlerooy would all challenge him for this title.

Some fans however, will argue that he is the greatest of all time, while past greats such as Ferenc Puskas, Gerd Müller, Eusebio, Alfredo di Stefano, Romario, Mario Kempes, Roberto Baggio, Hugo Sanchez, Marco van Basten and of course, fellow compatriot Pelé would have to compete for that title.

Its markedly clear that yes, we are talking about a footballer of the highest calibre, and one whose name is deservedly placed amongst that list of great names, and doesn’t stand out on inch.

When I was younger, I remember watching Ronaldo in the colours of Inter Milan during their successful UEFA Cup, he was at the height of his career, and he caught the imagination and hearts of aspiring football fans with his brilliant ability, skill and determination.

Growing up, everyone wanted to be Eric Cantona, flipping up there collars up and walking around the pitch with a strut. That was before Ronaldo became a regular on our TV screens, and the dimension distinctly changed. Everyone donned a pair of Blue and Silver Nike R9 boots, and everyone in the school playground wanted to be Ronaldo, the man with the skills, the goal scorer; Great.

Ronaldo was born on the 18th September 1976, and started his football career aged 14 years old. He played for youth teams: Social Ramos Youth Club, and Sao Cristovao up until the age of 18, where he was believed to have been spotted by Brazilian legend Jairzinho. During his time at Sao Cristovao, Ronaldo scored 35 goals in 54 appearances.

Jairzinho put in place that Ronaldo joined Brazilian top flight side Cruziero. This is where he would make his name as a teenage prodigy, scoring 12 goals in 14 appearances. This earn him a surprise call up to the 1994 Brazil World Cup winning squad, after only making his professional debut for Brazil three months before the World Cup, a 2-1 win against Argentina.

With a World Cup winners medal under his belt, and aged just 18, Dutch side PSV Eindhoven acquired Ronaldo for a fee believed to £4million. During his first season in Europe, the Brazilian scored 30 goals, and went on to add another 12 in his second season (which was hampered by injury, limiting him to just 13 appearances). This took his total 42 goals in 46 matches for PSV, and he also won the Dutch Cup during his time in Holland.

This exquisite form rightly earned him the 1996 FIFA World Player of the Year award, while he finished runner-up for the Ballon d’Or (European Footballer of the Year) award as well. These titles earned him the attention of some of the big clubs in Europe, however eventually it was Spanish giants Barcelona, who coughed up £10million for the 20 year old.

Ronaldo lit up La Liga, continuing his magnificent form and progress. During his time at the club, he scored some great individual goals, and amassed a total of 34 goals in 37 appearances, 47 goals in 49 total appearances for the Blaugrana.

During this solitary season with the club, he won the Spanish Super Cup, the Copa Del Rey and UEFA Cup Winners Cup, beating former side PSV in the final.

Ronaldo no longer had the desire to play in Spain once interest from Italian giants Inter Milan began to surface. Requiring a new challenge, Ronaldo joined Inter from Barcelona for a world record fee of £19million in 1997. Individually at the end of the year he regained the FIFA World Player of the Year award (1997), as well as the Ballon d’Or award.

His first season at Inter (97/98) was to be his most successful spell in Italy. He led the Nerazzurri to Serie A runners-up, UEFA Cup success, while he scored 34 goals in 47 appearances. During this season, it was clear that Ronaldo became a more complete and well rounded striker, and was widely regarded the best player in the world. He went on to represent Brazil in the 1998 World Cup finals, with his side established as pre-tournament favourites.

During the finals Brazil passed through the group stages with a minor glitch against Norway, and managed to steamroll their way to the Cup final, facing the home nation France. Going into the game, Ronaldo already had 4 goals in the competition and with the expecting world waiting to see the best footballer on the planet play in the grandest stage of them all, he was mysteriously struck down by an “illness” on the day of the final.

