Olivier Giroud is being under appreciated at Chelsea

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Olivier Giroud’s main reason for leaving Arsenal in 2018 was that he wasn’t happy with the lack of game time he was getting in North London. Though a year on he’s in a pretty similar position, just in Chelsea’s blue rather than red and white.

Having scored a hat trick against Dynamo Kyiv on Thursday, he was put back on Chelsea’s bench for today’s 2-0 loss against Everton. He’s the highest scorer in the Europa League but hasn’t started a single league game in 2019. This all comes after he was laughed at by many for not getting a shot on target during the 2018 World Cup, despite being one of the most influential players in France’s winning squad. He also had impressive link up play with Eden Hazard in the early stages of this season.

He has started just six Premier League matches in the current campaign. The fact that he is in his current position after numerous important contributions feeds into the idea that he is currently being under appreciated and underplayed at club level. Though he has managed to keep his place in France’s national team, as he was called up for their imminent Euro 2020 qualifiers against Moldova and Iceland.

Chelsea have had their fair share of striker troubles since Diego Costa’s departure in 2017. This makes it even more surprising that Giroud has been given so few chances to establish himself as Chelsea’s first choice striker. Maurizio Sarri has even brought Gonzalo Higuain in on loan and put him straight into the team ahead of the Frenchman.

He’s arguably not had the desired impact, as his only goals in the 10 games he’s played in Chelsea’s blue came against Huddersfield Town and Fulham- who are both in the relegation zone. Giroud has started just five matches in the same amount of time but has hit the back of the net five times.

Chelsea have had a kind run in the Europa League, which has arguably helped Giroud’s record in the competition. His team mates Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have also impressed on the European stage this season. This hasn’t been enough for any of the three to be given regular time in the league though.

The January transfer window saw questions begin to circulate as to whether Hudson-Odoi would look to go elsewhere, with Bayern Munich showing interest. There have been indications that a similar situation could occur with Giroud, as the striker recently said there was “no chance” he’ll except his role as a bit part player going forward.

At 32-years-old, Giroud is beginning to approach the latter stages of his career. If he is to get more playing time at the highest level then he will likely have to do so soon. If Higuain continues to fail to hit the back of the net then Giroud should be given the chance to step in. Meanwhile, he will continue to the lead the line in the Europa League, with the next game in the competition coming against Slavia Praha on April 11th.

 

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Are Arsenal hitting their stride ahead of season’s final stretch?

There was a stretch of three games over the middle February during which it seemed Arsenal’s season was at risk of falling apart. Defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium left the Gunners slumped in sixth place in the Premier League table, with the away loss to BATE Borisov one week later also leaving their Europa League hopes hanging by a threat.

Since then, Arsenal have made quite the recovery. They have won five of their last seven games with their only defeat coming away to Rennes in the Europa League, a result that was overturned with a 3-0 home win in the second leg on Thursday night. This run of results has seen Arsenal lift themselves back up into the top four and firmly into Europa League contention.

Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal - Premier League

Unai Emery has faced questions almost from the moment he first arrived at the Emirates Stadium last summer and there have been times when the former Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla has looked to be buckling under the pressure. But now, as Arsenal head into the final stretch of the season, it seems that he and his team are finding their stride.

Last week’s home win over Manchester United was a landmark moment in the Gunners’ season. Defeat would have widened the gap between Arsenal and the top four and bolstered one of their rivals at a critical time of the campaign. Instead, they built momentum of their own and now look value to achieve their objective of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

“In the domestic league, like here, we have six teams playing to be in the top four,” Emery said after the win over Rennes. Two teams are going out and the Europa League is giving us a big opportunity also to take one way to go to the Champions League. And also, it’s one title. I am excited about this competition.

“It’s not just because you can get to the Champions League through this competition. It’s also because it’s one title and I think we can feel the possibility to win one title, doing this way with a difficult moment like today and playing also against big teams.”

