West Ham and the ‘Pack': The race to avoid the Christmas Curse!


Scott Parker shows what West Ham means to him - sourced from http://www.dlcache.indiatimes.com

This weekend, all Premier league games were tinted with a delicate skirting of snow around the pitches. The presence of snow throughout the UK is a reminder to all that, winter is here and christmas is just around the corner. This is the time of the year when clubs dwelling at the bottom of the table start to get itchy feet, the time when the race to avoid being bottom at Christmas starts.

In the Premier leagues 18 year history only one team has managed to avoid the drop after being bottom at Christmas (West Brom in 2005), this is why the trend has been dubbed as ‘the curse of christmas’.

So it was no surprise when West Ham manager Avram Grant referred to yesterday’s crunch match with Wigan, as the match to ‘Save Our Season’. With West Ham and Wigan joint favourites to be relegated the atmosphere  around the game was a very much a ‘do or die’ feeling.

Fortunately for West Ham, they won the game quite comfortably, 3-1. Although still bottom the win kept them only 3 points behind Fulham in 17th and in  touching distance of safety. More Importantly they managed to pull Wigan right back in to the scenario for bottom place, separating the two teams by just two points and two places.

At Upton Park there is one player blowing bubbles….Scott Parker. The ever inspiring vice captain was sensational on Saturday and he capped his fine performance with a well deserved goal. However looking around the rest of the squad there is real reason for concern. To me this season there appears to be a real lack of urgency and pride, traits that has been associated with West Ham teams of the past. Maybe due to a transfer policy that has involved buying to many ineffectual foreigners or maybe due to the up and coming players not being as good as home-grown talent of the past. -read on>

Arsenal’s Defensive Disaster: Should Wenger Now Start Havard Nordtveit?


Havard Nordtveit - sourced from http://gfx.dagbladet.no

As Arsenal ended the 2009/2010 campaign without the refreshing, rewarding presence of a trophy, manager Arsene Wenger vowed to implement changes into his youthful squad in hopes of reinforcing a stronger title challenge for next season.

Critics and fans alike believed the goalkeeper position was the most glaring in need of change. Since Jens Lehman departure in 2008, the Gunners have failed to boast a quality, reliable presence between the sticks. Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski had tried gallantly and were occasionally brilliant, but both had a tendency to make vital errors on a consistent basis.

However, Wenger was unable to attract a quality keeping presence, but the Frenchman was tremendously active in terms of defensive reinforcements. So as 2010-11 commenced, all felt that once again Arsenal’s keeping conundrum would be the main reason to their eventual failure.

But, surprisingly, it has not been the case. Manuel Almunia began the season in solid fashion before a persistent elbow injury has seen the Spaniard absent since September. Deputy Lukasz Fabianski has been superb in Almunia’s absence, proving his capability as a dominant keeper. -read on>

Will Forest help Ramsey grow?


A fully fit Aaron Ramsey - sourced from http://www4.pictures.gi.zimbio.com

As an Arsenal fan living in Nottingham the story that has caught my eye this week has definitely been, Aaron Ramsey’s loan move to Nottingham Forest .

Since moving to Arsenal at just 17, for 5 million pounds, from boyhood club Cardiff City, the most interesting aspect of  Aaron Ramsey’s career has always been, what will Arsene Wenger’s next step be?  

Wenger slowly introduced the youngster in to the first team during his first season with the Gunners, playing 22 games in the 2008-2009 season, most of which being in cup competitions however it was during the 2009-2010 campaign that Ramsey got his real chance. 

Making 18 appearances in the first half of the season, Ramsey’s technique and vision enabled him to thrive in the centre of Arsenal’s midfield next to the ever influential Cesc Fabregas. But then there was that tackle! Read more of this post

Ian Holloway-No longer the managerial class clown


Ian Holloway - sourced from http://i.dailymail.co.uk

Say the name Ian Holloway a year or so ago and conversations of hilarious post match interviews and talk of the class clown would be all you would hear.

How much can change in a year of football.

Say it now and a different man will be discussed. A man of seriousness and passion, positivity and opinions. A man who is greatly admired not laughed at.

