Premier League 2015-16: Arsenal’s bottling and Leicester’s history

What a fascinating premier league season this has been. Traditional powers have faltered and a team which was almost relegated is on the verge of creating history. Against all the odds stacked up against them of skepticism (myself included up till February saying they will eventually fizzle out), the riches of the Russian and the Arab, the ‘astute’ economics of a professor and the mad should have been genius of a Dutchman. For all the neutrals out there and also for all the supporters of the smaller clubs – Leicester are carving their name deeper into stone and going right up there to remain in the premier league history for generations to come. The fairy tale ending for the club is almost here and what could be more fitting then Claudio (that oh so love able manager) lift the trophy at the very club which parted ways with him at the start of their own success era – Chelsea.

It has of course been frustrating for me as an Arsenal fan. This season should have been made more of especially in the face of Chelsea being a disaster, Liverpool rebuilding itself in the vision of Klopp, United not really going anywhere under LvG and Manchester City simply fizzling out amidst the Pep taking over next season talk. Arsenal had the squad, they had the players, they should have made more of a fight of this. But the failings were the same. Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to reinforce the squad in the summer surely has to be a huge factor in this. Not being able to strengthen in January isn’t much of a concern as genuinely there won’t be much talent on offer during the winter window (exceptions in the past exist but are rare). I take nothing away from Leicester and Tottenham in how they have played all season. They deserve to be where they are. But with all that Arsenal poses in terms of a squad they should have been fighting till the end with them. Mathematically they might have recently gone out of it but honestly Arsenal were out of the fighting back in February. When they lost to United and Swansea and failed to gain ground after winning their second match against Leicester. This was compounded by an exit from the FA Cup to Watford – a cup which has been a silver lining in the last 2 seasons. And yet another round of 16 exit in the Champions League. Its not just a mental thing anymore. They bottled it. They bottled it because some parts are mental. They bottled it because some parts were just plain wasteful and not enough depth in terms of resources. Ozil inspired and arguably had a superb season. He came into his own. He has finally started looking like the Ozil of old who is familiar now with the premier league. The first half of the season he was hailed. The second half perhaps he did find a dip but what hampered Arsenal more was the dip in form of those around him who he was creating the chances for. He can’t help it if his chances created are not being converted. Giroud and Walcott both disappointed. Welbeck was injured for ¾ of the season. Sanchez was out for almost half of it. And it has affected us. We terribly missed Carzola too. The partnership between him and Coquelin had become a driving engine for Arsenal in the midfield. So yes there were injuries as well. There were mental issues and injuries – but then there should have been more. Wenger should have gotten squad depth in the summer. The only glimmer of hope from this season now is the emergence of Iwobi. He has proven himself to be quite capable of being a regular with a good footballing brain. That and the acquisition of Elneny. Two good points. The rest however has been disappointing and that is putting it mildly. Fact remains: Arsenal should have done better this season.

 If Arsenal are to go beyond being a ‘consistent 4th place’ finisher they need some serious strategy overhaul and change. And it is going to be tougher next season with more clubs getting richer with the TV rights deal money pouring into the premier league clubs wallets. So more of the same may very well mean Arsenal don’t even qualify for Champions League next season. More of the same strategy that is. Change is necessary. Change is required. And it has to start with the board. And it has to start with the manager.

Arsene Wenger has given Arsenal 20 years of unparallel service. He will always remain a core part of what Arsenal is today and it’s modern day football successes. He has been invaluable during the club’s time of building a new stadium and the financial constraints that were presented during the time. However that is all done now and there needs to be a decisive way forward where a 4th place finish is not enough. An FA Cup victory is also not enough. There has to be more fight to challenge for the premier league and there has to be better showing in Europe. For this the board’s strategy and vision also needs to change. They are quite comfortable right now because of the astute business deliverables Wenger has been providing them and as long as that remains things will stay the same.

Arsenal need to add depth to their squad. They need to get a 20 goal a season striker. Out and out class of a striker. They need to reinforce their defense as well given Per is getting older and soon Kos will be heading towards the twilight as well. And given the performance this season a clear out of those who have been given a lot of time to establish themselves has to be done. Walcott should be done. Ox should be done. Get them out and get Mahrez if that is even slightly possible. Or someone of the like.

