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Bayern Munich vs Arsenal: Last hope or no hope?

Following last week’s eliminations of Manchester United and Celtic, Arsenal are now Great Britain’s last remaining representatives in the Champions League. Fans not susceptive to tribalism may, for one night only, cheer on a club simply for being close to home. But should they bother?

Gunners fans will point to the absence of Franck Ribery through injury and Bastian Schweinsteiger and Jerome Boateng through suspension as causes for optimism. Add to that the potential absence of Arjen Robben due to a calf problem and Bayern are without some key ingredients in what has been an outstanding season to date.
But with the German side already holding a 3-1 advantage, with three away goals to boot, everything points to an Arsenal exit.

Theo Walcott

The current Bundesliga leaders have lost only one league game and one European game all season. In short, the team who were once called “the invincibles” are facing their (almost) modern day equivalent. And in order to overcome them, Arsenal require three goals without reply. This against a team that has conceded only nine home league goals all season, and only one away!

With statistics like that, it is no wonder football observers are wondering what will happen when Pep Guardiola takes charge next season. It is a scary prospect when they are already near-perfect without him.

Arsenal’s last outing was their 2-1 league defeat against Tottenham Hotspur, and Arsene Wenger will be hoping for the perfect response from his team. The only downside is that the perfect response may still not be good enough against a side that almost invariably score. Should they do so, the pressure on Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla will be huge.

Bayern Munich celebrate

Their only hope is to score first, keep it tight at the back, and play the game on their own terms. The speed of Theo Walcott on the counter-attack could be crucial, but against a side that don’t need to leave gaps, it may be in a set-piece – at least for the opening goal – that Arsenal’s best hope lies.

With Jack Wilshere ruled out for three weeks and Lukas Podolski also missing, Arsenal will hope the players they can call on will prevent it being a hat-trick of last-16 eliminations. But with Manuel Neuer in goal, the likes of Philipp Lahm and Javi Martinez in front of him, and Thomas Muller and Mario Mandzukic a constant threat up front, it will take an almighty performance from the London side.

Anything is possible in football, but some things are more possible than others.

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Arsenal’s Giroud, Top Gunner?

Can the Frenchman’s new found form propel Arsenal into the top four?

As understatements go, to say that Olivier Giroud had big boots to fill when he arrived at Arsenal in the summer would be something of a ground-breaker.  The departure of club talisman and top goal scorer Robin Van Persie to rivals Manchester United had left a sour taste in the mouth of most fans around the Emirates and the comparatively low key purchases of Giroud and fellow front man Lukas Podolski did little to quell the resentment. There was a feeling that even if the new acquisitions performed to the peak of their powers the sale of RVP would still find the club left wanting in attack.

Giroud, signed from Montpellier not long before his 26th birthday, was seen as a particularly low profile arrival given that he has been something of a late bloomer at the top level. The forward finished Ligue 1 as top scorer with 21 goals last term as Montpellier won their first ever league title. This contribution though, was the first of any note from the Frenchman in a top European league. Arsenal fans thought better than to get too excited about a player who until 2010 had spent most of his career in the lower reaches of French football.

The Grenoble youth academy graduate predictably struggled to adapt to the school of hard knocks that is the Premier League and as Arsene Wenger continued to back his forward in the press, Giroud continued to draw a blank on the pitch. Finally in hisseventh league appearance he found the net against West Ham. Cue prolific scoring streak? Unfortunately not, the striker continued to stutter and his adaptation to the English game has been painfully slow for Arsenal fans. In recent weeks however, the former Montpellier marksman has upped his game and the goals have begun to flow. £12 million (half of the fee received for Van Persie) is now beginning to look like more shrewd business from Wenger and Giroud is beginning to look every inch the Premiership predator.

Three goals in his last two league outings along with strikes in the League Cup and Champions League have seen the forward gather momentum, the difference, that most precious of striking commodities: confidence.  Arsenal’s historic league cup comeback against Reading could be viewed as the catalyst for Giroud who scored that night, a night that the second half performance from the Gunners simply oozed self-belief.

Several other factors have perhaps contributed to the striker’s change in fortune. The likes of Lukas Podolski ,Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla have helped share the goal scoring burden and Podolski in particular, bagged a few goals early on in the season to help fill the gap left by Van Persie. Cazorla too has been a striker’s dream, reveling in the Arsenal ethos of pretty attacking play and forging opportunities for those ahead of him.

