Posts Tagged ‘arsenal’
It’s not without a sense of irony that the high cost of tickets for Premier League matches was thrust into the spotlight by Manchester City supporters.
The £62 ticket price for a ticket to watch their team play away to Arsenal was no more than Man United, Chelsea, Liverpool or Spurs have had to pay for the equivalent fixture. In fact, when considering that those four clubs have consistently provided Arsenal with their biggest games of the season, visiting fans of that quartet will have had to pay top prices at Arsenal for as long as the Premier League has existed.
Man City will likely be the only one of that group of clubs rated by Arsenal as “Category A” opponents who don’t have 3,000 fans willing to pay such a high price, and for a club whose fans have often boasted about both their numbers and their loyalty – as was often the case whilst averaging 28,000 in League One – it’s surprising that there isn’t high enough demand to sell their full ticket quota for their first visit to the Emirates as Premier League champions.
However, when considering that even a must-win match in the Champions League was played out in front of almost 8,000 vacant sky blue coloured seats, perhaps the club simply don’t have the size of following that has previously been claimed. There could have been no complaints at the £35 cost of a ticket for the clash with Ajax – especially when compared to the 80€ admission cost of the reverse fixture.
The other irony about the issue having been forced by Man City fans is that clubs like Arsenal have been affected more than most by the wealth of cash thrown around firstly by Chelsea, and then, more recently, Man City themselves.
In racking up huge annual losses through the spending of hundreds of millions of pounds directly from the pockets of Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour, both Chelsea and Man City enjoyed the kind of spending power with which no sensibly run club could compete.
In a short space of time, Arsenal went from having consistently been one of best teams in the land, to one which could no longer compete with the best at the league’s summit. Most of the club’s star players have opted to leave due to the lack of silverware, and with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules due to take effect from next year, Arsenal face a huge challenge if they’re to strengthen enough to challenge for a league title in the near future.
Of course, none of that may be enough to justify such a high cost of tickets. But if Arsenal are able to demand up to £126 for a single Premier League match and still see the stadium full for almost all of their games, then why should there be any pressure to lower their matchday prices? Why shouldn’t Arsenal be allowed to maximise their income in such a highly competitive sport? And why should they be condemned for simply trying to compete with clubs who have been fortunate enough to find themselves bankrolled by foreign multi-billionaires?
Last year’s league titles in Spain and England were won by the two costliest football squads in history, and the Champions League won by the next biggest spenders over the last few years.
All three of those successful teams were able to invest heavily before the new financial rules take effect. Man City fans might do well to recognise that they, like Chelsea and Real Madrid, were able to spend vast sums of money in a way that their rivals couldn’t match at the time, and won’t be allowed to in the future.
Arsenal are simply one of a number of clubs doing whatever they can to remain as financially competitive as possible. And in an imperfect footballing world, no one should blame them for that.
It’s a sign of the modern game that each and every footballing defeat is treated with hysteria and calls for managers to be sacked.
So it’s no surprise that the pressure on Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger intensified following their penalty shoot-out defeat to Bradford in the League Cup last night.
Arsenal are without a trophy since 2005, and with Man United and Man City already dumped out of the competition, the League Cup looked to offer Wenger’s side with a realistic chance of ending that trophy drought.
A 1-1 draw against League Two side Bradford City ended any such hopes, and the calls for Wenger to go have been fierce amongst certain sections.
The fact that the Gunners have been the victims of a huge cup upset at a time when they are struggling to find consistency in the Premier League isn’t going to help the manager’s cause.
But it’s important not to get carried away on the back of a single shock result in a cup competition. It was only the second time in Arsene Wenger’s time at the club years that Arsenal have lost to a team outside the Premier League in a domestic cup competition, and plenty of other top sides have faced the same – or even greater – humiliations over recent seasons.
Liverpool 1-2 Grimsby
Frustrated by an outstanding goalkeeping performance by Grimsby’s Danny Coyne, Liverpool were held to a 0-0 draw after 90 minutes. All seemed to be going well when Gary McAllister put Liverpool ahead in extra time, but Grimsby struck back with seven minutes remaining, before former Evertonian Phil Jevons fired a stunning winner from 30 yards which won it for Grimsby in injury time.
Burton Albion 0-0 Man United and Man United 0-0 Exeter City
Man United faced non-league opposition twice in consecutive seasons at the third round stage of the FA Cup. In 2005, the holders of the competition were drawn away to Burton, and were held to a goalless draw despite fielding a side which, although not at full strength, contained plenty of experience. The introduction of Rooney and Ronaldo in the last half hour was presumably to see the job done without the need for a replay, but Burton held on and earned a lucrative trip to Old Trafford.