Arsenal seem to be hitting their stride at just the right time, whether it’s in the Premier League or the Europa League where the Gunners have to be one of the frontrunners. Their season might just be coming together.

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Why did Arsenal sign Denis Suarez?

Arsenal’s hands were tied in the January transfer window. With the Gunners’ season on the brink of falling away, they really could have used some mid-season reinforcements. Instead, Unai Emery was restricted to loan additions only and so Denis Suarez was the club’s only January addition, joining Arsenal from Barcelona until the end of the season.

Suarez had struggled for game time at Barca this season, but the midfielder looked to be a good fit for the Gunners, despite the short term nature of his move to North London. Two months later, though, and the Spaniard has only made a handful of appearances for Arsenal.

Denis Suarez

Indeed, Suarez has made only six appearances for the Gunners since joining from Barcelona. He has yet to be given a single start. So this begs the question – why did Arsenal sign Suarez in the first place? Was he just a signing for the sake of a signing? Will he return to Barcelona in the summer without even being given a chance to show what he is all about?

“Denis is improving every day and his quality can give us a lot,” explained Emery in a recent interview. “He cannot play 90 minutes because he needs rhythm. One possibility is he starts and knows that [he would come off] or he comes off the bench. He is getting to know us. His adaptation needs time.”

The thing is, Arsenal don’t have time to get the best out of Suarez. They only have him until the end of the season and as things stand there is not enough evidence to suggest the Gunners should make a permanent move for the 25-year-old at the end of the season. The whole thing, right now, looks like a waste of time.

Suarez fits the profile of the sort of player Arsenal are looking for. He is energetic, provides drive, but is good with the ball at his feet. At 25, he is still relatively young and so he holds some sell-on value. But Arsenal were not able to secure Suarez on a permanent deal in January, so what’s the point of having such a player on the bench?

On whether Suarez could move to the Emirates Stadium this summer, Emery recently said: “For me so far, each match and each week can change a lot. We are every match doing a test. We are very demanding to work hard, be focused and show everyone we can improve and be better every day. Summer is very far away.” How many tests are taking place with Suarez on the bench, though?

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EPL Best XI – Week 30

sterlingThis past weekend we saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lose his domestic unbeaten run as Man Utd manager, with Arsenal triumphing 2-0 at the Emirates. Elsewhere, Liverpool maintained pressure on league leaders Man City with their 4-2 win over Burnley at Anfield, and Southampton caused something of an upset by beating Tottenham 2-1 on the south coast. There were wins for Brighton and Cardiff, with Newcastle also putting in an impressive showing with their 3-2 home win against Everton. With that in mind, we will now adopt a 4-4-2 formation and see which players performed the best for their clubs in England’s top flight this past weekend.

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Arsenal overcome Manchester United

Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal - Premier League

It’s been a mixed few days for Arsenal. Thursday saw the Gunners lose out to Rennes, but they recovered from that setback to beat Manchester United 2-0 today.

Thursday night started well for Arsenal, as Alex Iwobi put them ahead after just four minutes. However, Sokratis’ first half dismissal marked the beginning of the Gunners’ capitulation, as goals from Benjamin Bourigeaud and Ismaila Sarr as well as an own goal from Nacho Monreal gave Rennes a two goal lead to take into the second leg.

Meanwhile, Manchester United had one of their greatest nights in years on Wednesday. They overturned a two goal deficit at the Parc de Princes to overcome PSG in the Champions League thanks to Rashford’s late penalty.

However, there was a role reversal for the teams this afternoon. Arsenal’s character is often questioned but they showed plenty of that today to overcome Thursday’s mishap, against a side who have been prolific opponents since Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s arrival.

There was a similarity between this game and the one in France though, as the Gunners established an early lead. Granit Xhaka struck a speculative effort from outside the box 12 minutes into the match. Many would have expected David de Gea to be equal to it -considering the strike wasn’t carrying an extraordinary amount of pace- but the swerve the Swiss international put on the ball fooled the keeper. The ball hit the back of the net, putting the Gunners 1-0 up.

