Monthly Archives: December 2016

Thoughts on Champions League Group Stages

Image result for ozil ludogorets

With the games concluded yesterday, another set of UEFA Champions League group stage fixtures came to an end, with 16 teams moving to the Knockout Phase, the likes of Tottenham advancing to the Europa League to meet Manchester United and the rest of that lot and of course, eight teams sent out of Europe entirely.

For the first time in five seasons, Arsenal topped their group (thanks to the valiant Balkan heroes of Ludogorets Razgard) alongside perennial group winners, Barcelona but there were some teams that finished in pole position which makes this season’s competition quite interesting. The likes of Atletico Madrid and Juventus have been Euorpean superpowers in the past, with Atletico winning a couple of Europa Leagues and coming really close to winning the big one in two quick successions but it was interesting seeing the likes of Napoli, Dortmund, Monaco and the season’s surprise package, Leicester City.

As for the runner ups, it was a pleasant surprise seeing Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in second place, while PSG’s final position in Group A was their own doing. Having gotten the result they wanted at the Emirates, drawing at home to Ludogorets was a disgrace, not like Arsenal fans care. Then there was Benfica, Manchester City, Leverkusen, Porto and Sevilla.

Due to the fact that Arsenal cannot meet an English team in the quarterfinals, we can scratch Man City and Leicester as teams that the Gunners wouldn’t face till the quarterfinals at least, but there are six other teams that could be paired with Arsene Wenger’s side

  • SL Benfica
  • Bayern Munich
  • Bayer Leverkusen
  • FC Porto
  • Sevilla and
  • Real Madrid

Looking at that list, every typical Arsenal would want to avoid the defending champions, Real Madrid and of course, Bayern Munich. The Bavarians haven’t set the world alight under their new manager, Carlo Ancelotti, but their record against the Gunners is quite staggering with Arsenal dropping by the roadside when both teams clash in the knockout stages. Both teams met in the group stages last season with the Gunners getting a famous result at the Emirates but the return leg was disastrous with the Munich-based outfit thumping five past Petr Cech.

It’s quite interesting to know that Arsenal finished the group stage unbeaten and the last time Arsenal did this, they were paired in the same group with FC Thun, Sparta Prague and Ajax Amsterdam. They beat Real Madrid in the knockout phase before easing past Juventus in the quarterfinals. Then there was the business of saving a certain Juan Roman Riquelme penalty in the semis before the fairy tale ended on a sad note in Paris. Jens Lehmann’s consecutive clean sheet record still stands till this day.

The draws will be out on Monday and we will wait patiently to see who we will be paired against.

Until then, there is the business of Stoke City to take care of over the weekend.

Sayonara.

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Top of the Table, For a Change!

Image result for lucas perez basel

FC Basel 1-4 Arsenal

Match ReportMatch HighlightsPost-Match Press Conference

Despite the fact that PSG looked like overwhelming favorites to finish on top of the group following their draw at the Emirates a fortnight ago, there was still a slight chance for the Gunners finishing as group winners, so Arsene Wenger had to select a squad capable of getting a favorable result in Basel. The hosts had the Gunners on their sights, as they had secured some famous results against English opposition with Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea losing on their sacred St. Jacob-Park.

Wenger’s team selection was very interesting with Rob Holding starting ahead of Shkodran Mustafi in the heart of the defense, partnering captain Laurent Koscielny for the first time since that 0-0 draw against Leicester in August. Kieran Gibbs got a rare start at left back while Gabriel Paulista continued to deputize in Hector Bellerin’s absence. Aaron Ramsey returned to his favored central midfield position alongside hometown hero, Granit Xhaka. In attack, Alex Iwobi returned to the side and Lucas Perez played as an inside forward from the right flank. Riyad Mahrez-esque.

Early on, Gibbs reached the byline and drilled a ball that was anticipated by Lucas. With the keeper left for dead and a defender in more or less a hapless position, Lucas had the time in the world to pick his spot and planted the ball into the net to give his team the lead. For a player that has been on the periphery in his Arsenal career, that was definitely a confidence booster. Things got even better when some brilliant team passing play saw Mesut Ozil decimate the defense with a through ball that got Gibbs on clean on goal. The fullback blasted a shot that was parried by Vaclik but Lucas was on hand to blast in the rebound. Two became three for the Spaniard when he latched onto another good pass before finishing with his right foot.

That was another hat-trick in the space of two days. Despite not getting on the score sheet this time, Alexis Sanchez unleashed his creative side, providing delightful passes on the go, which included a pass to Ozil that was fed to Alex Iwobi on a platter for Arsenal’s fourth. The young Nigerian hadn’t gotten any joy in front of goal recently, so you could see the monkey go off his back with that strike. News from Paris made the night even better as Ludogorets Razgard led twice in Paris, which ultimately meant that Arsenal was going to finish ahead of the French champions if the scoreline remained intact.