A year later, the task looked even more daunting for non-league Exeter, with Old Trafford the venue for the initial match. But the outcome was the same as twelve months earlier, and a weakened Man United line-up were once again forced to a replay. Giggs, Ronaldo, Scholes and Rooney all started for Man United in the second fixture, and helped spare any further blushes as United won 2-0.
Southend 1-0 Man United
In a 2006 League Cup tie, Freddy Eastwood was the hero for Southend United as they shocked Man United. Southend were struggling in the Championship at the time of their fourth round win over Alex Ferguson’s men, who would go on to lift the Premier League title. Ten internationals made up the Man United team, with Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo amongst them, but neither could prevent Southend from pulling off a famous victory.
Barnsley 1-0 Chelsea
Championship side Barnsley had already dumped Liverpool out of the FA Cup at Anfield in the previous round, and may have wished for an easier tie than Chelsea as a reward. But it mattered not as they recorded a famous win at Oakwell in arguably the biggest shock of any in this selection due to the strength of their opponents.
Chelsea, whose squad had cost more than 600 times that of Barnsley, fielded nine of the players who would go on to face Man United in the Champions League final two months later. Yet amongst all of the stars on show, it was the name of Kayode Odejayi that would make headlines the following day, as his goal separated the sides and booked a semi-final place at Wembley.
Chelsea 1-1 Burnley
Ivanovic, Lampard, Ferreira, Deco, Malouda and Drogba were just some of the big names in the Chelsea side as they took on Championship opponents Burnley. Drogba netted for Chelsea in the first half, but an equalising goal for Ade Akinbiyi took the game into extra time.
Frank Lampard was denied a winner due to a raised flag for offside during the additional half hour of play, and focus turned towards the goalkeepers as the tie went to penalties. And it was Burnley’s Brian Jensen who was the eventual hero, saving Jon Obi Mikel’s spot kick to earn his side a 5-4 shoot-out victory. Burnley went on to knock Arsenal out in the next round – Arsene Wenger’s only other loss to a team in a lower division – before losing a semi final to Spurs.
Liverpool 2-2 Northampton Town
It’s hard to forget the images of a rain-soaked Roy Hodgson looking on as his Liverpool team crashed out to a side who were 17th in League Two at the time. Liverpool were fortunate even to be taking part in a penalty shoot-out, having required a late equaliser in extra time just to avoid elimination in the match itself. But David N’Gog followed up his goal with one of the penalty misses and, in front of the Kop, Northampton went on to triumph 4-2.
Man United 1-2 Crystal Palace
Despite all of the successes at Man United during the reign of Sir Alex Ferguson, it’s also United who seem to have been on the end of the most shock results in cup competitions over the last few years, not all of which have been included here – such as a 2-0 home loss to Coventry City in 2007.
Their most recent was only a year ago, when they fell at the same stage as Arsenal have done this season. A weakened team still included the likes of Dimitar Berbatov and Antonio Valencia, both of whom had been key players in the club’s title success the previous season. Crystal Palace saw a lead in normal time quickly cancelled out, but Glenn Murray’s headed goal in the second period of extra time restored Palace’s advantage and it was enough to earn a semi final with fellow Championship side Cardiff City.
Another season of top flight football begins tomorrow, and it’s the time when everyone is out to prove their knowledge of the game by making bold predictions for the next 9 months.
However, there is frequently a touch of the unexpected in all sports and football is no different. How many people would have confidently placed Newcastle in contention for a Champions League spot last season? At the other end of the table, correctly guessing the teams who will be relegated is perhaps the most difficult of all Premier League predictions.
So, following some mixed fortunes last year, here are my 2012/13 Premier League predictions.
Champions: Manchester City
My hope for this season is that the title is a bit more closely contested throughout the whole season. There can’t possibly be a final day to match the drama of last season, but before each of the Manchester clubs had taken turns in throwing away big leads at the Premier League summit, it had looked as though Man City would be wrapping up the league championship with half-a-dozen games to spare.
Most of the pressure coming City’s way is likely to be applied by local rivals Man United, as well as from big-spending Chelsea. Each of those two sides will be boosted by star signings such as Eden Hazard and Oscar at Chelsea, and Robin Van Persie at Man United, but the overall squad strength of Man City is the reason that I consider them still to be the favourites.
