Abou Diaby and the risk of a new Arsenal contract

Although Arsenal fans can sometimes be aggrieved and frustrated by Arsene Wenger’s policy in the transfer market, the way the French coach sticks by the players he believes in must be admired.

The Gunners boss frequently speaks about his belief in the players he has hand-picked to play for the north London club, despite some surely testing his faith.

One such player must be Abou Diaby; once seen as the heir to Patrick Vieira’s throne, now a man that has struggled for a considerable portion of his career to be fit enough to play.

The France international has been the victim of ankle ailments and has only managed 22 appearances for Arsenal in the space of the last four seasons.

Abou Diaby

Despite Diaby’s much-publicised problems, Wenger has been quoted as saying that he will stand by the midfielder and offer him a new contract if he can get back to fitness.

However, regardless of the fact that Diaby is said to be close to returning to action again for the umpteenth time, Arsenal may well be better cutting their losses on a player that they can no longer depend on.

When Alex Song was allowed to leave the club to join Barcelona, there was a train of thinking that Diaby’s presence in the squad would fill the void of defensive midfield enforcer.

The Frenchman has been unavailable and the Gunners have recalled Mathieu Flamini into the mix; seemingly the side have progressed without Diaby’s physical presence.

The next six months will be massively important for Diaby’s career. However, even if he does have a prolonged spell away from the treatment table the midfielder surely has a lot of work to do to earn a new Arsenal deal before his contract expires this summer.


Do Tottenham now regret sacking Harry Redknapp?

With Tottenham seemingly no closer to attaining a place as a regular Premier League top-four finisher, there is just cause to look back at where it has went wrong over the last couple of seasons.

The days when the north London outfit were beating Serie A giants Inter and AC Milan in the Champions League now feel like an eternity ago, with the current crop of Spurs players stuttering at the start of 2014-15.

Harry Redknapp was the man responsible for leading Tottenham to the Champions League and oversaw two fourth-placed finishes in his three-year tenure at White Hart Lane.

However, due to the ongoing ambition of the club, the now QPR boss was shown the door in the summer of 2012 for not delivering inclusion to Europe’s top club tournament.

Given that Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood have failed to inspire the required confidence to be deemed as the man to take the club forward and Mauricio Pochettino is already feeling the heat, does Daniel Levy regret getting rid of Redknapp?

Harry Redknapp

There is no doubt that Pochettino is a young manger of ability, displayed for all to see during his time at Southampton, but he needs to be given time at the club; there will most likely need to be steps back before progression can be made.

That said, Spurs have stagnated and made little progress since the departure of Redknapp and have been experiencing the consequences of too much ambition and impetuousness for the last two years.

Although not the man to great a Sir Alex Ferguson-like legacy at Spurs, it would be very interesting to see how the club would be currently sitting if Redknapp had been given more time back in 2012.

Should Manchester United make Radamel Falcao’s move permanent?

A summer of rebuilding at Old Trafford has seen Manchester United appoint a new manager and bring a host of new players to the club in an effort to reclaim former glories.

One of the most eye-catching additions was the loan capture of Colombian sharpshooter Radamel Falcao from Monaco, with the South American brought to England to make United a more dangerous side in the final third.

The former Atletico Madrid attacker has had a slow start to life in the Premier League, with injuries stopping him from hitting the ground running.

Reports have emerged that United have the option to make Falcao’s switch permanent at the end of the season, but is this wise?

Radamel Falcao

There is no doubt that on his day, fit and on form, Falcao is one of the most deadly strikers in the world game.

He has a proven goalscoring record in a number of European leagues and could be a man to fire United back into title contention.

However, the Colombian has a poor injury record in recent times and there are concerns that he is harbouring the long-term consequences of a serious knee injury.

With the extortionate fee being mentioned to make his move permanent, wouldn’t United be better served spending the money on a world class defender or two?

For every Eric Cantona or Ruud van Nistelrooy that has been part of the Red Devils’ success in the modern era there has been a Steve Bruce or Rio Ferdinand that has played just as an important role.

