Friday, 6 June 2014

Arsenal must make three key signings ahead of 2014/15 season

Arsenal were left short of options after Ramsey's injury last season
Arsenal were top of the Premier League from September through to January. They held pole position at Christmas and it looked as if Arsene Wenger would put an end to a title-winning drought that dates back to 2004.

Then the wheels came off. Injuries began to hinder the squad which struggled to keep pace with the demanding rigours of two cup runs and a gruelling domestic campaign.

Theo Walcott could only muster nine league starts all season due to injury, whilst the same misfortune sadly curtailed a near flawless season for Aaron Ramsey. The fact of the matter was that these two players could not be replaced. Arsenal proved last season that they do not yet have a squad that can challenge for the league and the big competitions over the course of a 10 month season.

When Jack Wilshere was also side-lined for an extended period of time, towards the latter part of the season, it was blaringly obvious that there was a huge hole in the centre of midfield. Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky are both good players, but the latter is getting on and the former arguably no longer deserves a starting place in a side that wants to win the Premier League.

Wenger, we have been told, will have the money to spend this summer. Just as he had the money to spend last summer and yet waited until the very end of August to land his marquee signing.

If Arsenal truly want to capitalise upon a promising first half of last season then three key signings need to be made over the summer. This time, preferably by July, so that the new signings can settle in before the campaign starts.

Who should those new signings be you wonder? Here are three that would do nicely indeed:

Serge Aurier – He’s young and he speaks French. What’s not to like. Aurier made 34 league appearances for Toulouse last season, a stalwart in the side who popped up with six goals and 6 assists from right back. A vast gap is being left by the outgoing Bacary Sagna and that hole needs to be filled fast. Carl Jenkinson has yet to prove himself worthy of a starting position in the Arsenal XI.

Is a deal already in place for Aurier?
Aurier is a top quality defender who could slip into the Arsenal back four with ease. Proven by the fact that he made more assists, keypasses, created chances, tackles and interceptions than Sagna did all of last
season. In a side that only finished 9th in Ligue 1.

The Ivorian is heading off to the World Cup this summer and it’s a shame Arsenal did not try to get a deal done for him sooner. Player valuations go through extreme levels of inflation during international tournaments and Arsenal won’t want to cough up more than is necessary.

Fredy Guarin – Guarin will also be featuring at the World Cup this summer, with South American hopefuls Colombia. The midfielder has just completed his second season in Italy with Inter and it is somewhat surprising that his profile continues to slip under the radar of many European clubs.

Guarin is 27 now and so arguably will be entering the best years of his career soon and how Arsenal would love it if those years were with them. He netted himself four goals last season and picked up six assists in what was a very disappointing campaign for the Nerazzurri. Guarin could be facing a third successive season of no Champions League football if he doesn’t force himself a move this summer, something of course Arsenal can offer him.

Guarin: The missing piece to Arsenal's jigsaw

The midfielder has a superb engine, he just runs and runs and runs. He is also incredibly adept going forward, registering the second highest amount of shots per game out of any Inter player last season. And when I say shots, I mean shots. This guy can really hit the ball.

Karim Benzema – The Frenchman has been heavily linked with Arsenal for two seasons now and this summer might just be the one when finally a deal gets done. For a striker who scores goals, 111 since being at Real Madrid, he suffers quite a lot of stick from the Madrid faithful. 

A move to Arsenal would be beneficial. Benzema likes the limelight and arguably he no longer gets that in Spain, pushed to one side by the newfound bromance between Ronaldo and Bale. At Arsenal Benzema would be the centre of attention, he would start games and he would be loved by the fans. 

Arsenal have the money for someone as good as Benzema, they just need to spend it. This position is the most important for them next season and with the departure of Bendtner (at last!) they need plenty more options available up top. Plus, proper competition for Giroud, who at the moment is guaranteed a starting spot week in week out, is currently very thin on the ground.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Value World Cup Golden Boot contenders

Who can claim this coveted prize in Brazil?
Now that there are less than two weeks to go until the start of the World Cup in Brazil people have begun to voice their opinions on who they think will win the competition this year. But something that frequently gets overlooked is the man who finishes with the most amount of goals, the winner of the Golden Boot.

With the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo verging on single figures in the betting markets, it's worth taking a look at some surprise packages taking part this summer.  

Here is a brief run-down of the last three World Cup top scorers:

2002 – Ronaldo (Brazil), Winners, 8 goals
             M Klose (Germany), Finalists, 5 goals

2006 – M Klose (Germany), 3rd Place Play-off, 5 goals

2010 – Four players finished on five goals:
            D Forlan (Uruguay), 3rd Place Play-off
            T Muller (Germany), 3rd Play Play-off 
            W Sneijder (Netherlands), Finalists
            D Villa (Spain), Winners                                                                                             

Important Factors:   

Strong Team - In order to have a chance of backing someone to win the Golden Boot you obviously have to be part of a good team. It sounds stupid to iterate this but make sure that your man has a decent chance of making it to the World Cup final, since the more games he plays during the tournament, the more chances he will have to score goals.

