Arsenal Victory Key To Chelsea Title Hopes

The eyes of many football fans may be tempoarily distracted by the Ryder Cup this weekend, as golf’s biggest event takes centre stage from the Celtic Manor, but for Chelsea Football Club, all involved must ensure they are fully focused on this Sunday’s crucial match at Stamford Bridge.

Despite their slip up at home to West Brom last weekend, Arsenal are without question legitimate contenders for the 2010-11 Barclays Premier League title. After falling just short last season, the Gunners have added real quality in the likes of Laurent Koscielny and Marouane Chamakh to their squad and with influential captain Cesc Fabregas posied to return, it will be a huge test of Chelsea’s title credentials on Sunday.

As impressive as the start made by those in chelsea shirts was – the Blues won their opening five games with a goal difference of plus twenty – it could ultimately count for nothing if Arsenal head home to watch the closing stages of the Ryder Cup with three points under their belt.

Should that happen and Manchester United win at Sunderland the previous day, Chelsea would be top of the table only on goal difference and the emphatic nature of their opening victories would count for almost nothing.  The Blues must therefore ensure that they are on the top of their game and ensure that no slip up takes place.

My feeling is that Chelsea will win the game as the players will feel they have a point to prove. They didn’t get the respect their early form deserved with critics proclaiming that they “hadn’t been tested yet”, an accusation which was further supported with last weekends loss to Manchester City. In truth, it was a very poor performance with too many players not showing what they are capable of.

Worryingly for Arsenal, one such player was Didier Drogba. The last thing Arsene Wenger will be wanting is a fired up Ivorian with a point to prove as the Gunners have simply been unable to handle the hitman. I would back Drogba to score a double in a 3-1 Chelsea victory, a result which would see Arsenal fall 7 points behind their title rivals.

With the players then heading off on international duty with the Euro 2012 qualifiers taking centre stage, this would be a huge psychological strike in the title race. Arsenal would be no means out of the title race, but the early season optimism would be well and truly knocked out of them and it would take a lot of mental strength for them to haul themselves back into the mix.

Written by Colin Hill, a sports writer who blogs about new football shirts.

More Positives Than Negatives For Newcastle

Sunday’s defeat at home to Stoke City was understandably met with disappointment from the Toon Army as Newcastle slumped to their second successive home defeat after losing 1-0 to Blackpool earlier in the month. Most disappointing of all was the manner of the defeat as not only did Newcastle throw away the lead but Stoke managed to win 2-1 despite only managing one effort on target, as a result of James Perch’s unfortunate own goal.

All things considered, it was three points dropped and a sore one to take for all those wearing newcastle soccer jerseys, but the fact that had they held on for victory, they would be sitting 5th in the Barclays Premier League table after 7 games, ahead of the likes of Aston Villa, Tottenham and Liverpool, suggests that it should be not all doom and gloom at St James Park.

Such are the expectation levels at Newcastle, where fans remember the times of Kevin Keegan and the stars such as Faustino Asprilla, David Ginola, Les Ferdinand and Alan Shearer, that the normal target for newly promoted clubs of “avoid relegation” is not applicable. In truth, staying in the fiercly competitive Premier League would be an achievement for a club whose financial constraints mean they have not significantly added to the squad over the past two seasons.

My feeling is that Newcastle should comfortably finish mid-table this season and will not be dragged into a relegation dogfight. Despite the inevitable setbacks which hamper even much more established Premiership clubs (take Spurs home defeat to Wigan for example), it has been a good start to the season for the Toon Army with far more positives than negatives.

From the resurgence of Joey Barton to the form of Andy Carroll to the six goal mauling of Aston Villa to the sweet strike from the left football boot of new-boy Hatem Ben Arfa, already Newcastle have served their fans up a rollercoaster of emotion and given us some memorable moments for the 2010-11 Premier League season.

There is of course a bit of trial and error to be done as manager Chris Hughton learns about his players as they come up against better quality teams than they did in their march towards the Championship title last seasons. Over the course of the season, systems will change, players will adapt to the increased pace and intensity of the Premiership and hopefully games such as Stoke will be closed out in a way that sends the fans home happy.

It’s easy as a football fan to focus on the negatives – but there are definitely more positives at St James Park at the moment.

Written by Colin Hill, a sports blogger who write about kids football kits.

Can Houllier Can Reignite Heskey Fire?