As I mentioned at the same stage last year, it’s likely to be City themselves who are the biggest threat to them winning the title, and there’s sure to be something – or someone – to cause unrest within the squad. But they still had just enough to be able to overcome their off-pitch difficulties last season, and I expect that to be the case again.
Top Four: Chelsea, Man United, Liverpool
The top four used to consist regularly of what became known as the big four – Man United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. Everton managed to break-up the establishged quartet in the 2004/5 season, and Tottenham threatened to push Arsenal into fifth place on a couple of occasions. But it wasn’t until Man City really began to demonstrate their power in the transfer market that the “big four” was truly dismantled. City’s surge up the table coincided with Tottenham finally living up to the potential that they’d shown for a number of years, and in successive seasons, both clubs qualified for a first taster of Champions League football.
Liverpool have been the biggest losers of that so far, but Arsenal have also looked to be at risk of failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time under Arsene Wenger, and it seems only a matter of time before they do miss out on the top four.
Liverpool finished the season poorly in the league, but regular bad finishing in front of goal was the primary reason that so many good performances during much of the first two-thirds of the season failed to earn the deserved number of points. For that reason, I don’t consider Liverpool to be too far away from genuinely being able to break back into the top four, although I can’t see them finished higher than fourth.
Tottenham were another club who had a period where results were poor even though the performances themselves were good. Fortunately for Spurs, they were in a strong position to begin with and also finished the season well.
With Arsenal weakened significantly by the loss of Van Persie, I think the race for fourth will be between Spurs and Liverpool. Both have managers who I rate highly, though if Brendan Rodgers can make the slight adjustments needed to help Liverpool turn many of their draws into victories, I predict Liverpool will edge it.
Relegation: Wigan, Southampton, Norwich
Predicting the three teams to go down is almost like picking three random names out of a hat consisting of 10 or 12 clubs. It’s often the case that one or two sides struggle to the point of being written off by Christmas, but it’s not always the most obvious club. Managerial changes can make big differences too, either for the better, such as Fulham appointing Roy Hodgson, or for the worse, such as Wolves’ sacking of Mick McCarthy last season.
It’s rare for all three promoted sides to survive, and of the three clubs to come up last season, only QPR ever looked in danger of the drop. I expect there to be much more discomfort for Norwich and Swansea this year, with both clubs having lost the managers who masterminded such respectable league finishes last term. Of the two, I think Norwich are most at risk, and they looked particularly vulnerable in a few of their matches at the end of the season.
Of the promoted sides, West Ham have enough experience to remain in the top flight. Southampton and Reading only have to look at last season to realise what is possible, but I don’t expect either team to match the mid-table finishes of Norwich or Swansea. Both have prior experience in the Premier League, but having been in League One only 15 months ago, I can see Southampton struggling the most to avoid the drop.
Wigan complete my trio of teams and having enjoyed some of the drama produced by their previous relegation escapes, I’m actually hoping that I’m proved wrong. If Roberto Martinez can see his team getting the kind of results that Wigan were achieving at the end of last season, then perhaps this will be a year without quite as much stress for the Wigan fans.
It’s fair to acknowledge that even when results were bad, Martinez stuck to his style of playing football and it was that which proved the catalyst for wins at Arsenal and Liverpool, as well as at home to Man United. Can Wigan perform like that from the start of the season? Will they cope without the likes of Hugo Rodallega and Mohammed Diame? If so, they have every chance of staying up. But it’s unlikely that even Wigan have any more rabbits to pull out of the hat should they find themselves in such a precarious position again.
In the final part of my look back at some of my personal highlights of following Liverpool in the Champions League, the final three matches are from the 2007/8 and 2008/9 seasons. For the rest of the series, click to read part 1, or part 2.
9. Marseille 0-4 Liverpool
Midway through the 2007/8 group stage, there looked to be only a remote prospect of anything resulting from Liverpool’s Champions League campaign that was worthy of celebrating.
Bottom of the group with one point from three games – six points adrift of group leaders, Marseille – Liverpool’s only hope of qualifying was to win all three of their remaining games. The Reds’ response, while not as dramatic as their Istanbul heroics, has to be considered as the most emphatic turnaround in fortunes of a side who looked certain to be heading out of the Champions League at the group stage.
The recovery began with a record-breaking 8-0 home win against Besiktas, and when Porto arrived at Anfield on matchday 5 needing only a point to guarantee their passage into the next round, they too were beaten 4-1.