An error from Rob Holding allowed Seydou Doumbia to score what proved to be a consolation goal and PSG’s late equalizer brought some nerves but in the end, the French side earned themselves a second place finish with a home draw, while the Gunners won their Champions League group for the first time in five years. Let’s just hope we get a favorable draw this time but the performance was wonderful to say the least. David Ospina didn’t have much to do all game long, but he made some good saves and had a better aerial performance. One of his shortcomings as a goalie has been his ability in the air but he made several claims and dominated his box. Gibbs is another player worthy of a mention following a virtuoso performance last night. He has accepted his fate as Nacho Monreal’s deputy but to come on and put up that show was commendable.

Then there’s the hat-trick hero, Lucas Perez. Arsene Wenger had some nice words for him in his post-match press conference but I was particularly happy for the player because he has become a somewhat frustrated character at the club. Yes, he has been a journeyman for the most part of his career and when he joined the club, he expected to feature a whole lot more, but he had been reduced to meager cup appearances and a couple of cameos here and there. His injury in the EFL Cup didn’t help his cause as well, but scoring a hat-trick has given his manager something to think about which makes things very interesting.

Most of all, I am very delighted with the depth of the squad this season. In goal, Wenger can comfortably select Petr Cech, Ospina or even young Emi Martinez. Rob Holding has shown maturity beyond his years and Mustafi has already blended well into the team. We still have the injured captain, Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista that can put in a great shift, and despite the injury crisis at right back, Gabriel has been doing a swell job to hold the fort, pending Bellerin or Matt Debuchy’s return to the side. You can say the same for midfield and attack.

The good times are back people, there’s the issue of Stoke City to deal with.

More on that in the coming days.

Sayonara.

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Basel Preview: Team News, Injury Updates and Predicted Lineups

Image result for walcott goal basel

After such an amazing display of attacking football over the weekend, all eyes would be on the Gunners, as they take on FC Basel in the final Champions League group stage fixtures. This would have been a dead rubber contest if Arsene Wenger’s side had done what was expected of them when PSG came to town, but there would be an air of uncertainty as another second placed finish looms.

The bookies would have high odds for FC Basel in this game and remember that, for Champions League betting, visit William Hill website. With a home clash against Stoke coming up this weekend, Arsene Wenger would rotate his side to keep the players fresh, but he would recall that the last time he made wholesale changes to the squad, he was embarrassed at home to Southampton in the EFL Cup. The boss has confirmed that Olivier Giroud is back in the squad following a groin problem, but the team would be without the suspended Francis Coquelin.

The game could see Giroud return to the middle with the red-hot Alexis Sanchez probably getting some deserved rest. The game would be of particular interest to Granit Xhaka and most especially, Mohamed Elneny, who waxed lyrical about his time in the Swiss outfit,

“I am very happy that I will be going back to my former club Basel. I was there for three years and have fantastic memories of the players, fans, people in the streets and also my friends in Basel. I was very happy there and of course I am delighted to go back to catch up with the people there and experience the feeling of playing in Basel again.

“Playing for Basel was very important for my career. I represented the club in the Champions League, Europa League and the Swiss league. So for me I gained a lot of experience during my time at Basel. I had move to a European league which is very different from playing in Egypt. So everything I learnt there helped me when I moved to Arsenal. It was a beautiful time of my career, I achieved important things and I learnt a lot during my time there. I am very happy with my overall experience there.”

From the nice words, it’s evident that Elneny would not celebrate if he manages to find the back of the net against FC Basel tonight.  The home side would be gnashing their teeth coming into this game, following a 3 – 1 loss to BSC Young Boys over the weekend. That defeat didn’t affect their stronghold on the Swiss League table, even though second placed Young Boys managed to gain some momentum.

Basel’s form in the Champions League has been atrocious, as the Swiss side has failed to record a single win their five group stage games, managing two draws against minnows, Ludogorets Razgard, while losing to Arsenal and PSG (twice). Another poor result tonight and Ludogorets getting something favorable in Paris would see FC Basel knocked out of Europe entirely.

Injury Updates

Arsenal: Per Mertesacker, Danny Welbeck (knee), Santi Cazorla (Achilles tendon), Chuba Akpom (back), Hector Bellerin (ankle)

Basel: Dereck Kutesa (knock), Jean-Paul Boetius (ankle), Kevin Bua (muscle)

Arsenal Form

  • Last Five Games: D D W L W
  • Last Result: West Ham 1-5 Arsenal
  • Leading Goalscorer: Alexis Sanchez (13)

Basel Form

  • Last Five Games: D W W W L
  • Last Result: Young Boys 3-1 Basel
  • Leading Goalscorer: Matias Delgado, Seydou Doumbia (9)

Predicted Lineups

Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Ospina; Gabriel, Koscielny, Mustafi, Gibbs; Xhaka, Elneny; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Iwobi; Giroud

Basel (4-3-3): Vaclik; Riveros, Eder Balanta, Suchy, Lang; Xhaka, Delgado, Zuffi; Steffen, Bjarnasson, Doumbia

Gooner Daily predicts a 2 – 0 Arsenal win.

Sayonara.

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