There were conflicting reports regarding what had happened, and whether Ronaldo would be even be fit to play. He did eventually start the game, and a sluggish Brazil side were beaten comprehensively by a France side led by another world great; Zinedine Zidane. More rumours came to the forefront stating that he had had an epileptic fit during the half time interval.

After the World Cup campaign and at the end of 1998, Ronaldo came second in the FIFA World Player of the Year award, and third in the Ballon d’Or awards.

During the next four years at Inter Milan, his career stalled, with serious knee injuries limiting him to a total of just 99 appearances and 59 goals in all competitions. A significant blight to the career of the Brazilian.

These four difficult years however, did not mean that he still didn’t have what it takes to complete at the highest level, and he showed this at the 2002 World Cup. He was selected for the Brazil team and was sensational during the tournament, which had been jointly hosted by South Korea and Japan, with him scoring 8 of Brazil’s 18 goals in the competition. He went on to collect the Golden Boot trophy, and collect his second World Cup medal, Brazil’s fifth.

Ronaldo announced himself back onto the world stage, and while equipped with a strange haircut earned him a £20million move back to Spain, this time with Real Madrid. His time in the Spanish capital was again marred by just as many goals as well as injuries. The year ending 2002, he won the FIFA World Player of the Year for a record third time, and the Ballon d’Or for the second time.

During his first season at the club, he scored 23 goals in 30 league appearances, helping Real Madrid win the La Liga title, and amassed 29 goals in 42 appearances in his first season. During his time at Real Madrid, aside from the injury issues, there were problems concerning his weight, and his attitude. During his five year spell at the club, he won the Spanish Super Cup, the Intercontinental Cup and added another La Liga title in 2006/07.

Ronaldo was selected for 2006 World Cup, despite the aforementioned concerns regarding health and attitude issues. He scored 3 more goals in tournament, taking them to the quarter-finals stage, losing to eventual finalist France. More significantly for Ronaldo, was that this goal tally made him the highest goal scorer in World Cup history with 15 goals, surpassing Gerd Muller.

After the World Cup, he returned to Real Madrid, and only stayed at the club for 6 more months. He was named La Liga’s top goal scorer in the 2004/05 season, and scored 83 goals in 127 appearances in his Real Madrid career.

In January 2007, after falling out with Fabio Capello for the last time, aged 30, Ronaldo joined another one of Europe’s giants, AC Milan. The fee was around £7.5million. He would only spend one season and a half at AC, scoring 8 times in 20 appearances. The reason for this was he suffered another serious knee injury, combined with concerns regarding his weight, meant that his contract was allowed to run out with the Italian club, and he was free to leave.

This showed that his time with the big boys in Europe was over, and Ronaldo himself expressed a desire to return to Brazil.

After almost a year out, upon returning from his knee injury, Ronaldo returned to training with Brazilian side Corinthians, where in December 2009 he signed a one year deal at the club. He scored 12 times in 20 appearances in his first season, and added another 6 goals in 11 appearances during his second year. His second season was slowed by injuries.

With Ronaldo expressing his wishes to retire at the end of 2011 (when the Brazilian season finishes), his decision has been brought forward two months shy of a year. The reason for this is believed to be the behaviour of the clubs fans after this weekend’s Copa Libertadores elimination. Several fans attacked the Corinthians team bus, with a large proportion of the fans blaming Ronaldo. These fans smashed and damaged the striker’s car, which was seemingly all that the 34 year old could take, and subsequently the last straw, culminating in him announcing his retirement from the sport.

He won everything apart from the Serie A title and the Champions League trophy, however the two World Cup medals, two Copa America titles, and a FIFA Confederations Cup more than make up for these domestic trophies absentees from such an illustrious cabinet.

A disappointing end to a career which had been on a downward slope for the past few years, however I do not have it in me to speak so negatively of a player who was an idol, and a footballing hero to so many. A great man, whose career was defined by goals, was an enigma on the pitch who shook fear into opposition players and fans, but who was subsequently packed with excitement and flair and undeniably a joy to watch.