Arsenal though, remain far from the finished article, and inconsistency blights their ever watchable style. Wenger continues to work wonders during the summer transfer months to maintain a top four status while regularly being forced to sell his best players.  With Giroud though, there is a sense that there is a lot more to come and that Wenger may have someone who can add bite to Arsenal’s bark. While he may not have the class of Van Persie, Giroud has the look of a clinical fox in the box. The striker’s second against Fulham epitomized the man, having seen his initial effort hit the post he decided not to dwell on what might have been but took up a textbook position to head in Walcott’s cross when the ball came back into the box. The importance of his determination, confidence and form, if it continues, to Arsenal’s hopes of securing a top four finish both this season and in the future cannot be understated.

By Francis Johnston

Arsenal between a rock and hard place: Keep or sell Robin van Persie?

Arsenal have been handed a hammer blow due to the fact that captain and talisman Robin van Persie has confirmed that he will not be extending his contract at the north London club. With less than 12 months before the Netherlands international is a free agent, Arsene Wenger has a key decision to make in whether to keep his best player and lose him for nothing in a year, or sell him now for financial gain and to a preferable buyer. Here is the rock and the hard place.

Keep Van Persie

Although transfer rumours have been rife since Van Persie’s announcement, the striker is still an Arsenal player until next June. With the Gunners looking to break back into title contention in 2012-13, the presence of the current PFA Player of the Year will guarantee them goals and make them a more difficult opponent. After a disastrous start to last season following the summer departures of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas, Wenger will be keen to avoid a similar transitional period, and keeping RVP would guarantee as much. Finally, if the north London outfit do challenge for or even win the title, somehow, miraculously, Van Persie could change his mind.

However, the Emirates Stadium faithful’s reaction to the attacker is yet to be seen. Some more understanding fans may grudgingly accept his decision, even if they don’t like it, but a large section of Gunners fans will be very angry and show Van Persie this. A negative reaction from the fans could well impact on the player and the team, and drive the talented forward into the arms of one of Arsenal’s Premier League rivals.

Sell Van Persie

After the departures of Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Nasri and Fabregas, Arsenal have at times of late been given the mantle of a ‘selling club’. Cashing in on Van Persie will only go to strengthen this train of thought, and may well convince the likes of Theo Walcott and other Gunners players that there is a step up to be made from the Emirates Stadium. If Van Persie does leave it also puts added pressure on assumed replacement Olivier Giroud, who will have to hit the ground running to keep Arsenal in contention.

However, one way or the other, seeing Van Persie leave the club will be torture on the Arsenal fans. Despite this, Wenger still has power over his potential destination until the transfer window ends. Seeing the current captain wear the blue of City or red of United would certainly be heartbreaking, and as such with the likes of Juventus and Paris-Saint Germain circling, selling him is a real option. Barcelona, Real Madrid and other European giants surely would be tempted if Van Persie was openly available also, and the gut-wrenching prospect of watching him join a Premier League rival (for free) would be avoided.

It is certainly a decision that Wenger would prefer not to have to make, but surely selling Van Persie is the better option for Arsenal. Some of the financial gain can be reinvested in the team, whilst the likes of City or United will not be strengthened by the Gunners’ loss.

Published – Soccerlens

Arsenal must now sell Robin van Persie after his contract refusal

Arsenal have been handed a hammer blow with the news that Robin van Persie will not be extending his contract at the club, with the side now starting to think about life without their talisman. Arsene Wenger has an important decision to make in terms of whether to cash-in on the forward and recoup up to £20 million, or keep him for another season and lose the player on a free transfer next summer; however, Van Persie’s decision will not have come as a shock to the French coach.

Wenger has wasted little time this summer in bolstering his Gunners squad for the 2012-13 season, with the attacking reinforcements of Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski signed up. Giroud’s signing in particular was an indicator that Van Persie was on his way out of the Emirates Stadium, as the ex-Montpellier man is an out-and-out forward, ready to step into Van Persie’s considerable shoes; Wenger will have known of his captain’s intentions to leave some time ago.

Despite a below-par Euro 2012 campaign for Netherlands this summer, Van Persie remains one of the most clinical and highly-respected strikers in the European game. It is hard to blame the 28-year-old for considering his future; the best players want to challenge themselves and compete for trophies. Given that Arsenal’s last triumph was back in 2005, it is only natural that the attacker is considering supposed interest from the likes of Manchester City, Juventus, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, amongst others.

Van Persie has been the main man for the Gunners over the last number of seasons, and as such Arsenal’s decision whether to sell him now or not will be a crucial one. If they do decide to cash-in on the forward, the pressure on the likes of Giroud will be accelerated. That said, the usually stringent Wenger has shelled out x million on the France international so must believe in his abilities to succeed. The Gunners started last season in a transitional status, and Van Persie’s sale would ensure a potential repeat in August, which could also lead to poor initial results as new players find their feet.