Starting his managerial career at his home team of Bristol Rovers (as player manager at first), he was always going o be a hit. He played there for most of his professional career and was a fans favourite. After a successful 5 year stint there, with a win percentage of 36% in 247 games and getting them to the play offs, he thought it was time to move on and another of his old teams came calling. He had spent 5 years playing for Queens Park Rangers, and was challenged, half way through the 00-01 season, with trying to keep the club in the old First Division. He failed to do so but, unlike many modern managers, was kept on for the following year to try and rebuild the club. In doing this I believe he won many of the fans hearts with his never say die attitude and churpy exterior. He eventually got the club promoted again in 2004 and, with even more hard work, finished a very respectable 11th that season. Many people in the game were starting to take note of Holloway. His post match interviews started to draw fans of other clubs to televisions and also to youtube. His most famous surely being the “a win is like a bird” speech after a hard fought messy 1 goal win. Holloway was so much more than just a joker but not many could see past the comical remarks as ,to date, he had no real major managerial honours (or so it seemed to the premier league fans who would watch his interviews). However a few football league clubs in a similar position to Q.P.R’s were starting to take note of Holloway’s hard work and in February of 2006 he was sent on “Gardening leave” by the Queens park rangers board, as he was being increasingly linked with the vacant managerial position at a club he would later manage, Leicester City. Those rumours were never going to help the progression of the club and a difficult season ended in a 21st place finish and a loss of respect for Holloway. -read on>

Scotland Yard: Is there too much pressure on referees?


Scottish Referee Dougie McDonald giving as good as he gets

Maradona, Pele, Zidane, Cruyff, Moore….the list of world-class players across the years is endless, but can you say the same about referees. The stereo-typical decrepit old man in black is possibly the most  influential figure in any football game but is he influential for the right reasons?

There’s certainly a few grey heads on the Scottish FA pondering the same question. Following Celtics harsh criticism of  referee, Dougie McDonald; Category One referees in Scotland have voted to strike… meaning there could be a week of postponed fixtures in the SPL. Former referee Kenny Clark told BBC Scotland “Referees are at the end of their tether, and it’s not just how it’s impacting on them but it’s the impact it’s all having on their families and business lives.” -read on>

The Premier League Title Race; Does anyone actually want to win it this year?


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On a Saturday where Arsenal decided they weren’t too keen on top spot by giving away a 2-0 half team lead to Spurs, and Chelsea inexplicably fell to their third Premier League defeat in four games, you have to wonder – does anyone actually want the title this year?

We all know by now that we can never write Manchester United off. 94th Minute winners and dodgy 1-0’s will characterise their season as ever. A simple victory yesterday against Wigan has moved them level on points with Chelski at the top of the league, with Arsenal 2 points behind. All this without their best player for most of the season so far (see Pat’s blog on Rooney’s injury), and some pretty terrible defending throughout the season, has shown why Fergie is always there or there abouts come the end of the season.

But what about the new top 4 candidates? Or should we say, title challengers?Tottenham and Van der Vaart have shown a few times this year, not least yesterday against Arsenal, that they’re serious about being ‘in the mix’ as Harry Redknapp calls it. Money Bags City have failed to impress so far but still find themselves 5th with a game in hand on 4th placed Bolton, meaning a win would take them to within a point of the Gooners. That leads me nicely on to Bolton, who surely can’t be considered Title challengers, can they?! Johan Elmander has been in great form, and Owen Coyle has assembled a solid squad who actually play great football – what a transformation from Big Sam Allardyce and Gary ‘the Gnome’ Megson. With Tottenham at 6th also level with City and Bolton, a nice little chasers’ pack is forming, and it will be fascinating to see where it finishes this year. I’d like to briefly play devil’s advocate and suggest Sunderland aren’t too far off either. When Darren Bent’s back, I fancy him and Gyan to form a potent partnership up top. Watch this space. -read on>

Good Kop – Bad Kop: Which Liverpool can we expect this season?


The last few years have left me pretty confused as to which Liverpool I’m going to get this season. There’s the Good Kop; Title challengers, consistency, incredible goal scoring form from ‘Nando and Stevie and impenetrable at the back. But there’s also the Bad Kop; Negative football, dire in front of goal, shaky at the back and no ambition or creativity from midfield. The other week’s win over Chelsea (following a nice little unbeaten run) left some journos reaching for the ‘Liverpool on the up’ Headlines, but then a dodgy draw with Wigan last Wednesday and a dire 2-0 defeat to Stoke begs the question: which Liverpool can we really expect this season? Lawro said on 5Live at the weekend that he can’t see Liverpool making the top 6 this year. Pessimistic or Realistic?

Let’s start with the gaffa. Last season, Roy Hodgson was everyone’s favourite manager. He took a small, cheap Fulham squad and stretched them to about 60 games in a season – including an incredible Europa League Final against Athletico Madrid and a decent upper-mid-table finish, (following top 7 the year before). It was an obvious promotion to get the Liverpool job, which he rightly described as one of the biggest jobs in football, but it’s also left a bit of a dent in Hodgson’s reputation, going by performances and results so far. There are times when I think his Fulham squad last year were better than this Liverpool lot, and I’ll come back to that, but it’s also tactics, creativity and even managerial swagger that seem to have deserted Roy on his move from South West London to Merseyside. -read on>

Mikel “uncapped” Arteta


Mikel 'uncapped' Arteta - sourced from http://static.guim.co.uk

You may ask yourself what is the purpose for the inverted commas and uncapped between Mikel Arteta’s name? Well I offer another question, who is the best player in the premiership yet to play for his own nation? Or better yet in the world?