He will be talked about and remembered for years to come.

Il Fenomeno, the greatest striker of them all

Real Talk Football

What did you think of the article? How do you feel about the Ronaldo? Is he the greatest striker of all time? Leave your comment below and let me know what you think

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Villarreal: The Yellow Submarine

Many football fans are solely fans of one club, whether it is their local team, or simply following a team through a member of their family who has persuaded them to support a club which they themselves have supported all their life!

Myself, as most people know, am very fond supporter of one Premiership team in particular, but as some people may not know, I am a huge admirer of Spanish side Villarreal, who go by the nickname “The Yellow Submarine”. Villareal if you will, are “my second team”.

Some of you may wonder why would I have such a fondness for this side? And why, if I’m going to support a Spanish side, isn’t it Barcelona or Real Madrid? Well to me, my reasons are just like any other real football fan; you support a team you feel connects with you. Connects with your philosophy of how you feel football should be played.

I first remember being exposed to the Spanish side when I watched Arsenal’s run to the Champions League final in 2005/06 season. I vividly remember they met a very tricky and yet very tough Villarreal team in the Champions League Semi-final.

Villarreal’s side boasted the likes of Juan Roman Riquelme, one of the finest playmakers in European football at the time, the well travelled Argentine Juan Pablo Sorin, and finally a player who was well known on these shores; Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan.

At the time of the semi-final, Villarreal were the smallest side ever to host a Champions League semi-final. There stadium, named “Estadio El Madrigal” has a capacity of just 25,000, highlighting just how small the town is. It was renowned for it loud, intimidating atmosphere, where it feels as if the fans are right on top of the players.

Arsenal eventually overcame Villarreal 1-0 over two legs, in a game which was far from a classic, which was a sloppy affair with nerves overshadowing both sides.

I watched them against Arsenal again in a Champions League game in 2009, this time at the Emirates, in a 3-0 victory. Villarreal were a weaker side then compared to the team competing in La Liga this season, and they were well beaten on the night.

The current squad, for me play some of the best football in Europe. A sold defence, built around Argentinean centre back Gonzalo Rodriguez. The 26 year old has been at the club for seven years, and has over 140 appearances under his belt. This season he has been paired with either one of two other centre backs; the former Valencia defender Carlos Marchena was first choice, but he he has been surpassed by the young 20 year old Argentine; Mateo Muscacchio, who’s performances have caught the year of some of the bigger clubs in Europe, but will be plying his trade with the Spanish side for the foreseeable future.

At full back, Villarreal have two quality defenders, who are equally adapt as attackers. Left back is occupied by the 33 year old Joan Capdevila, who is the current Spain international left back, and featured in the Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 tournament wins. Right back was occupied by Spaniard Angel Lopez, until recently where he sustained a cruciate knee ligament injury against Real Madrid which abruptly ended his season. Villarreal have since brought in AS Roma, and Brazilian Cicinho as cover.

This solid back four, which has the third best defensive record in La Liga; only conceding 22 goals in 22 matches so far, sits in front of goalkeeper Diego Lopez. Lopez is 29 years old, and is one of the most consistent and reliable goalkeepers in the league, and has managed to keep 8 clean sheets this season.

Another impressive asset of the Villarreal side, is its intricate ball playing midfield. Four technically superb players, who are comfortable on the ball in high pressure situations, and capable of decisive and defence splitting passing.

For the best part of nine years, there was one man, and one man alone who had been the cornerstone of Villarreal side: Marcos Senna. Now aged 34, he is more of a squad player, as his spell in the first team has been reduced due to injuries, as well as brighter younger talent coming through, however the Spaniard still managed over 220 appearances during his time at Villarreal. Now with his contract up in the summer, this is expected to be his last season with the club. During his time at El Madrigal, he established himself as one of the finest defensive midfielders in world football.