The Red Devils did have chances to bring the scores level. However, the likes of Romelu Lukaku, who had been so prolific in Paris, were unable to put their chances away. In the 69th minute they were made to pay for their lack of clinical edge when Fred was adjudged to have fouled Alexandre Lacazette in the box. The Frenchman gave the ball to his strike partner Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who had missed from the spot in the dying moments of the recent North London Derby draw. He made no mistake this time though, as he coolly passed the ball into the net, sending de Gea the wrong way.

Despite the game being fairly even there was never the feeling that United would get back into the game following that moment. There were no more goals in the game, as the Gunners won 2-0, inflicting Solskjær’s first league defeat as Manchester United manager.

This result sees Arsenal go fourth in the league with just seven games of the season remaining. They aren’t able to look too far forward yet though, as Thursday sees them partake in another incredibly important match. They will play the second leg of their Europa League Round of 16 tie against Rennes, needing to come from behind as they did in the last round against BATE Borisov.

Following on from that, their next Premier League match will be at home against Newcastle United on April 1st, after the international break.

 

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Should Arsenal be worried by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s woes?

If there was one image that defined Arsenal’s dismal Europa League defeat to Rennes on Thursday night, it was the sight of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang slumped on the bench, expression giving away his true feelings. Those feelings weren’t especially warm given the circumstances.

Indeed, Unai Emery’s decision to take off Aubameyang when Arsenal were 2-1 down and in need of a goal was a peculiar one. This left the Gunners without a striker on the pitch, without an out ball, and ultimately without a hope. Aubameyang was as puzzled by his manager’s call as the rest of us.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Alexandre Lacazette

Despite this, there can be no denying that Aubameyang’s form has dropped off in recent weeks. Against Rennes, the former Borussia Dortmund forward as poor, but this wasn’t an isolated case. In fact, Aubameyang’s recent performances may well be cause for concern for Emery and the Gunners.

He has scored just four times in 2019. With the exception of the 2-1 win over Cardiff City in January, Aubameyang has struggled to make an impact for Arsenal. Once the pace-setter at the top of the Premier League scoring charts, Aubameyang now seems to have lost his groove having been overtaken by Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah.

This weekend, Arsenal face a potentially season-defining fixture. Manchester United travel to North London on Sunday with a place in the top four on the line for both sides. Whoever comes out on top will have the momentum to go on and clinch qualification for next season’s Champions League.

It’s for this reason that Aubameyang’s dip in form is concerning, at least in the immediate term. Arsenal were this week shown what happens when opposition sides fail to take their chances against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, with Manchester United riding their luck to knock out Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday night.

The Gunners need someone to be ruthless in front of goal in the way Kylian Mbappe and co. weren’t at the Parc des Princes otherwise they will suffer the same problems PSG did. Emery will have Alexandre Lacazette to deploy as a number nine, but Arsenal have found their best performances this season when both he and Aubameyang have dovetailed with each other. Emery might not be able to count on the optimum form of the latter, though. Not right now, anyway.

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Arsenal must afford Matteo Guendouzi some leeway

Just when it seemed Arsenal’s season was once again following an upward trajectory, Thursday night happened. The Gunners’ pursuit of a top four place in the Premier League has been boosted by a recent run of good form, but even still, the Europa League could come to define the North London club’s season. That’s why the defeat to Rennes felt so significant.

A 2-1 loss away from home ahead of next week’s return leg at the Emirates Stadium would have been a recoverable situation for Arsenal. They have been strong at home this season and would have fancied their chances of progressing to the Europa League quarter finals. The third goal changed the complexion of the tie.

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The blame game started almost as immediately as the full time whistled. Pierre-Emerick looked like he wanted to blame Unai Emery, who bizarrely withdrew his top scorer when Arsenal were desperate for a goal late on in the game. Others looked at Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who was sent off after just 41 minutes.