It is difficult to think of a more heavily criticised international forward in the modern era than Emile Heskey. Despite the importance placed on him by both Steve McClaren and Fabio Capello and the improved form at international level he was able to coax out of both Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney, Heskey has long since been labelled as a flop and a striker who should be nowhere near the international team.

His retirement from international duty after the 2010 World Cup Finals means that his critics will indeed get their wish and Heskey will play no part of England’s Euro 2012 qualifying campaign. At club level though, Heskey still has a major part to play as his experience is a key component of a Villa side which is full of young attacking startlets such as Ashley Young, Gabby Agbonlahor and Martin Albrighton.

There have been times during Heskey’s career where he has almost been forgotten about before suddenly reinventing himself and reminding us just what he is capable off. During his time at Wigan, he was largely influential in helping establish the Lactics as a Barclays Premier League side, winning over a number of his doubters and earning an international recall. It was form he has sadly not carried into his Villa career, scoring just 6 goals in 46 games, but all Villa fans will be hoping his reunion with Gerhard Houllier can help the striker turn the corner.

Indeed, it was under Houllier that Heskey enjoyed his best ever season, notching 22 goals and forming a potent partnership with Michael Owen, a man who Villa will be strongly linked with come January. It may come as no surprise then that Emile gave one of his best performances in a Villa shirt as the ink was still drying on the French manager’s contract, with a match turning performance and goal in the Carling Cup victory over Blackburn.

Then, at Molineux on Sunday, as Villa tried their best to throw away the three points, Heskey rose majestically to bullet home an unstoppable header and give Villa three vital points over their rivals. It was a result which, despite the shaky start to the season in the aftermath of Martin O’Neill’s departure, has left Villa 5th in the table, just a point outside of the top four and with a head start on European rivals Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.

It was a goal which reminded us just what Emile Heskey is capable of. Sadly, for whatever reason, it is a capability that has been maximised all too infrequently throughout his career, but those of a Claret and Blue persuasion will be hoping that Houllier is the man to help him unlock it on a more regular basis, because an on-form Emile Heskey may just well be exactly what Aston Villa Football Club needs.

Written by Colin Hill, a sports writer who blogs about cheap football boots.

Just Another Day at The Office for Stuart Attwell

It’s fair to say that being a referee isn’t the easiest job under the world. With cameras covering the game from seemingly every angle and television pundits queing up to scrutinise the performance of referees, it is one of the most high pressure jobs in the world. Except for this weekend. For one week, 99.9% of referees got a free pass – it didn’t matter who they sent off or who they didn’t, what penalty they gave or what they didn’t, any “mistake” the referee made was going to be swept under the carpet.

The reason for that is the performance of Stuart Attwell at Anfield. Whether or not you agree with the goal that he awarded with Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt, it’s fair to say that it’s a talking point which is going to overshadow any other decision made by a referee over the entire weekends football card. For those of you who didn’t see it, Attwell allowed a goal after Fernando Torres onto a Michael Turner ‘free-kick’, squaring to Dirk Kuyt as the Sunderland defence stood motionless. A simple tap-in later and those in Liverpool shirts were ahead. Turner had simply been leaving the ball for his goalkeeper to come and take the goal kick.

Of course, the role of Torres in this is not blameless. Everyone in the ground knew what was going on, so it raises major questions about the Spaniards view of sportsmanship. Attwell, however, should have blown his whistle and stopped such a ridiculous situation from happening. He has unsurprisingly been defended by the top brass who claim that he was ‘technically’ correct to award the goal, but once we stop applying common sense to football the game is in serious trouble.

As if that decision wasn’t bad enough, Attwell also erred by failing to award Sunderland a penalty when Danny Welbeck was floored by Pepe Reina in front of the Kop. He should also have sent off Steven Gerrard after an elbow which Steve Bruce correctly stated ‘would have resulted in a red card if it had been Lee Cattermole’.

Were this a one-off blip for Attwell, it could perhaps be forgiven but sadly for the young referee who was fast-tracked through the system, controversy seems to follow him around. Nobody will ever forget the “phantom” goal he gave Watford at Reading, a goal which was frankly ridiculous and he has been involved in a spate of controversy over the past few weeks, feeling the wrath of Owen Coyle after Gary Cahill’s harsh red card at Arsenal.