The current central midfield pairing currently consists of Spaniards Bruno Soriano, and Borja Valero. Bruno is more of the defensive minded player, while Borja Valero (who some of you may remember had a spell in England with West Bromwich Albion) has the creative playmaker role.

The formation implement at Villarreal, means they have a very narrow midfield, and the two wide players are classed more as right and left midfielders, rather than “wingers”. A 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 formation with Santi Cazorla on the left is, and on the right is Cani.

Santi Cazorla is 26 years old, and is capable of playing anywhere in midfield. He is comfortable on the ball, with a great first touch. Most impressive attributes to his game is his acceleration, and his ability to dictate and set the tempo of play. Cani, who operates on the right side, is another technically astute wide man, who has excellent footwork and creativity. He caught the headlines for his goal from the halfway line against Osasuna.

Up front, are two men who have established an excellent partnership, who feed off each other superbly, and are both natural goal scorers. As Villarreal play a narrow 4-4-2 formation, sometimes Nilmar, who is part of the front two, drops a little deeper and plays just behind the out and out front man; Giuseppe Rossi. This partnership is the third best offensive record in La Liga, behind Barca and Real Madrid, with 41 goals from 22 appearances.

Nilmar is a full Brazilian international, and is in his second season at Villarreal. The 26 year olds main attributes are his dribbling ability, his shooting accuracy, and his pace combined with great flair and determination, which allows him to trouble defences. The Villarreal number 7 has 10 goals in 17 appearances so far this season.

His partner up front, is one of the most sought after strikers in Europe; Giuseppe Rossi. The 24 year old former Parma youth player, has 12 goals in 21 appearances this season, and is the main man at El Madrigal. Most impressive from the Italian is his composure in the penalty area, he is a skilled goal scorer, with great off the ball movement and shooting ability. He is a wanted man around Europe, but signed a new contract until 2016, the Italian international is happy at Villarreal.

The final component of this quality Villarreal team is its squad players. There are individuals who help fill in when required, and is an impressive mix of young and ambitious additions to the first eleven. Jose Catala and Mario Gaspar are two young defenders with the latter a player for the future. Midfielders Jefferson Montero, is now on loan at Levente, is a promising young winger, and 22 year old Javier Matilla is a playmaker for the future. Finally up front, Villarreal have an added option to freshen up the strike force when needed, and play that “number 9 role”. This man is 24 year old Marco Ruben. This season has been his breakthrough season, and while he may only have 2 goals in 16 appearances, Ruben has shown great quality and ability, while cutting his teeth in Spain’s top flight.

The man who’s currently at the helm and overseeing this Villarreal team is 41 year old Spaniard: Juan Carlos Garrido. He has been in charge for almost a year, after spending eight years as Villarreal B team manager. A man who knows the club inside/out, Garrido has impressed many of his players with his “ambition and enthusiasm”. His football philosophy is similar to the man who was instrumental to Villarreal’s memorable 05/06 Champions League campaign: Manuel Pellegrini. The 57 year old left in 2009 for Real Madrid, and he discussed the tactics he employed at Villarreal by clicking here.

The main question asked, is “Can Villarreal ever win the La Liga title?” Well it seems very unlikely at the moment, with the duopoly in La Liga, of Barcelona and Real Madrid occupying the summit of the table. However a European trophy (Europa League) and Champions League qualification is the realistic short and long term objectives for Villarreal. For now; they will continue to play their impressive football, while I’ll continue to watch, enjoy and admire the Yellow Submarine.

Real Talk Football

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Can Arsenal Win The Premier League?

This weekend was an intriguing indication of how much of a rollercoaster ride the Premiership season has been so far. It was also a clear sign that nothing can be taken for granted, nor can any outcome in the Premier League be guaranteed.

We learned that Manchester United is truly not the unbeatable wrecking machine they have been deemed as, after their unbeaten run came to an end against relegation contenders; Wolverhampton.