Matteo Guendouzi was another targeted for his below par performance. Indeed, the young Frenchman was poor, with many highlighting how the teenager failed to track back as Rennes burst forward to score a crucial third goal. When the cross was played into Petr Cech’s penalty box, Guendouzi wasn’t even in the 18-yard area.

However, Guendouzi has done enough this season this to earn himself some leeway and tolerance from a fanbase notorious for their hysterical reaction to poor performances like the one witnessed in France on Thursday night.

Arsenal have a real prospect on their hands. The acquirement of Guendouzi last summer now looks like being one of the shrewdest signings made by the North London club in their recent history. Guendouzi has been so impressive this season he is now reportedly drawing interest from Paris Saint-Germain, who are apparently willing to stump up £50 million for the midfielder.

Of course, Arsenal should do what they can to rebuff that interest. Guendouzi is the sort of midfielder the Gunners have needed for the best part of a decade. He’s the sort of central piece they should be building around. At just 19, dips in form are to be expected. In fact, it’s these dips that help a young player progress. Guendouzi suffered one such dip on Thursday night and in the long term, that’s just fine.

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EPL: Premier League Predictions for Week 30

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The Premier League race is hotting up as champions Manchester City have just a 1 point lead at the top over Liverpool and either team can still win the title with just 9 games left to play. The top 4 is being disputed too between 3rd place Tottenham and 6th place Chelsea there is just a 5 point difference and Chelsea have a game extra to play. Below we look at the predictions for the 10 games over the weekend and who might just come out on top.

Crystal Palace v Brighton

Palace are in good form with just one loss in their past five games, they are 8 points clear of the bottom three and look safe. Brighton beat Huddersfield last weekend to record their first win of 2019, but look in free fall. Palace Forward Wilfried Zaha collected 4 pts in his last game and is in form and should be the difference between the sides. Crystal Palace to win

Cardiff v West Ham

West Ham have gained 7 points from their last 12 but away from home they have lost 50% of their games and have no wins on the road for over 3 months. Cardiff have lost 3 games in a row and could be relegated if they don’t pick up points soon, this game is very equal. Draw

Huddersfield v Bournemouth

Huddersfield are bottom of the league and 13 pts from safety and will almost certainly be relegated. They have lost 4 matches from their last five. Bournemouth have one of the worst away records where they have lost 11 games from 14, and Huddersfield can upset them. Forward Steve Mounie has 11pts but most have been picked up recently and he could get on the scoresheet again. Huddersfield to win

Leicester v Fulham

Leicester have been in poor form and Brendan Rodgers first game as manager ended in defeat, but they have a great opportunity to beat Fulham at home. Fulham will be going down and are 10 pts from safety, they have lost 20 of their 29 games. Jamie Vardy has 39 pts and has been very consistent this season, he will be up against a leaky defence that has conceded 65 goals, the highest in the league. Leicester to win

Newcastle v Everton

Newcastle are just 6 pts clear of the bottom three but should be fine based on their home performance where they have won their last 4 games in a row. Everton are 6 pts ahead of The Magpies but have lost 50% of their away games. Newcastle’s defence has conceded just 1 goal in their past four home matches headed by Paul Dummett who has the most points in the back four with 26. Newcastle to win

Southampton v Tottenham

Southampton have won 1 game in their past four and are just 2 points from the relegation zone. They gave Man Utd a fright in a 3-2 loss and will want to carry that over to this game. Tottenham have no wins in 3 games but should put that right here. Harry Kane is back on form from injury and has 16 goals and 67pts, the 3rd best record in the fantasy EPL standings. Tottenham to win

Manchester City v Watford

Manchester City are top of the league by 1 point and could go 4 clear. They will be the clear favourites to win this game and have won 42 pts from a possible 45 at home. Watford were beaten 5-0 by Liverpool away and do not travel well against the better sides. Sergio Aguero is the leading goal scorer in the EPL  with 18 goals. Manchester City to win