But the big test was to come in Liverpool’s final fixture away to Marseille on a bitterly cold December evening.
With both sides level on points, Liverpool could only go through by winning at the Stade Velodrome – something no other English club had ever managed to achieve.
Steven Gerrard’s early goal, scored from the rebound after his penalty had been saved, helped Liverpool get off to a perfect start and Fernando Torres weaved his way between the Marseille defence to add an excellent second goal with only 18 minutes played.
Marseille created chances of their own, but when Liverpool got an early second half goal, the contest was over and Liverpool had survived yet another dramatic Champions League scare.
10. Liverpool 4-2 Arsenal
It might have been tempting to include Liverpool’s second round win over Italian champions-elect Inter Milan in the list for this series, but for sheer drama, the quarter-final against Arsenal was the stand-out Champions League game of the season.
A 1-1 first leg draw at the Emirates had led to some suggestions from the Arsenal camp that Liverpool would be looking to progress on away goals, and may have looked to simply play for a 0-0 draw at Anfield.
But any ideas Liverpool had of keeping a clean sheet were scuppered once Arsenal went ahead in the first half. That was cancelled out by Sami Hyypia’s equaliser before the interval, and with 20 minutes remaining of the second period, Fernando Torres put Liverpool on aggregate for the first time with a wonder strike at the Kop end.
There was enough time left for more twists in a pulsating finish which started when Theo Walcott’s 80-yard run was finished by Adebayor to give Arsenal a second away goal – and with six minutes to go, they were heading into a semi-final meeting with Chelsea.
But less than a minute later, Ryan Babel earned a penalty that was dispatched by Gerrard, and it was once again advantage Liverpool – and the sixth time throughout the two games that there had been a change in the aggregate leaders of the tie.
As Arsenal searched desperately for another equaliser, Liverpool grabbed a fourth goal on the counter attack. In the second minute of added-on time at the end of the second leg, the tie was finally decided with some certainty.
It wasn’t to lead to a third Champions League final in four years though, mostly thanks to injury time drama at the same goalmouth in the semi-final, when a John Arne Riise own goal gave Chelsea a draw at Anfield. That result proved to be crucial in helping the Londoners to finally overcome Liverpool in the last four.
11. Liverpool 4-0 Real Madrid
Despite the rich European pedigree of both teams, Liverpool and Real Madrid had never been drawn to play each other over a two-legged European tie. On departing Anfield following their first visit to the stadium in March 2009, Real Madrid may well have wished that statistic was still true.
Knocked out of the competition at the second round stage in each of the previous four seasons, Real Madrid had also started the season badly in Spain in their quest for a third straight La Liga title. But a change of manager shortly before Christmas had led to an improvement in results, and Juande Ramos’ team faced Liverpool on the back of a recent run of ten straight victories in La Liga.
Yossi Benayoun’s goal had been enough to settle a tight first leg at Santiago Bernabeu in Liverpool’s favour, and although Real Madrid hadn’t enjoyed much Champions League success since winning the trophy in 2002, there was more than enough quality in their team for them to turn the tie around on Merseyside.
Several of the Real Madrid team that started the match have since gone onto become key members of their title-winning team under Jose Mourinho, and of those who did go on to leave Madrid, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben have each helped their new clubs to reach Champions League finals.
No amount of quality – or experience – could cope with Liverpool’s performance on the night though, and from the moment that Fernando Torres opened the scoring against his old city rivals after 16 minutes, the Reds never looked back.
Two goals from Gerrard and a further strike by Andrea Dossena handed Real Madrid their biggest defeat in the Champions League era, and just one goal short of their heaviest European loss of all time. But the star of the show despite the loss was Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who made a host of spectacular saves to deny Liverpool an even more convincing win.
In the resulting quarter-final, Liverpool were unable to overturn a first leg 3-1 loss at home to Chelsea, despite their considerable efforts in a 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid’s emphatic defeat signalled the start of a new era of ‘Galacticos’, and a €300m summer spending program was sanctioned – with an intention of seeing Real Madrid return to the summit of Spanish and European football.
The stuttering race for the fourth Champions League place continues in the Premier League and although four teams remain in contention, it is Liverpool who are looking most in danger of being left behind.
It’s safe to assume that Spurs will finish at least third because they, along with the two Manchester clubs, have looked a far better team than any of those in the places below them in the table.
And so there is realistically only fourth place for Arsenal, Chelsea, Newcastle and Liverpool to play for.