Such is the seeming level of support for Attwell within the FA, it wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up being England’s Euro 2012 referee, but in my opinion he should be immediately demoted to the lower leagues until he learns how to keep himself out of the headlines.

Fortunately for footballing karma, Sunderland recovered from the massive injustice and were able to earn a very creditable 2-2 draw thanks to a double for free-scoring Darren Bent, a striker who must be a serious contender for a starting spot in the England national team.

Written by Colin Hill, a sports writer who runs a football boot blog.

Arsenal’s Financial Strategy Will Reap It’s Rewards

Week after week, I listen to the criticisms of Arsenal from non-Gunners fans and the constant belief that Arsene Wenger should be sacked as Arsenal manager. In the modern day world of football, it seems that winning is everything, no matter the cost of success of the consequences of doing so. The argument goes that Arsenal aren’t winning under Wenger and so this completely justifies adopting their approach of developing young players and living within their financial means.

A justifiable argument perhaps, but only if one takes a very short-term view. Firstly, while no Gooner would claim to be happy with the lack of silverware coming their way, a large number of them so enjoy watching the breathtaking free-flowing football on display that it is a sacrifice many are willing to make.

Leaving the quality of the football aside, there is a very simple reason why Arsenal’s approach is the best one. Money. Put simply, the only way to compete with the top teams without developing your own players is to match them pound for pound and pay top dollar for proven world class players.

Unfortunately, the majority of the top teams are not living in the real world at the moment. For Manchester City to pay Yaya Toure £200,000 per week is absolutely ludicrous. City may (although I’m not convinced) achieve short-term success, but just like with Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, there is a point when the mega-rich owners and then what have you got?  A mountain of debt and an unsustainable club.

Look at Leeds United or Newcastle United, two clubs who tried to spend their way with money they didn’t have in the hope that it would put them in a position where they could sustain the inflated prices they were paying. We all know how that turned out.

Likewise, Liverpool, a club who actually do have a history and tradition, are in such as mess through their spending policy that they will not be seen in the top 4 again for a very long time.

In contrast, Arsenal have just announced record pre-tax profits of £56 million. That is hugely impressive in anyone’s book and just goes to show the sound strategy behind everything that goes on at Arsenal FC.

Of course, it’s on the park that actually matters, but in my humble opinion, sometimes it is worth taking a step back before moving forward. There is going to come a time when the mountain of debt built up by the rest of the football world is going to catch up with them and when it does, Arsenal will be perfectly poised to dominate English football for many years to come.

Arsene Wenger has built a foundation at Arsenal which is not only good to watch, but has the potential to grow and I fully expect sales of arsenal replica shirts to increase in the years ahead.

Written by Colin Hill, a sports journalist who blogs about the latest football boots.

Houllier gives Villa fresh impetus

It was a perfect start for new Villa boss Gerard Houllier, as his new team swept aside Blackburn in the Carling Cup on Wednesday. The Villans went behind in the first half to a Gael Givet rocket, but came out fighting after the break and when Houllier introduced Emile Heskey mid-way through the second half, he made an instant impact by neatly finishing in the corner. It is starting to look like Heskey may eventually justify his £3.5 million move from Wigan last year, and it is hard to remember him making such an impact on any game before this week.

Heskey was the catalyst for the advancing Villa, who took a two goal lead in under a couple of minutes after a great performance yielded a brace for the lively Ashley Young. The Aston Villa betting now makes them among the favourites for the cup.

Villa desperately need a bit of magic from the Houllier, after a tough start to this season, which was clear last weekend when they were booed off by their own fans. If anyone can turn around the club’s fortunes it should be Houllier, his impressive record includes bringing through such players as Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher and he is shrewd with the cheque book. His style is much more continental, and should bring out the best in Agbonlhor, Friedel, Ashley Young and youngsters like Albrighton, Delph, Clark, Bannan, as well as under-utilised players such as Reo Coker and Sidwell. The rumour mill has also linked Villa with players including Michael Owen.

If Villa can maintain their recent run of finishing up in sixth it will be an achievement this season. The tectonic plates of English football are rearranging themselves slightly, and fourth is now open to Manchester City, Tottenham, Liverpool and Villa. This would be good news if it weren’t for the fact that those other teams have more world-class players and better track records. October will be a tough month for Villa who face both Spurs and Chelsea, if they can put together some decent performances and even stick some points on the board they should be confident in having a good crack at fourth.?

