The death of Arsenal as we have come to know them. This week’s main talking point with regards to English football was the thrashing AC Milan dealt out to a sorry Arsenal side in Italy. As a fan of a non-league side, I had always had a soft spot for Arsenal as my ‘big team’. The football they played at the start of Wenger’s reign was a real pleasure to watch, both because it was exciting and so far removed from anything I’d seen before. Unfortunately, the side has been on the slide for a few years now.
They have come to rely on poorer players and are now down to just Robin Van Persie, and that was ruthlessly exposed by an AC Milan side who really are not brilliant. The defence is a shambles, the midfield is one-paced and all too easily out-fought, and the attack is now just Van Persie. I can only see this being remedied by a huge overhaul in the summer, and if Wenger is unwilling then it may be best for all concerned if he moves aside.
The FA Cup in England this weekend means there is less matches for me to pick from as I’m still not a Cup punter unless something looks outstanding value.
Music comes from The Roots with Stomp.
Norwich v Leicester, Saturday 1500
Norwich have featured a number of times in this column, and they have been a very profitable side for us this year. The Premier League is definitely weaker than at any time I can remember. Barring Man City and Spurs I would argue every one of the ‘major’ clubs is regressing, but Norwich have performed brilliantly. They now look extremely comfortable in mid-table and could even push for Europe if they continue to play as well as they have done. This comfort in the league means they should take the FA Cup very seriously. With Man City and Man Utd eliminated, the competition is wide open for any side giving it a go. They also have a nice draw at home to a Championship side who have failed to live up to their pre-season billing as joint favourites for promotion.
Leicester spent big in the summer with the intention of automatic promotion being assured, this has not happened at all. Some poor results saw Sven Goran-Eriksson sacked a while ago, and things have not improved greatly since. The problem with signing a whole new team of players, regardless of how good they are, is that it is very hard to hit the ground running with everybody still getting to know each other and the system. They may well find that next season they kick on with a few tweaks, but I think they’ll miss out this time.
Back Norwich at 1.95 with William Hill.
Athletic Bilbao v Malaga, Sunday 1500
Another side who have popped up here on occasion is Bilbao. I have mentioned previously how Marcelo Bielsa was brought in to change the approach of a side renowned for their physical prowess. He has definitely done this and at times the side play some fantastic stuff. The likes of Iker Muniain in particular have flourished in a system that lets them express their skills. The change of system has still found room for the more physical stylings of Fernando Llorente. The Spain forward is still the focal point of the side and is benefitting from the increased creativity behind him. At present it could be argued he should be first choice for the national side. With the final Champions League position still very much up for grabs Bilbao will be looking to turn their home ground back into the fortress it has always been.
Malaga were the first side in Spain to be the beneficiaries of oil money. At the end of last season it was announced they had been bought by another Arab investor and would be looking to push the club forward to eventually challenge at the top of the table. They have not quite spent as freely as some predicted and they have been very hit and miss. The likes of Santi Cazorla have shown their skills regularly, but some others have struggled to get going. This has been particularly true away from home with only two wins and seven losses from eleven matches away from home. They will not be relishing this trip at all.
Back Athletic Bilbao at 1.95 with Stan James.
Udinese v Cagliari, Sunday 1945
Over to Serie A and another column favourite with Udinese hosting Cagliari. Udinese have been hanging around the top of the table all season, but were dealt a blow last weekend when losing at home to AC Milan. That was, however, their first home defeat of the season, and they have only drawn one more from twelve home matches. They have been tight at the back, only conceding seven goals in those twelve games, and have also scored twenty three to average almost two goals a game. The defeat last week may well have dealt their title hopes a blow, but could well now free them up from that pressure and see them continue to hand out defeats to all visitors.
Cagliari have hovered around mid-table for much of the season and will probably be happy with that for now. Avoiding getting dragged into a relegation scrap should have been the aim, and they have achieved that on the back of their very good home form. They have been hard to beat, but goals have been a problem, with only twenty two scored in their twenty three matches so far. Whilst Italy is rarely free-scoring, that sort of record will stop a team making any sort of push up the table, and if the defence falters, matches will quickly be lost.
Back Udinese -1.0 Asian Handicap at 2.75 with Bet365.
Kaiserslautern v Borussia Monchengladbach, Saturday 1430
Kaiserslautern have really struggled this season in the Bundesliga and will not be relishing the visit of title challengers ‘Gladbach on Saturday. They currently sit in the relegation play-off position of third bottom and the stats reveal just why they have found it such hard work. They have not conceded nearly as many as some of the sides around them, but have scored a measly fifteen goals in twenty one matches. This has seen them drawing far too many matches as they struggle for the goals that could turn them into wins. They have only won three matches all season and it is this more than anything else which could well see them drop out of the top division.
As mentioned, Gladbach are still fighting for a chance at the Bundesliga title. They sit three points off top club Dortmund and will still consider themselves as realistic challengers, especially with Marco Reus back and playing well. The forward is the key to Gladbach’s turning good performances into fantastic wins. Since Christmas they have played four and won three, drawing the other. This has included humping Bayern Munich 3-1 and also an accomplished performance in beating a very good Schalke side 3-0 last time out. They are in great form and it doesn’t look likely to desert them anytime soon.
Back Borussia Monchengladbach at 2.37 with Coral.
Fenerbahce v Sivasspor, Saturday 1700
Some major investment over the winter break for Fenerbahce will have them confident of kicking on and overhauling Galatasaray in the Super Lig. They currently sit in second position and are six points off perennial rivals Gala, and their home form is the main reason they are still in touch. They have played twelve and have won ten of those and drawn two more, leaving them unbeaten at home so far. They have also only conceded seven goals in those twelve matches whilst scoring twenty four. The new signing of Moussa Sow from Lille in France has added an extra option to their attack, which has at times been all too reliant upon Miroslav Stoch.
Sivasspor have proven that sometimes attacking without a thought for defence can reap rewards. They have also relied on their home form to carry them through to a position of sixth in the table, with only one defeat at their own place so far. Their have been eighty two goals in their twenty three matches so far, and away from home they have been extra leaky at the back. As mentioned this is down to the fact they seem to have embraced an attack is the best policy system this term. In a league where goals are a rarity this often sees good prices available on Over Goals in their matches.
Back Over 3.5 Goals at 3.0 with William Hill.
Kayserispor v Trabzonspor, Sunday 1400
Another side who have at times performed much better than many expected have been Kayserispor. They have been as high in the table as fourth, but have slipped back to eleventh at present. With the league being as tight as it is outside of the top two they are still in a position to string some wins together and move back up the table. They have been far better at home with thirteen played, six wins, two draws and five defeats. They have also scored nineteen goals in those matches and only conceded fourteen. In Turkey this is not a bad record at all.
Trabzon are still enjoying European participation in the Europa league having dropped out of the Champions League at the group stage. This may well impact upon their league form though as the matches are on Thursday and as we have seen in the Premier League, a lot of sides struggle at the weekend immediately after their games. Trabzon have actually scored more than any other Super Lig side at home to see them in fourth in the table, but have only won four from thirteen away matches. They have also drawn five and have only scored just over half their home total in their away matches. They may well struggle for a win here.
Back Kayserispor Draw No Bet at 2.5 with Stan James.