United have a wealth of attacking talent at Louis van Gaal’s disposal at the moment but are lacking experienced and proven defenders.

Given that Robin van Persie, Juan Mata, Angel di Maria, Adnan Januzaj, youngster James Wilson and Wayne Rooney are in Van Gaal’s squad, with Javier Hernandez on loan, the Colombian’s signing is not something that is really needed.

However, with United shipping goals in the Premier League and down to their bare bones at centre-half, the powers that be at Old Trafford would be better served spending big money on the solidification of the team’s rearguard.

Adebayor’s comments not helpful as Tottenham toil

It has been another underwhelming start to the season for the White Hart Lane faithful. With a new manager and a couple of initial positive results, hopes were raised sky high that a consistent challenge for the top four might be put forward by Tottenham this season.

Unfortunately for Spurs fans the honeymoon period under Mauricio Pochettino has finished and the hard reality is that the North London club are not showing the form needed to go toe-to-toe with the Premier League’s best teams.

Like last term, home form has been a major issue, with Tottenham struggling to win games that a team with ambitions of qualifying for the Champions League should be winning.

The latest setback came on Sunday as Stoke beat Spurs 2-1 at White Hart Lane; the most disappointing thing for the home support was a lack of energy, some chaotic defending and not many chances to get back into the game.

Emmanuel Adebayor
Emmanuel Adebayor has spoken up about the stale atmosphere at the North London club following defeat to the Potters and admitted that a number of the players would prefer to play away from home than face the expectation of the White Hart Lane faithful.

Although things are far from ideal for Tottenham currently, comments in the media that can be perceived negatively are the last thing that the club needs and especially from a player that is underperforming.

Outspoken, controversial but at times brilliant, Adebayor epitomised the lack of urgency in the Tottenham camp on Sunday when it took him a number of minutes to get his boots on to come off the bench in the second half.

However, instead of making his thoughts on matters known the Togolese forward would be best applying himself fully on the pitch, like he did when he whilst on loan and looking for a permanent move to the club, and leaving talking to his manager.

Arsenal given the runaround by Newcastle in summer transfer market

After a summer of expenditure in the transfer market, hopes were high that Arsenal finally had a squad to challenge on all fronts this term for the first season in recent memory.

Despite the early season form of Chilean superstar Alexis Sanchez, the North London club have experienced the same old problems of late.

A lack of strength in depth has blighted the Gunners in recent campaigns, with injuries to key men seeing players deployed out of position and occasionally out of their depth.

Defensive injuries mean that Nacho Monreal has had to play at centre-half, while youngster Calum Chambers has been thrown into the breach after switching from Southampton.

Following the departure of Bacary Sagna in the off-season, bringing in a new right-back was key for Arsene Wenger, with the arrival of Mathieu Debuchy from Newcastle as a result.

However, the France international has suffered from injuries and as such has only played four games this term. Debuchy was not subtle in his desire to leave St James’ Park in the summer and pushed for a move to North London – something of a slap in the face to Newcastle.

The Tyneside club recuperated a fee in the region of £12 million for the former Lille full-back and spent around half of this on his replacement, Daryl Janmaat.

Daryl Janmaat

The Netherlands international was coming off the back of a positive World Cup campaign, having impressed over a number of seasons at Feyenoord.

Janmaat had big shoes to fill given Debuchy’s performances for Newcastle, especially on the front foot, but early signs indicate that Newcastle have carried out a very astute piece of business.

The 25-year-old provided both assists in Newcastle’s 2-0 win over West Brom at the weekend and has slotted into Alan Pardew’s defence almost seamlessly.

With Debuchy’s showings at the World Cup questionable and Janmaat available for cut-price fee in the summer, Newcastle seem to have got a much better deal than the Gunners in filling their right-back berth.

Chelsea’s evolution the most impressive thing in victory over Liverpool

Jose Mourinho and his Chelsea side came under fire the last time they visited Anfield, with a defensive ‘negative’ display attracting criticism last term.

However, the current Premier League leaders’ evolution and progression was clear on Saturday in the Blues’ 2-1 victory over Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool.

The west London club continued their unbeaten start to the season but it was the performance that the visitors put in that caught the eye.