As for managers to be honest right now there are no clear world class options available. So don’t know what can be done in that regard. Certainly don’t want a post Ferguson type of era happening at Arsenal as it has at Manchester United.

Leicester are closer to their title triumph after drawing with Manchester United over the weekend and can very well wrap it if Tottenham fail to beat Chelsea tonight. I am all for them winning the title – they truly deserve the history they are making.

Kudos Leicester, kudos Claudio, kudos Vardy, Mahrez, Morgan, Kante and co. You deserve it.

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2013-14: The Rollercoaster Premiership Post Fergie

So after 37 match weeks of one of the most roller coaster Premiership seasons the final day has arrived. Although it will seem pale in front of the rest of the season it will still have some if not a lot of nerves showing. Life of the Premiership post a Fergie Manchester United has been anything but predictable or consistent. It has been one of best seasons especially from a neutral’s point of view. We have seen fortunes come and go and basically come crashing down as well. And the goals have been mouth watering and a plenty! Both Liverpool and Manchester City play their final games with chances of breaking Chelsea’s record of most goals scored in a single season. It has been insane.

That most things have already been decided either in theory or by math as well is sort of a disappointment from an overall point of view. It would have made for an even more intense finale had Liverpool not drawn with Crystal Palace. Or if Norwich would not have given up the relegation battle to a mere draw with Chelsea (they didn’t fight.. they just parked the bus which was not a characteristic of a team fighting for survival. 4th place is no longer a contest and Arsenal will remain consistently in the top 4 and claim their place in the champions league for a 17th consecutive season (albeit disappointing to finish 4th after much better promise at the start of the season – they were top till Christmas – and very much in the hunt for the title till the end of February). 2 teams are already relegated. One Europa spot is already decided. In theory just the top 3 positions remain to be seen off (I cant stress enough the in theory bit), Norwich’s official relegation and the 2nd Europa position between Manchester United and Tottenham.

So as we are about to head into the kick off of the final game week, the Liverpool fans will be hoping their terrific trio (Suarez, Sturridge and Gerrard) hit the the back of the net more times then the Magpies and that somehow the footballing Gods take pity on them and Gerrard the most and somehow bring out the worst performance from a Manchester City side who are ahead on points and need only draw their game to ensure they still win the title on goal difference against a West Ham side they have already comprehensively beaten 3 times this season. So in all probability the 24 year wait for a league title for the Reds will translate into year 25 years. However I would rather have preferred Liverpool to win it for Gerrard (it is my personal and humble opinion that the guy deserved to get there for all his loyalty to his boyhood club).

Liverpool have had a massive season despite that. Suarez has had a fantastic season, one which has been much beyond than just merely re-establishing his image from all the damage inflicted from the eager bites at the end of last season. 30 goals in 32 games is phenomenal. He has surely etched himself into the hearts of the Liverpool faithful and will be one of the players to watch in the upcoming world cup in Brazil. Brendan Rogers must be given absolute credit for driving the Reds to their fantastic season and managing Suarez as well. Yes that they have not had Champions League football on the side has helped and definitely something for which they will have to work accordingly for next season if they are to continue the gains from this season.

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City have not really had any dip in form throughout this season apart from when Yaya Toure was injured (who has been fantastic this season) and the initial parts of Aguero’s absence (very little). The depth in their squad thou has more than compensated for such injury absences. Their front line has been a power house of scoring especially at the Etihad and also in some away games. Their premier league focus grew stronger after their exit from the Champions league thus further (further proving the point mentioned above for Liverpool). They should easily bag their second title on the final day and this time probably on points. Pellegrini and the Sheikh will be happy men.

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Chelsea have had a good season given Mourinho was working with half a squad which was ageing, which has seen a flurry of Managers come and go over the last 7 seasons and that they were involved in the champions league up till the semi finals. It will be disappointing thou to finish the season without any silverware. The special one has again proved this season that when it comes to tactics and strategy, there are few who can match him in the game (as of now). He will have to enforce the squad for next season to bring silverware next season and again mount a sustained run for the league title and champions league both (which would be a bare minimum requirement for the boss).