We also learned that no matter how many goals Arsenal are winning by, they can still be caught. While Manchester City are still in the title hunt, Tottenham are outsiders, while defending champions Chelsea are surely out of the race altogether (lagging 10 points behind league leaders Man United).

Despite losing to Wolves this weekend, it’s clear that Manchester United is still the strongest side in the Premiership, hence still the team to beat. Today we look at their closest rivals and nearest challengers; Arsenal, who despite their capitulation against Newcastle, and losing 5 games this season, they are only four points behind United, and are the nearest challengers for the Premier League title.


Arsenal has had this same batch of players, training and competing together for the last 3-4 seasons. Rarely do you see more then 4 or 5 first team squad players joining or leaving the club in any given transfer period.

The spirit and harmony amongst the group is stronger than in previous seasons, while those tricky away games which Arsenal were renowned for struggling with and losing, are no longer evident this season.

Examples of this include the 3-0 victory away to Birmingham City, a 3-0 victory over Manchester City, a 2-1 win over Blackburn and another 3-0 victory against West Ham, all places where Arsenal had notoriously struggled in last season (a 1-1 draw with Birmingham, a 4-2 defeat to Man City, 2-1 defeat to Blackburn and 2-2 draw with West Ham which damaged the Gunners title challenge last season).

With the team growing collectively, individuals have improved and progressed to take a greater responsibility and establish themselves as top quality players. Some of the instrumental figures in their campaign this season are as follows:

Alex Song

The defensive midfielder has been an unsung hero this season, and has come on leaps and bounds in the last two years at Arsenal. The 23 year old Cameroonian international has now matured into an all round midfielder, who has moved on from just “a ball winning midfielder” to a midfielder who wins the ball from the opposition and distributes efficiently in order to start attacks. Similar to what made Claude Makélelé such a World Class midfielder during his time at Real Madrid and Chelsea.

His stats so far this season support his improvement; last year he played 27 Premier League games in total (he’s played 22 times so far, this season) and has significantly improved his contribution to the team. The first improvement is his goal contribution with 4 goals, compared to the solitary single goal he scored last season.

Also an improvement in his defensive statistics have shown that Arsenal have conceded an average of 0.17 goals per game this season, compared to an average of 1.15 goals per game last year. He has also only received 4 yellow cards and 1 red compared to the 10 yellow cards he collected last season.

Samir Nasri

The French international was left out of France’s World Cup squad, which was too many people’s surprise, and this omission subsequently benefitted Nasri and his performances this season. The Frenchman has been in blistering form this season, scoring 9 goals in 21 appearances, compared to the 2 league goals he scored last season.

The 23 year olds dribbling skills, technique, and pace has all been key to his performances this season. He scored vital goals in the victories over Manchester City, West Brom, Aston Villa and Fulham.

Nasri’s excellent form has not gone unnoticed, with him collecting the Barclays PFA Player of the Month award for October, December and January of this season, and there are murmurs he could already be a candidate for PFA Player of the Season.

Robin Van Persie

After reaching the World Cup final with Holland, the Dutchman made a slow start to the season, which was hampered by an ankle injury that forced him to miss two months of the campaign. He has now managed to maintain a run of games which has taken his goal tally to 8 in 14 appearances, with 5 assists.

The 27 year old scored his first ever Premier League hat trick against Wigan, and has now reached the consistency he desires. He will be vital in Arsenal’s title challenge going into the final third of the season.

Arsene Wenger

The intelligent Frenchman has seen and been through it all during his 15 years in England. He is one of the most experienced managers in world football, and has the knowhow and understands the requirements needed in order to win the Premier League title. He needs to keep his players focused and motivated in order to push on for the final title challenge, as it’s no secret to any Arsenal fan, that in the past four seasons, it’s been the month of February which has seen them falter in the title race. With this more experienced group of players, they are more than capable of winning the league this season.