Unlike last season where Chelsea were accused of parking the bus and playing negatively, Mourinho this time decided to field his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.

This encompassed two central midfielders, Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas, who were outnumbered by Liverpool’s Emre Can, Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson.

It would have been easy for Mourinho to leave the more attacking-minded Oscar on the bench and opt for John Obi Mikel instead to even things up, but the Portuguese trainer went for the more offensive option.

Over the space of the game Chelsea were the better side and in the end deserved winners.

At this rate, with the Blues full of confidence and looking like they have no visible weaknesses, just where they are going to drop the required points to let other teams into the title race remains to be seen.

Assessing the English sides’ chances in the Champions League

After the hectic domestic festive season fixture list, the focus on Champions League football is set to return, with the knockout stages to be played next month.

England have four representatives in the final 16 teams, with Manchester United, City, Arsenal and Chelsea all eyeing up a place at this year’s Champions League final in Lisbon.

The Premier League sides have been given stern challenges in the next stage, but what are their chances of progression?

Chelsea vs Galatasaray

Jose Mourinho has experience of lifting the Champions League crown with Porto and Inter, and will be charged with bringing Europe’s top trophy to west London this season.

Didier Drogba

The Blues have been handed the task of 180 minutes against Turkish champions Galatasaray, with a number of familiar faces set to feature for the opposition.

Didier Drogba will return to face his former club, while ex-Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini is at the helm of the eastern European outfit. With a former Mourinho favourite in the form of Wesley Sneijder also in Gala’s ranks, it should be a test for the London side.

However, despite Galatasaray’s progression at the expense of Juventus in the group stages, Chelsea will fancy their chances of making the quarter-finals.

Arsenal vs Bayern Munich

Defeat to Napoli in their final group stage fixture has come back to haunt Arsenal, with the Gunners facing European champions Bayern in the next round. That said, Arsenal fans will have rushed to buy Champions League tickets when the draw was made, as the tie should be of the highest order.

Pep Guardiola’s star-studded squad will be motivated to retain their crown, and eliminated the north Londoners on the way to the title last term.

Arsene Wenger will be buoyed on by his side’s win at the Allianz Arena in the tie last season, and will look to improve on home soil this time round.

In what is set to be an explosive encounter, the Emirates Stadium side will need to be at their best to progress.

Manchester City vs Barcelona

A real glamour tie, this one pits a new force in European football against one of the perennial mainstays.

Yaya Touré

The sheer quality on both sides will make this a top-notch encounter, with Lionel Messi and co’s visit to fortress Etihad sure to be an eye-catching clash.

Yaya Toure will feature against his former club, while City’s credentials will be thoroughly put to the test at Camp Nou.

The winner of this tie will be confident of making it to the latter reaches of the tournament, and the clash could go either way.

Manchester United vs Olympiakos

The easiest of the four ties was handed to Manchester United, who face Greek side Olympiakos over two legs.

With domestic form the cause of agony for David Moyes, the Scottish manager will hope for a comprehensive progression through to the quarter-finals of the European tournament.

The opposition have one deadly striker in their midst in the form of Kostas Mitroglou, who has the ability to end United’s dream on the continent.

Despite a hostile environment in the away leg, anything other than a United progression would be something of a shock here.

Football – a game of what ifs

Every football fan on the planet has a list of excuses of what could change to allow their team to excel. “If we didn’t concede from corners we would be top of the league,” or “if we stopped giving away penalties we would not be in the bottom three.”

In reality though, it is very interesting to see hypothetically just where in the table a team would be if they didn’t concede goals from one specific avenue, or how the side would be getting on without a certain player’s influence.

However, instead of voicing your opinion without any real evidence or statistics to back it up, a new website called League Of Your Own has been created to churn the numbers for you.

Ever wanted to see where Liverpool would be on the table without Luis Suarez? Or which team would have the most improvement if they stopped conceding from free-kicks?

All this and much more can be calculated at League Of Your Own, with the new and improved Premier League table at your fingertips as an aid for you to make your point.