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Arsenal – they have in the end had the exact same kind of season as they did last year, and the one before and the one before and the one before etc etc (need I continue). It however started very differently this time (apart from that first game). Arsenal led the league for a good part of the season. In fact between Arsenal and Liverpool they have led the league for perhaps 90% of the season. However the gunners faced uphill tasks once the injuries started flowing in. Ramsey who could potentially have had a brilliant ‘complete’ season went to injury. Walcott was out in January. There were absences in between for Ozil (our record breaking signing), Koscielny, up front etc. The season has ended more or less the same with just one hope that they might win the FA Cup against Hull and end 9 trophy-less years. And perhaps Wenger feel a little vindicated in his unwavering belief of keeping an ‘economical but quality squad’. However if they suffer any sort of collapse in the FA Cup final it will be yet another season without any sort of real positives or indication towards a move forward. And despite having consistently been in the top 4 and champions league qualification for 17 years – it is not enough. Not for the fans and most definitely not enough for sustainability as an ambition. The competition is getting tougher in the Premier League (it is by far one of the most competitive leagues). Everton almost beat them to the 4th place. Wenger needs to either reinforce heavily or he needs to say sayonara even if they win the FA Cup (which I doubt will happen). I feel it is perhaps time for a new thought process at the Emirates. And I say this as a fan who has been very supportive of the Professor’s way of management and results with the resources we have had. But now time has come to move forward and aim higher.

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And continuing on the same vein as being a Gooner – Manchester United have had by far the worst possible season. It has been their worst in many years. They have let teams come and win at Old Trafford who haven’t won in 20, 30 or 40 years. Or even those who have NEVER won at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’. Moyes will not be remembered well by the United faithful. He has had to endure a squad which has not nearly hit anywhere near the type of quality they are capable of. They have been utterly disappointing at home and have recorded their lowest points table in their Premier League history. I for one have thoroughly enjoyed their season, their fans journey from ‘Moyes is the chosen one’ to ‘Go home Moyes’. Sir Alex didn’t do him any favors either by leaving him a squad which was not really well equipped for this season and especially without the great Scot at the helm of affairs. It will be very interesting to see how they respond next season without Champions League and probably under the leadership of Louis Van Gaal. In all fairness a club like Manchester United need a big manager who is capable of managing big players and big squads along with big expectations of the fans and board alike. Moyes for all his endurance and achievements (albeit of mediocrity as shown by Martinez’s Everton) in the preceding years with Everton was never going to be successful in filling Fergie’s shoes. But the expectation might have been a far 3rd or 4th. To miss out on Europe altogether has been a culture shock for everyone at Manchester United that goes well beyond the term ‘in transition’.

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So as I finally wrap this blog we are at half time of the final gameweek and as things stand:

United are missing europe completely losing to Southampton and with Spurs winning at Villa

Chelsea and Liverpool are both trailing while City are leading.

So as it would seem – there are no twists left for the season. But then again you never know. Kudos 2013-14 – a fantastic season you have been, from a neutral’s point of view of course.

Match Day 38: A befitting end to a brilliant Premier League Season

And so we arrive on the final match day of the 2011-12 Season with lots of drama potentially in the making. There is lots to play for and lots to be decided. What a fitting end to what has been by far one of the best seasons over the last few years. Apart from the relegation of Wolves and Blackburn, the rest will unfold today. We have a title race, champions league spots, Europa spots and the final relegation spot all going down to the wire.

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The two Manchester clubs face off for the title with City looking to win it for the first time in 44 years. Also if they win it will be the first time the title has been won by a team other than Man United, Chelsea or Arsenal since Blackburn lifted the crown in 96. In fact City would be the 5th team to win the top flight of England since it was changed to the ‘Premier League’.

