Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Arsenal vs Barcelona Champions League Preview

The first knockout round of the Champions League begins this week and without much argument, the biggest tie of the round is Arsenal vs Barcelona. The two sides met last season at the quarter final stage of the competition, with Barcelona eventually winning comfortably 6-3 on aggregate.

Once again, the first leg is at the Emirates Stadium and Arsenal fans will be hoping that their side start off better than they did last year. Barcelona played some fantastic football in the first fifteen minutes of the game and very few would argue that those wearing Arsenal shirts were fortunate not to concede a few goals early on.

Barcelona are currently the favourites to win the Champions League this year and they have been on excellent form all season. The majority of people have written off Arsenal’s chances of beating Barcelona over two legs, but do Arsenal have a realistic chance of pulling off an upset?

Usually at this point of the season, Arsenal have several key players out injured which upsets the balance of the side and causes huge problems when the team faces a great side like Barcelona. This time around, however, the Gunners only have Thomas Vermaelen and Lukasz Fabianski out as long-term injuries. Samir Nasri is doubtful, but he should certainly be back in time for the second leg.

For the majority of the season, Arsenal have only been playing with one man up front. They started the season by using Marouane Chamakh in this role because Robin van Persie was out injured, but now that the Dutch striker is back and in form, he will certainly start the game.

It would be anticipated that Arsenal will line up with five in midfield, with Alex Song and Jack Wilshere both playing in a deeper role, but supporting Cesc Fabregas in the middle of the park when they can. Theo Walcott has been playing well in recent weeks and should start out in the right, with Andrei Arshavin and Tomas Rosicky most likely battling it out for the wide left position.

Arsenal’s defence should lineup with Gael Clichy at left back, Bacary Sagna at right back and Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou as the centre halves. In goal, Arsenal may decide to use Manuel Almunia due to his experience rather than Wojciech Szczesny, who has been playing for the club regularly in the league.

With this type of set up, Arsenal will need to keep the ball for extended periods of time, which is not an easy task against Barcelona. As Barcelona proved against Real Madrid in December, they are not just a team who work hard when they have the ball, they can also press extremely well and cause the opposing team to make several mistakes.

Arsenal will have to be at the top of their game and take any chance that is give to them. They should be looking to use Walcott’s pace against either Abidal or Maxwell down the right hand side and produce good deliveries to van Persie, who has been on good goal scoring form for the past couple of months. The absence of Carlos Puyol for Barcelona will be a major positive for the Gunners. Arsenal’s defence would be the main worry, especially in the central areas. The team do not look as solid without Vermaelen and coming up against players like Pedro, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi and David Villa may prove very difficult for them.

A lot of pressure is off Arsenal because they are definitely the underdogs going into this match, which should help to ease their nerves. If they are to win this tie, you would have to say that they need to win the match on Wednesday night because the game at the Nou Camp will be their toughest of the season so far. Arsenal were destroyed at the Nou Camp last season and many would argue that Barcelona are a better side this season. Arsenal, however, also seem to be on better form this season, so it should be a fantastic match.

Written by Eddie Smith, a sports writer who likes to talk about new football shirts.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

10 out of 9 for Nicklas Bendtner!!

Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner has scored highly in 'self-perceived competence' after Arsenal's sport psychologist Jacques Crevoisier revealed that the Danish striker's mark was off the scale.

Bendtner has made several comments in the media over the years highlighting his belief in himself and many have suggested that his confidence borders on arrogance. However, Arsenal use psychological tests to determine their players' mental abilities in relation to their footballing abilities and the striker is certainly not lacking in one area.

"One of the categories is called 'self perceived competence,' i.e. how good the player himself thinks he is,'' Crevoisier told Swedish magazine Offside. ''On a scale up to 9, Bendtner got 10! We have never seen that before. Pat Rice [Arsenal's assistant manager] was sitting next to me and couldn't stop laughing.

"When Bendtner misses a chance, he is always genuinely convinced that it wasn't his fault. You might say that's a problem, and to a certain degree it can be. But you can also view it as this guy has a remarkably ability to come back after set-backs."

The test is made-up of 117 questions designed to test players' self-belief, concentration levels and determination and is overseen by Crevoisier, who specialises in working with young French players at France's Clairefontaine academy as well as the Gunners' stars.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Nasri Claimed His Third PFA Awards

Arsenal midfielder Samir Nasri has been named the ESPN PFA Fans' Player of the Month for January - the third time in the past four months that he has picked up the award.

Nasri has continued to excel as the Gunners' leading creative light this season and is one of the bookies' favourites to pick up the PFA Footballer of the Year Award in April, as voted for by his fellow professionals.

The France midfielder beat off stiff competition from Carlos Tevez, Nemanja Vidic, Frank Lampard and Gareth Bale to claim the gong that he also won in October and December.

Nasri scored twice in January, helping to defeat Birmingham on New Year's Day, before netting the opening goal in a 3-1 win over Leeds United in an FA Cup third-round replay.

But he was injured in Arsenal's FA Cup fourth-round victory over Huddersfield and will need to produce some sensational displays in the second half of February if he is to win a third successive ESPN PFA Fans' award, as he is now facing at least two weeks out.

The Championship prize was won by Leeds United's Robert Snodgrass, who enjoyed an outstanding month - scoring goals against both Cardiff and Arsenal.

His impressive form on the flank has helped put the Yorkshire outfit in a position to challenge for an automatic promotion place.

ESPN PFA Fans' Awards - January winners:

Premier League: Samir Nasri (Arsenal)

Championship: Robert Snodgrass (Leeds United)

League One: Shwan Jalal (Bournemouth)

League Two: Cody McDonald (Gillingham)