Striker – Again, it sounds silly to mention it but it needs telling. The last time the Golden Boot was won by a non-striker was in 1974, by Gregorz Lato, and even then he was a winger. Strikers consistently claim this prize because the tournament is short, they are given the most amount of chances to score and your lead striker will often play the most amount of minutes in the side. Don’t be tempted to pick a midfielder, even if he is priced up at 100/1.

Easy Group – A dud team in a group means a good chance at scoring lots of goals. Often the Golden Boot winner only needs to score at least four goals during the tournament to claim the coveted prize. You want your selection to have the chance to knock a couple past a poor team in the group stages to put your man well on his way.

Four value picks to top score at this World Cup:

Diego Costa (Spain) 28/1 – The Atletico Madrid striker has had a phenomenal season and has racked up 27 league goals in Spain, only one less than Lionel Messi. Hopefully Costa can recover from a hamstring injury (which forced him to come off early during the Champions League final) in time for Spain’s opening game of the World Cup. 

If fit, Costa has every chance of leading the Spanish line and with the likes of Iniesta, Fabregas, Silva and Mata working in behind him there will certainly be no shortage of provision. Spain could well go all the way to the final in Brazil and Costa will no doubt be hoping to impress in his first major international tournament.

Hulk (Brazil) 50/1 – Brazil are favourites to win the World Cup in their own country and it would be no surprise to see one of their players capturing the top scorer prize to boot. Forgive the pun. According to the bookies, both Neymar and Fred are more likely to score the goals for Brazil but I think they have got this wrong. 

Hulk has scored 17 goals in 23 starts for Zenit this season which is a fantastic return. What is more miraculous is that he was averaging nearly six shots a game in the Champions League, against some of the world’s best defenders. I would not be surprised to see Hulk taking Brazil to World Cup glory come July.

AndrĂ© Schurrle (Germany) 80/1 – The Germans score goals. You only have to look down the list at the last few international tournaments so see the likes of Muller and Klose knocking them in and I don’t think this year will be any different. Apart from maybe the goal scorer himself because I’m backing Chelsea striker AndrĂ© Schurrle. 

Schurrle scored eight goals for Chelsea in 15 starts last season but it’s when playing for Germany that he has pulled off some extremely impressive performances of late. He scored four goals in his country’s last two qualifying games, including a hat-trick against Sweden. The pacey forward fits in fantastically with the German system and he could be a real danger on the counter-attack in the latter parts of matches against tiring defenders in humid conditions. The only worry is he may not start every game but at 80/1 I am willing to take that risk.

Karim Benzema (France) 33/1 – France are a surprise team for me at this summer’s championships. Written off by many already the French are deemed to have no chance of advancing that far in Brazil. But in major finals anything can happen and what’s more they have a comparatively easier group than the other big teams. 

Step up Karim Benzema who on the back of an excellent season with Real Madrid will be hoping to lead the line for France this summer and score plenty of goals. A group match against Honduras is ideal for France to stamp down some authority and if Benzema has his shooting boots on then he could well bag himself a couple of goals. Sometimes all it takes is three or so goals to get you within reach of the Golden Boot.

I would recommend backing the above each-way and getting ¼ odds for a top 4 finish. 

Italian World Cup squad - sung to the National Anthem!

I know that England are in the same group as Italy for the World Cup this summer and you know what, I find this somewhat annoying.

How can I cheer on these boys in blue this summer?

I study Italian at university and I have a huge interest in Italian football, it makes sense to adopt Italy as my 'second team' for the World Cup. Not a back up, I don't need a back up since I'm not that kind of guy. But just for when England aren't playing I have Italy who I can cheer on in a light-hearted sort of way, kind of like Ireland in the 2002 World Cup.

However, it will be increasingly difficult to do that this summer when my own nation have been pitted against Italy right from the very off when the tournament gets under way in Brazil. The two teams will meet one another in their opening game of the World Cup.

Ideally England will top the group and Italy will come in second. Obviously after England win their encounter after a tight game. Ideally. But we shall see.

In the mean time here is a fantastic video starting to do the rounds on the internet of a group of Italian guys singing the names of the Italian squad to the tune of the National Anthem. Such a good effort!

Monday, 2 June 2014

Italy squad for 2014 World Cup

A geographical look at the birthplaces of the Italian national team selected by Cesare Prandelli yesterday.

All but two members of the team were born in Italy.