Whilst twiddling my thumbs to the boredom of part time retail work I threw this question too and from the depths of my brain and one name popped up amongst others, Mikel Arteta. Mikel was one of many hot prospects which rouse from Barcelona’s well renown youth system. When of age he moved to Scotland for a loan spell with rangers before committing to Everton where he plays his professional football today. take a peak

The Championship, the ‘wonder kids’ shop window!


England's Andy Carroll - sourced from http://www.mirrorfootball.co.uk

It was just last week Fabio Capello announced his new look England squad. Despite containing the likes of Ferdinand and Gerrard, superstars of the world game there was also space for the Championships top scorer Jay Bothroyd. The majority of the public are quick to disregard Championship players as not good enough to play international football at the top level. Whether this is correct or not I will leave for another day, however an interesting fact when looking at the squad is that high proportion of the squad selected to play France on Wednesday came though youth systems outside of the Premier League.

Players who have been on the scene for quite a while now such as; Green (Norwich), Jagielka (Sheffield United) and Lescott (Wolves) all made their mark on the Championship before signing for big Premier League clubs but it’s the resurgence of young players in the squad, that have come through lower league clubs that has been particularly eye catching. Smalling (Maidstone United), Walcott (Southampton), Ashley Young (Watford), Adam Johnson (Middlesborough), and Andy Carroll (Newcastle) all have played for, or have come through the youth set-up of clubs at a lower level than the Premier League.

With the top Premiership clubs now scouring the world for the next big stars, is it that they have forgotten about Britain, leaving the Championship clubs to bring through Britain’s young talent? take a peak

Are Manchester City ready to win the Premier League?


Roberto Mancini

It has been just over two years since Sheikh Mansour bought Manchester City. Over 500million pounds and a ‘supposed’ World Class manager later, it comes as no surprise that last night’s Manchester derby was billed by Alex Ferguson as the most anticipated Manchester derby in recent times. It was supposed to be the chance for City to show the world that they were no longer the pretenders living in United’s shadow, that the power had shifted and that they were now ready to make a stance and go on and win the Premier League. Well that was yesterday and after a bore draw at Eastlands I was left thinking are City actually good enough to win the league? -take a peak>

Inzaghi, Scholes and the fountain of Youth


Fillipo Inzaghi - sourced from uksoccershop.com

In a week where Gareth Bale has ‘ran away’ with the headlines (literally) it has been another Champions League performance that caught my eye. Fillipo Inzagi’s brace against Real Madrid marked a historic moment in the Italians career, his now european goal tally of 70 makes him the all time top scorer in European competition. At 37 Pipo is in his 20th season as a pro, yet he is still able to outperform his world-class team-mates (Ibrahimovic, Robinho, Pato) who are all 10-15 years his junior.

Without being blessed with pace or a catalogue of Ronaldinho like skills, it has been Pipo’s ability to play on the last man’s shoulders as well as having a habit of being in the right place at the right time that has made him such a hit on the world stage. Both his goals against Madrid on Wednesday night were classic Inzaghi, both real poachers goals with a hint of offside, but it is exactly this type of play which has meant that Inzaghi ‘has’ and ‘can’ carry on playing at the top-level. -take a peak>

Has the English Premier League become a ‘Selling Division’?


When Henry left Arsenal in 2007 for Barcelona (at a bargainous £16.5 Million), he stated that ‘Barcelona would be the only club I’d leave Arsenal for’. Or something like that. Christiano Ronaldo said something similar when leaving Man U for Real Madrid (at a ridiculous £80 Million). ‘It’s everyone’s dream to play for Madrid’, he stated to a Spanish paper after a Utd match. These two are the highest profile cases in recent years, but there have been countless transfers away from English clubs to “bigger” European clubs, often for crazy wonga. Namely, Flamini to Milan, Hleb to Barca, Vieira to Juve, Robbie Keane to Inter, McManaman to Madrid, Owen to Madrid, Beckham to Madrid, Graveson to Madrid (no comment), Lassana Diarra to Madrid, and even Mourinho to Madrid (fair enough that was from Inter), let alone Bale to Madrid (Oh sorry, not yet…).

In the last decade to fifteen years, a culture has emerged of English Clubs selling (or being forced to give up) their prize assets to European Heavyweights. Henry and Ronaldo’s statements about Barca and Madrid representing a peak for a footballer’s career, as well as Mourinho’s hype of Madrid, highlighted a weakness in the power of English football. -take a peak>

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