From having a quick play on the user-friendly website I have come up with a few interesting factoids that will be relevant to Premier League followers.

  • Stoke – a team renowned for their aerial ability, would be four places higher in the table than they currently are if you take out all Premier League goals scored from corners this season.
  • If every Premier League game finished at half-time this season, Liverpool would be top of the table. Cardiff would be bottom.
  • If you take out all the goals scored from the penalty spot, Newcastle would be level on points with Manchester City.
  • Without Romelu Lukaku, Everton would be ninth, not fifth.
  • If Arsenal had not signed Mesut Ozil, taking out his goals and assists, they would still be top of the Premier League table. Take out Aaron Ramsey’s goals and assists and they would be second.
  • If you take out goals scored in first or second half injury time, Manchester United would be fifth, not eighth.

Football is certainly a game of what ifs, but the League Of Your Own website now gives us the tools to bring our theories to life.

United need Reus more than Arsenal do

Borussia Dortmund winger Marco Reus is in high demand after an impressive start to the new season, with the German club recently admitting that the attacker has a release clause in his contract. This has shortened the football betting odds on the talented forward making a move to the Premier League.

As such, both Arsenal and Manchester United have been linked with a move for the former Borussia Monchengladbach man, with his release clause thought to be in the £30 million region.

Arsenal’s link to the prodigious attacking midfielder is understandable, as Arsene Wenger has been steadily adding players from Germany to his squad over the last 12 months.

Lukas Podolski, Per Mertesacker, Serge Gnabry, Thomas Eisfeld and Mesut Ozil are all on the books of the north London club already.

Marco Reus

However, with the Gunners in real need of an out-and-out striker to take some of the load and responsibility away from Olivier Giroud, Wenger should have other priorities in the January transfer window.

Reus’ considerable abilities mean he would be an excellent addition to any squad, but given the presence of Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski and Ozil, another attacking midfielder is not necessarily what Arsenal need if they are to win silverware this term.

United on the other hand need a player of Reus’ ilk more than the Gunners do. The Premier League champions are over-reliant on Wayne Rooney to provide the craft and creativity to break teams down, while their wingers have been hit and miss over the last 12 months.

With the pursuit of a creative central midfielder falling flat, it has been up to Rooney to link United’s midfield and attack. The likes of Nani, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young have failed to impress of late, while Shinji Kagawa has been limited in his chances to play.

Reus’ addition would be a real boost for the Premier League champions, as he would bring energy, guile and technical quality to Old Trafford. His tendency to cut inside off his wing and play intricate passes with his number ten, Henrikh Mkhitaryan at Dortmund, would be a key bonus of signing him, as he could link up with Rooney in a way that United’s current wingers do not.

Kagawa still has a lot to prove at Old Trafford, and offering him in part-exchange could well be a mistake. Alternatively, should United meet Reus’ release clause and bring him to Manchester, two former Dortmund stars on the flanks for the champions looks like a mouthwatering prospect.

Forward Thinking at The Bridge

Francis Johnston examines Fernando Torres’ upturn in fortunes of late.

As Britain braced itself for the onslaught of the St Jude storm on Sunday afternoon another natural phenomenon was already in full swing at the so called “clash of the cash” in West London. Those in the know about climate will be familiar with“El Nino” which is Spanish for “The Kid”. Those familiar with the English Premier League over the last couple of years however, are more likely to translate to “has-been”, “expensive flop”, or, going back a bit now, Fernando Torres. The nickname was given to Torres in Spain, during his days of youthful goal-grabbing for Atletico Madrid. The difficulties of recent seasons, since his £50 million move from Liverpool to Chelsea have been well publicised but against Manchester City at the weekend the forward worked himself up to gale force and eventually blew the roof off the Bridge.

With two of the league’s title contenders and financial heavyweights preparing to touch gloves, Sky showed a graphic during their build up which compared the goals already scored by strikers at the two clubs this season. While City’s front men were streaking into double figures, Chelsea’s marksmen had registered one between them.

Fernando Torres

Much has been made of Jose Mourinho’s decisions regarding his team’s forward line and especially the move to allow Romelu Lukaku, prolific last term, to go on loan to Everton where he is already scoring like nobody’s business.