Newcastle Defeat Exposes Chelsea’s Lack of Depth

Such has been the emphatic nature of Chelsea’s start to the season, that many commentators are already suggesting we hand them the 2010-11 Barclays Premier League title. As starts go, it has certainly been impressive, with the Blues notching an incredible twenty one goals in their opening five leagues fixtures, conceding just one in the process of doing so. Already, they sit 4 points clear of principle rivals Arsenal and Manchester United.

However, those not of a Chelsea persuasion will tell you that the Blues haven’t really played anyone yet and in truth, none of the 5 league opponents brushed aside so far are likely to threaten finishing in the top half of the table this season. The same critics will have you believe that the Chelsea squad is in need of a freshening up, with too many of the top players having being relied on for too long.

While the additions of Yossi Benayoun and Brazilian Ramires look to be shrewd moves by Carlo Ancelotti, it is the over-reliance on these top players which should give Chelsea fans most cause for concern. While the start has been as emphatic as I can ever remember, a Premiership title is not won over 5 games but over a gruelling 38 game season. With European matches, FA Cup ties and Euro 2012 qualifiers on a seemingly never ending basis, the importance of a squad has never been greater.

As impressive as the stars who make up Chelsea’s starting 11 are, I have concerns about lack of depth in the squad compared to their rivals. Of the Manchester United second string who started last night’s tie with Scunthorpe, Tomas Kusczak, Wes Brown, Chris Smalling, Rafael Da Silva, Ji Sung Park, Anderson, Darren Gibson, Michael Owen, Chicharito and Kiko Macheda are all good enough to regularly start in Premiership competition. Similarly, Arsenal’s hugely impressive 4-1 victory over Spurs revealed a number of fringe players who could easily fill in for the Gunners when their (inevitable) injury problems appear.

For Chelsea, it’s highly questionable if they have this strength in depth. The Newcastle side who shocked Stamford Bridge was missing a number of key stars including star man Andy Carroll, midfield duo Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan and the weekend hero Hatem Ben Arfa. No matter how it’s looked at, the fringe men given their chance to shine in Chelsea shirts last night failed in their mission.

I still see Carlo Ancelotti’s men as favourites for the Premier League title this year – but it is going to mean relying on the old guard one more time.

Written by Colin Hill, a sports writer who blogs about new football boots.

Why Howard Webb Called The Big Decision Correctly

As seems to be the trend towards him these days, Howard Webb has attracted a large amount of criticism for his decision not to send off John O’Shea for his foul on Fernando Torres in the lead up to Liverpool’s equaliser on Sunday. The whistler has also come in from criticism from Sir Alex Ferguson for handing Liverpool a route back into the game with what the United boss perceived to be some generous decisions.

It is clear that Webb is rated as one of, if not THE, best referee in the business. After all, you don’t get to handle both the UEFA Champions League and FIFA World Cup Finals within a month of each other unless you are well respected by the suits. He is also a certainty to feature at the Euro 2012 Finals in Poland/Ukraine.

The first main talking point of the game was Liverpool’s penalty when Johnny Evans needlessly fouled Torres to hand Roy Hodgson’s men a path back into the game. It was as clear a penalty as you will see, despite Ferguson’s claims to the contrary.

Most observers were agreed on this issue, leaving O’Shea’s foul on Torres which handed Liverpool an equaliser. The recklessness of the foul summed up the sudden loss of control from those in Man Utd shirts who, for the second week running, threw away a two goal lead from a position of the game being won.

I have heard many critics this week claim that O’Shea should have walked because he was the last man. However, this is a rule that exists only in the heads of the ignorant as indeed the law states that a red card should be produced if it denies a clear goalscoring opportunity. As quick as Torres is (or was – but that’s a different story), he wasn’t going to get to the through ball before Edwin van der Sar.

Therefore, Webb was correct in issuing only a yellow card as while it was clearly a foul on the Spaniard, it did not deny a clear goalscoring opportunity.

Instead of criticising Howard Webb for his performance, both managers would be better served addressing their own issues with the goals overshadowing which was a powderpuff display from Liverpool and another dangerous warning of United’s lapses in concentration which if not addressed, will cost them the Premiership title.

Written by Colin Hill, a sports journalist who blogs about 2010/11 football shirts.