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United look to add to their tally of league titles to make it 20 and nothing would please Sir Alex more than to steal the show on the last day from the blue half of Manchester. Albeit it is not entirely in United’s hand. Both teams are equal on points but the blue half has a better goal difference. So as Fergie put it himself United are hoping for something ‘stupid’ by the blue half to hand them the title.

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Arsenal, Tottenham and Newcastle are in the battle for Europe’s elite tournament next season. Arsenal play West Brom, Spurs face off Fulham and the Magpies against Everton. Even thou Chelsea are out of this particular battle through the league thanks to their heavy defeat against Liverpool they still have a role to play. In the Champions League final against Bayern Munich this season if they win then they get a chance to play in the Champs League next season. Now this is how it goes: top 3 places in the league get automatic qualification for the Champions League group stages. 4th Place gets a chance to play in the qualification matches for the tournament. 5th place is Europa League. Currently Arsenal are 3rd, Tottenham 4th and Newcastle 5th with a difference of 2 points between them. If Chelsea win the Champions league then the 4th place team goes to Europa and not the Champions League.

For Arsenal it is incredibly important that they secure a place with Europe’s finest next season. They risk losing the services of talismanic skipper Robin Van Persie who has had an outstanding season. 30 League goals, led from the front and right up there with the assists as well. His contributions have made up for almost 40% of Arsenal’s goals this season and the risk of losing him will prove to be extremely costly next year. Besides, Wilshere made a bet with I think Bale or Lennon or one of the Spurs players about Arsenal finishing below spurs. We simply cannot let that happen now can we.

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Spurs it would often seem are more inclined to upstage Arsenal then anything else. They have unfortunately been down this road once before when on the final day they lost and surrendered the final place in the champions league. It was a case of some virus then which had half the spurs squad playing below 100% fitness. They would like to ensure that doesn’t happen this time around.

Magpies have the most challenging match of the 3 teams. Their trip to Everton will hardly be easy. Even thou all Everton will be playing for is a chance to finish the season better then their derby rivals (Liverpool), it should be a difficult game for Newcastle. At home only Manchester City have conceded fewer goals then Everton.

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Last but not least let’s come to the relegation battle. The face off for survival in England’s top flight. Blackburn and Wolves are already gone. Queens Park Rangers, Bolton and Aston Villa will be looking to avoid the last spot. Villa are more or less safe thou – mathematically speaking they could still go down but realistically it isn’t happening. They are 3 points ahead of Bolton and 1 point ahead of QPR. Their goal difference is –14 to QPR’s –22 and Bolton’s –31. So even if they do lose to Norwich, it will have to be a record breaking goal fest of a defeat for Aston Villa to be in danger. So practically it is a straight shooter between QPR and Bolton for the final survival. QPR face the daunting task of facing City at home and making themselves and Sir Alex the happiest people of the day. I don’t see it happening but then again the pressure of the final day could still get to Mancini’s side and the possibility of twists and turns isn’t that far fetched. Bolton play Stoke at home. If they lose that means they will be out of the Premier League for the first time since 2002. Also it will mean that for the first time since 2002 that all 3 promoted clubs will stay on in the premier league for next season. In that year it was Bolton, Fulham and Blackburn.

So that’s in store for the final match day of the season. What a befitting end it is. 6 important matches. There is bound to be drama. There are bound to be emotions. Tempers will rise. Heated words will be exchanged. The refs will be under the micro-est of microscopes. Plenty of goals or wall defense. I can’t hardly wait. Almost wishing all 6 matches were being broadcast here and I had 6 televisions!

My predictions:

Manchester City vs QPR 2-1

Manchester United vs Sunderland 3-1

Arsenal vs West Brom 1-0

Tottenham vs Fulham 2-0

Newcastle vs Everton 1-1

Bolton vs Stoke 2-2

So yes …. I think and hope that City win the title. A) because I am a gunner and hate United B) Because it will be good for the game to have a new league winner C) because I don’t like United.

Arsenal will be 3rd as per my prediction not only because I am a gunner but also because I do feel they will have more hunger in a game which means nothing to West Brom other then the last day of the season.

A Super Sunday awaits us Open-mouthed smile!

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