Enter Torres: he worked like a man possessed, caused constant problems for the City defence, eventually bagged the winning goal and with it, a precious three points for Mourinho’s men. He looked, to use a phrase invented in 2011 and widely used since, like the Torres of old.

We have however, been here several times before. Multiple Torres “returns to form” have been heralded and then petered out before he could even begin to dream about putting the doubters in their place. He has netted a goal here and a couple there, scoring in fits and starts. He threatened under the tenure of Rafa Benitez, who many would say was appointed to “fix” him more than anything else, but ultimately he failed to see his rejuvenation through and has largely remained in the shadow of El Nino, his alter-ego. This time though, under the Special One, there are signs that things may be different, also that Mourinho’s choices about strikers may well yet turn out to be a masterstroke.

Here’s why: firstly Torres himself, why will this be the time that he finally comes good? The answer is attitude. It is early to make this call but it seems his manager has given him reassurance and belief. Before being sent off against Spurs the Spaniard was looking committed, dynamic and dangerous. On his return from suspension his selection to lead the line against City despite Samuel Eto’o’s encouraging display in his absence, was a show of faith from Mourinho. In the first half Torres got what he wanted, a glorious chance to repay his boss. Cue the ball in the stand rather than the net and another shot of the forward looking despondent, disbelieving his own failure. His response to this setback is the key. Shortly afterwards he was dropping a shoulder and surging beyond Gael Clichy, one of the league’s more fleet-footed full backs propelled mostly it seemed, by sheer desire to make amends. He reached the by-line, supplied the pass, Schurlle scored, but the Bridge rose to salute the role of Torres. Buoyed, the 29 year old then smashed a dipping effort against the bar, unlucky yes but something to dwell on, no. Fernando was looking to create his own luck. Constantly he tried to make something happen. Mourinho kept the faith as the game wore on. Over the last two years Torres has constantly been substituted but, in the final minute, when Hart and Nastasic suffered a communication breakdown in City’s rearguard, Torres was still on the pitch. A gut-busting run saw him reach the ball before it rolled behind the goal to slot in the winner. It was a simple finish but absolute vindication of his afternoon’s effort, a lost cause he had chased down. Symbolic even of his career at the moment, not pretty, but he was going to turn it in the right direction through pure guts.

Fernando Torres

Whatever way it works out for Torres it cannot be argued that he lacks experience and that is something Mourinho seems to value highly. Apart from the former Liverpool man his options include Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba. Both with plenty of miles on the clock. Almost invariably he prefers to deploy one main striker ahead of an ensemble of attacking midfielders and supporting wide men. Given Chelsea’s embarrassment of riches in terms of creative midfield talent this would seem the way to go. Even if El Nino doesn’t hit form, the Manager can opt for Eto’o and if that doesn’t work he can fall back to Ba or even the midfield itself. Oscar and Hazard for example are contributing well in terms of goals.

Even if Chelsea are scoring heavily as a team Mourinho’s decision to let Lukaku leave on loan will be heavily scrutinised as long as the young Belgian’s tally continues to outshine that of the front men who remain at Stamford Bridge. People though are looking at Lukaku’s goals and failing to see the bigger picture. The grand plan of a man who has been an instant success in almost every dugout he has sat in, been sent from or conducted borderline inappropriate celebrations from. Mourinho sees Torres and Eto’o as proven winners, ready-made title chasers, the sort of footballer his track record suggests he can turn into champions. He will no doubt appreciate Lukaku’s physical ability, his raw talent and his potential for goals. This is precisely why he’s been despatched northward. The Portuguese knows Everton are not good enough to pose a threat in the title race. They are however, more than good enough to beat a big team on their day. Lukaku will only increase their chances of doing so and he is now allowed to do so against all the big teams except Chelsea.

In what is shaping up to be the most open title race for years all of Chelsea’s strikers including those not currently at the club will have a big role to play. Regardless of what has been about his selection policy up until now, Mourinho’s men are sitting a close second. Don’t bet against some more theatrical celebrating come May.

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