If they decide to make Van Persie see out his contract it may ensure a bit of continuity and allow Giroud to be brought into the role of main man on a gradual basis, but there are also major downfalls. The club’s fans’ response to their once-hero will be interesting to say the least, as their shining light may well now be transformed into the villain of the piece.

The north London club will be wary of Van Persie’s next destination also, with Premier League rivals sure to be circling. Seeing the Dutch superstar follow Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy to Manchester City would be devastating, watching him score for Manchester United heartbreaking or looking on in disgust as he wears Chelsea blue stomach-turning for Gunners fans.

It is for that reason that Arsenal must sell Van Persie before the end of the transfer window. With interest from Italy, Spain and France, Wenger can all-but select who to deal with, and can avoid his captain staying in England, whilst simultaneously receiving a financial boost to reinvest in the team. If the Gunners hold onto Van Persie they risk the fans turning on their skipper, and may have to suffer the heartache of watching him sign a pre-contract agreement at the Etihad Stadium, Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge in January.

Five strikers the Premier League’s best should be targeting

With the end of the season approaching, the summer transfer market will be back in full swing from June, and the Premier League’s leading sides will look to bolster their squads to challenge again in 2012-13. There is a case for all top six English clubs – Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool – to add a new striker to their ranks, with the following five hitmen in-form and within the English sides’ reach.

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

Club – Schalke
Valuation – 15 million +
Would suit – Tottenham

Huntelaar is a product of the famed Ajax youth academy, but after ill-fated stints at AC Milan and Real Madrid, has come into his own at Schalke. The 28-year-old has scored 22 goals in the Bundesliga this term, challenging for the German top flight and Europa League Golden Boots, and is clearly confident and clinical.

On the international stage, KJH topped the Euro 2012 qualification goalscoring charts with 12 strikes, and is sure to participate for the Netherlands this summer if he stays fit. With the marksman’s contract in Gelsenkirchen expiring in the summer of 2013, the Veltins-Arena outfit may be tempted to cash-in on their star attacker.

Olivier Giroud

Club – Montpellier
Valuation – 15 million +
Would suit – Manchester United

The 25-year-old French forward has come into his own after taking a while to establish himself in his homeland, and has become a difficult opponent for opponents across Ligue 1. Giroud is good with the ball at his feet, powerful in the air and has an eye for goal.

Giroud’s continued goalscoring has powered Montpellier from a mid-table side to title challengers in a year, and seen him break into the senior France squad. Likely to be given his opportunity to really shine at Euro 2012, the suitors may well be queuing up for his services come June.

Roberto Soldado

Club – Valencia
Valuation – 20 million +
Would suit – Chelsea

Since leaving Real Madrid in 2008, Roberto Soldado has been one of the most consistent and clinical strikers in Spain, and this term has been no exception. The intelligent forward has led Los Che’s attack after the summer sale of Juan Mata, and with 16 La Liga goals to his name is in great form.

Soldado’s club efforts have been recognised on the international stage, and despite competition from Alvaro Negredo, Fernando Torres, Fernando Llorente and the returning David Villa, should lead the line for the World Cup holders in Poland and Ukraine.

Leandro Damiao

Club – Internacional
Valuation – 15 million +
Would Suit – Arsenal

Along with Santos’ Neymar, Leandro Damiao of Internacional is in high-demand in Europe after excellent and exciting performances in Brazil. The sprightly 22-year-old has scored almost a goal per game for the Port Alegre outfit over two years, and has been the subject of transfer speculation over the last 12 months.

Damiao’s constant threat at club level has been rewarded with international recognition, with five caps to his name for the Selecao currently. With the player recently announcing that he is ready to go to Europe, there is sure to be a scramble for his signature this summer.

Ricky van Wolfswinkel

Club – Sporting Lisbon
Valuation – 12 million +
Would suit – Liverpool

Another Dutch striker trying to live up to so many legends from the nation before him, Van Wolfswinkel has slowly but surely become a well-known and highly-rated forward across Europe. The 23-year-old has continued where he left of at Utrecht with new club Sporting Lisbon after moving to Portugal last summer, and has seen his stock rise.

A goal against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium for Sa Pinto’s men will have done nothing to harm his already burdening reputation, whilst the versatile attacker has also broke into the Netherlands senior squad. With United’s links to Sporting Sir Alex Ferguson will be keeping a close eye on Van Wolfswinkel, but others will be sure to rival the Red Devils for the star-in-the-making’s signature.

Published – Bleacher Report

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