With 13 Premier League matches left to play, Arsenal has 7 home games to play compared to Manchester United, who have 6. Manchester United still has to play Chelsea twice, local rivals Manchester City and Liverpool, as well as a visit to the Emirates to face Arsenal.

Arsenal still has to welcome Liverpool and Manchester United to the Emirates, and face a tricky trip to Tottenham at White Hart Lane. However of their remaining 13 fixtures, 6 are against teams currently situated in the bottom half of the Premier League table, compared to Manchester United who have to play 5 teams currently in the bottom half of the table.

So on paper, it would favour Arsenal in this fixture list, but as I stated earlier nothing in the Premiership can be taken for granted, but this is just an example of the games still left to play for each side.

Squad Players

Whereas Manchester United have squad players such as Javier Hernandez, Park Ji-Sung, Anderson, as well as the experienced individuals Ryan Giggs, Wes Brown and Paul Scholes, Arsenal’s squad players haven’t been up to scratch, with Wenger relying heavily on his first eleven, and that’s been the reason they are not heading up the Premier League table at the moment.

Czech international Tomas Rosicky, hasn’t been the same since returning from his 18 month injury spell, and his below par performances have angered many Arsenal fans. For an individual who has such an impressive touch, and creativity, he hasn’t scored a league goal since January 2010. For an attacking midfielder this just isn’t good enough.

Fellow midfielders Denilson and Abou Diaby have both been criticised for a lack of up-tempo to their games, while the latter has struggled with injuries which have hampered his progression at Arsenal.

Summer signing Sebastian Squillaci has also been the subject of much criticism, and has been at fault for many of the sloppy defensive performances, while the side has conceded 20 goals in the 15 appearances he has made this season. His immobile and lackadaisical performances have angered many fans, while there were calls for Wenger to sign a new centre back during the January transfer window, which subsequently came and went without a single penny spent by Wenger.

Now with Johan Djourou out for a month, with yet another knee injury, and Alex Song currently sidelined, the Gunners are desperately short at centre back. Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen is needed back as soon as possible. With the poorest defensive record of the top four, Arsenal need to sure up defensively if they are to challenge for the Premier League title.

Finally there have been concerns over the goalkeeping department for the past year and a half, with Lukasz Fabianksi given the number one spot, he had been in impressive form this season, and had finally started to come good. Fabianski now has subsequently had shoulder surgery, and is out for the rest of the season.

Now the promising young and fellow Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny has taken over as Arsenal’s number one goalkeeper. He is a player with the all the attributes to make it at the highest level, but his performances have been tarnished by some shaky defending in front of him.


For me, it is between Manchester United and Arsenal for the Premiership title. Manchester City are not too far behind, they have great individuals, but are not the complete package yet. Plus I feel City manager Roberto Mancini’s tactics of nullifying bigger and better opponents rather than attacking them and attempting to take three points is ultimately their downfall.

Manchester United has the more experience squad, who have been there and done that before. They also have young talented players to bring in, who can add that unknown quality against opponents (such as Rafael, and Javier Hernandez). However United have the trickier fixtures, and face two difficult games against Chelsea, and still have to face title rivals Arsenal. They will also have one eye on the Champions League, in which they are expected to progress quite far into the latter stages.

Arsenal on the other hand, has had very good away form this season, and has shown that they can beat any team at the Emirates. This will be necessary in order to pick up as many home points as possible, and beat their title rivals.

Arsenal has a young, hungry squad, who have a point to prove. They also have the Carling Cup final to look forward to, which can act as a benchmark for them this season, and they can collect that silverware that has eluded them for the past five seasons, should they beat Birmingham City.

There is of course, a long way to go, and plenty of football still play. But as we reach the business end of the season, should Arsenal collect the first possible trophy of the season, it could instil a much needed winning mentality which can act as a basis for them to push for the title, but for now it’s in Manchester United’s hands, and they are justifiably considered the title favourites.

Real Talk Football