Malouda find his feet

Florent Malouda’s majestic display in his Chelsea side’s 4-0 victory over Blackpool is becoming a regular sight this season. The Frenchman was a threat to the Blackpool defence throughout and could have had seven or eight goals, rather than just the two he finished with. The brace took Malouda’s goal tally to seven this campaign, nearly half as many as he reached last season with his 15 goals in all competitions last term. Malouda was one Chelsea’s best players last season as the club picked up the domestic double.

Malouda’s role as part of a three pronged attack has been working wonders for Chelsea so far this season. Goals have been plentiful for the Londoners, with Malouda, Didier Drogba and Solomon Kalou all finding the back of the net with frightening regularity. Carlo Ancelotti’s men have started the season with a 100 per cent record, scoring 21 goals in the process.

Despite his talented team-mates Malouda is currently his club’s top scorer but the 30-year-old doesn’t think that’ll be the case come the end of the season. He said: “At the end of the season I’m sure [Didier] Drogba will be far in front of me. I can compete but not for a very long time. It’s a pleasure for me [to be part of the team] and I just want to enjoy that. Playing in a team that is winning games and scoring goals is what we train hard for and that is what we must keep doing.”

The football rumours don’t suggest Chelsea will be bringing any new players in during the January transfer window, so Malouda should have every chance to push on and make this his best ever season.

It’s a big turnaround from Malouda’s first season in England following his move from Lyon in 2007. His first season at the club reaped only four goals as he flittered in and out of the first team under Jose Mourinho and Avram Grant. After the Special One left the club, Malouda had a better second season under first, Big Phil Scolari then Gus Hiddink, only managing nine goals in another fairly disappointing season.

Ancelotti has decided to use Malouda in a more attacking role as opposed to the left wing role he was previously asked to undertake. It’s clear that is working pretty well and Chelsea look stronger than last season, an ominous thought for their title rivals.

Meanwhile, the Blackburn betting suggests the side could still finish in the top half of the table despite the fact they have not got off to the best of starts.

The side currently sit in 14th on five points, but will be looking to push on soon.

English Spine Can See City Suceed

It was with great interest that I noted that England’s side against Switzerland contained no fewer than six players from Manchester City. Since the arrival of the money men at Eastlands, I have been a huge critic of the haphazard way in which City have gone about trying to achieve success.

It has always struck me as being like applying a cheat code in Championship Manager which allows you to buy whoever you want. Like an excited teenager, City have bought randomly and with absolutely no regard for financial prudency, assembling a squad of players which had to be massively trimmed given the new 25 man regulations for the 2009-10 season.

Departed winger Martin Petrov recently spoke of the lack of harmony at the club, starting his belief that while there is undoubtedly a huge number of talented players at City, they aren’t a team and for that reason they will never achieve success. Furthermore, two of the best players at the club over the past two years – Stephen Ireland and Craig Bellamy – were not included in the 25 men squad and have since departed for pastures new amid accusations of being frozen out simply because their face didn’t fit in the new look side.

My criticism of City has stemmed from the complete lack of structure and focus surrounding their transfer policy. It has seemed almost as though they were collecting players just for the sake of doing so in an attempt to convince outsiders that they were in actual fact a big club, rather than trying to address problem areas in their team and build a side with potential to win the Barclays Premier League.

Amongst this summers big name buys of the likes of David Silva, Yaya Toure and Mario Balotelli though, it seems there is a semblance of strategy at City at last.

In James Milner and Adam Johnson, City have captured two players who the future of the England national team under Fabio Capello will be built. Add in Gareth Barry – a favourite of the Italian coach and Joe Hart – the undisputed number 1 and City have finally got an English spine of their team, which history tells us is so crucial in building a side capable of the determination and graft needed to length the course of a Championship winning season.

For Bruce, Pallister, Ferdinand, Scholes and Rooney at United read Terry, Lampard and Cole at Stamford Bridge. Even the Arsenal invincibles for all their foreign flair had the likes of Cole, Campbell and Keown at the heart of their defence.

In my opinion, Manchester City still have a long way to go if they are to seriously challenge for the Premiership title and must develop a more consistent approach to their transfer policy and team selection. The recent shift towards English talent though – aided and abetted by the undoubted quality of the likes of Balotelli and Carlos Tevez – does suggest that the penny has finally dropped at Eastlands.

It just remains to be seen whether coach Roberto Mancini is afforded the time to finish the project he has started.

Written by Danny Watson, a sports journalist who blogs about new football shirts.

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