Liverpool v Burnley

Liverpool are just 1 point behind Manchester City but have drawn 2 of their last 3 games and fallen behind slightly. Liverpool have the best defensive record at home with 7 goals conceded and goalkeeper Alisson has not conceded for almost 400 minutes, he has 113pts in EPL fantasy and is top. Burnley will not be able to cope in this game. Liverpool to win

Chelsea v Wolves

After back to back wins Chelsea look back on track for a top 4 place and coach Maurizio Sarri’s job looks safe. Forward Gonzalo Higuaín has scored a few lately and should be looked into adding to his fantasy points. Wolves have won just 1 game in their past four and have won just 35% of their games away from home. Chelsea to win

Arsenal v Manchester United

Arsenal are in form but struggling this season to beat the best teams. They need a win here because they could drop to 6th place. Manchester United are in fantastic form. Both clubs could be tired after having played in Europe in midweek. Romelu Lukaku has scored 4 goals in his last two games and has 44pts. Draw

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The EPL’s likely starting lineups for this weekend

Ross Barkley

This weekend we have another full schedule of ten EPL matches to look forward to. Here are the predicted lineups for every EPL game.

Crystal Palace v Brighton

Crystal Palace XI: Guaita, Wan-Bissaka, Dann, Tomkins, Van Aanholt, Kouyate, Milivojevic, Schlupp, Townsend, Batshuayi, Zaha

Brighton XI: Ryan, Montoya, Dunk, Duffy, Bernardo, Propper, Stephens, Bissouma, Knockaert, Andone, Jahanbakhsh

Questionable: n/a

Out: Speroni, Sakho, Souare (Crystal Palace); Balogun, Gross (Brighton)

Controversy in Ligue 1 as Rennes get game delayed

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There has been some controversy in Ligue 1 this past weekend when Rennes were able to get their game against Nimes postponed until a later date. This was only confirmed a few days before the game as the club requested permission from the LFP- which accepted, but why did Rennes want their game postponed?

The reason was that they could prepare and have more time to get ready for their crucial Europa League last 16 match with Premier League team Arsenal. Whilst this has worked out perfectly for the club, it has also caused some problems in the league as well as elsewhere.

Take PSG who constantly are involved in the Champions League- PSG have never had the benefit of having a game postponed, instead the LFP have usually let the club play on a Saturday afternoon if the game is on Wednesday or a Friday night if the game is on Tuesday, but getting a postponement, never. Has the LFP just opened up a can of worms? If they allow one team in Rennes to have their game called off then surely other teams can claim for the same treatment?

Of course from Rennes point of view this is good news and the extra preparation and rest could well be beneficial to them. Take Arsenal their opponents in the Europa League who were not given the same luxury as they had to play at the weekend in a North London derby no less against Tottenham which they drew 1-1. But it was yet another game for Unai Emery’s men who remain competitive in the league where they are chasing a top 4 spot.

No official complaint has come from Arsenal but Rennes will get a massive 8 day rest and Arsenal fans have vented their anger and what looks like a clear disadvantage for the Gunners coming into the game.

Should the buck therefore not stop at the LFP but instead be referred to UEFA? After all if there is a postponement , delay or crowd trouble it is usually UEFA that has final say. With the Europa League being a UEFA competition, wouldn’t they want more clarity and fairness?

It will be interesting to see if Rennes can get past Arsenal, and if so will they require Ligue 1 to stop again for them for the quarter finals? And surely PSG will now look at this and start requesting delays to their games.

What the LFP has done only feels acceptable if other leagues with their top teams allow them the same gesture, as it stands, this simply feels unfair not only to Arsenal but of course to Nimes, whose fans had already bought tickets to travel from the south of France to the North west for this match and now will be turned away.

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