At present, I would consider Arsenal to be favourites due to the way in which they’ve fought their way back into contention following an awful start to the season. The momentum, albeit one which hasn’t been free of a few stumbles, has seen them move above Chelsea and they currently occupy the all important fourth place in the table.
Almost the opposite is true of Chelsea, and after an encouraging start to the season they have been hugely disappointing. Even the ongoing troubles of Fernando Torres no longer make a great deal of headlines because there are many of his other team-mates at Chelsea who are performing below what would be expected of them.
Chelsea’s form hasn’t caused a great deal of personal surprise, mainly due to the unconvincing manner of some of their early season victories, although it is also said that the mark of a title-winning side is one that can take points from games without performing in top form. Chelsea were certainly doing that in August before losing ground on the leaders which they have never since looked like making up.
Meanwhile, Newcastle continue to surprise. Alan Pardew and his players have done a fine job to be where they are, and even though most wouldn’t have expected the Magpies to sustain their incredible form which they began the season with, Newcastle have consistently took points in the games they are capable of taking points in.
Even though I don’t see them having enough to claim Champions League football, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Newcastle secured Europa League football through a fifth placed finish.
In contrast, Liverpool have found it difficult to take points that their performances may well have deserved. Goals have been less frequent than would be expected from the players they have and the volume of chances that have been created in the vast majority of games.
Progress in both domestic cup competitions and off-pitch controversies have turned attention away from Liverpool’s league form which reads two wins in their last nine games, which included fixtures against all of the bottom four teams in the Premier League. Only one of those games resulted in a win.
The opening day draw at Anfield against Sunderland – a match which should have been wrapped up by half time – has had seven further repetitions and if performances don’t start producing points there remains a possibility that Liverpool could, in the same season, enjoy only their second ever unbeaten home Premier League campaign but endure their worst return of home league wins for 58 years.
It’s all to play for the four sides involved, although it is safe to predict that there’ll be more plenty more drama, twists and turns before everything is decided in May.
It’s difficult to see beyond the two Manchester teams and Chelsea for the 2011/12 Premier League winner.
Man City weren’t entirely convincing last season and have the added challenge of Champions League football this time around. But they have the most expensively assembled squad in the league and one which should have enough quality to compete on two fronts. If Roberto Mancini can keep most of his team happy then Man City will almost certainly be competing for trophies and I could see them as title winners.
But this is Man City. A club who don’t do things smoothly, and still have too many of the game’s most temperamental characters on their books. There is bound to be unrest of some sort, and reluctantly leaves me opting for Man United.
Arsenal may not have enough to overhaul all three sides already mentioned and claim the title, but they will still be expected to finish within the top 4, though Spurs and Liverpool will both provide strong competition for a Champions League place.
Spurs have experience of playing in Europe’s premier competition but it’s difficult not to think that they missed an opportunity to consolidate their domestic position when they missed out on a second successive top four finish, caused by a dramatic dip in league form following their European exit.
Liverpool start the season with a far stronger squad than they had available when Kenny Dalglish took over in January. The lack of European football may be seen as an advantage but will be hoping for extra games in domestic cup competitions. If the likes of Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam can add the creativity they were signed for, I predict Liverpool will be strong enough to claim fourth place.
Should both the League Cup and the FA Cup be won by a club who have already qualified for Europe through the league, a Europa League place will be on offer for whoever finishes 7th.
Aston Villa were at a similar level to Spurs only a couple of years ago, but after squandering two good opportunities to secure Champions League football they have appeared a side in decline ever since. A fact emphasized by the sale of two star players which leaves them looking too weak to compete for a European place.
Sunderland are another side who have looked to be on the verge of reaching the next level in terms of league performance only to fall spectacularly when the season entered its most crucial stage.
All of which leaves Everton as the most obvious contender. Notoriously slow starters, but David Moyes’ team are usually amongst the most consistent teams around once they’ve got themselves going.
The newly promoted trio are likely to start as favourites to go down, but rarely have the same three teams returned straight back to the Championship after only one season in the top flight.
As with last season, I expect up to seven or eight sides to be involved and there’s always a surprise or two amongst those fighting for survival.
Newcastle could be one of those, given the loss of some key players, and I don’t think Blackburn will fare much better than last season which would put them at risk of the drop, too.
Picking the three teams to be relegated before the season has started is always risky, but to avoid sitting on the fence I’ll go for QPR, Swansea and Blackburn to finish in the bottom three places.