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15 Dec 2010

Why Arsenal won't win the league

Arsenal won't win the league with their current crop of starlets.

Here's the why:
Arsenal are capable of playing some spellbinding football. Football that is easily equal to Barcelona's style of mesmeric passing football. On their day, Arsenal's midfield and attack can rip through the heart of almost any defence in Europe. It's when they meet the defensive powerhouses that things start to go a little pear-shaped for the Gunners.

Barcelona used to have the very same problem during the first half of last season. They have corrected that problem and now they sit with a 2 point lead in Spain. In just 15 games they have scored 46 times, conceding only 8. An incredible statistic and if they maintain this form (3 goals per game), they could destroy goalscoring records.

During the summer, the Catalan giants picked up Spain's World Cup winning striker David Villa for a cool €40million. David Villa does not conform to the Messi/Xavi/Iniesta mould. He is capable of the same tiki-taki football, but he relies slightly more on the traditional centre-forward's play style. Using power and strength to muscle through defences to score. When Barcelona's beautiful game fails to penetrate properly, they can always step up to the plate and bang a goal in from nowhere. Thanks to this, Barcelona have avoided a couple of draws or losses, specifically in the Champions League, where Barcelona have struggled with uber-defensive teams like Rubin Kazan.

Nicolas Bendtner: Poor man's David Villa?
Arsenal suffer from not having a player like David Villa. Robin Van Persie used to be a little like this, but has largely become more like Xavi, Iniesta or Messi. Arsenal can score goals (Beating Braga 6-0, Blackpool 6-0). But when they come up against solid defences, namely Manchester United (so far), they have struggled. United did play a more defensive style than usual, but it worked perfectly. Arsenal had to resort to crossing balls from the wing, which they have not had to do for a long time. 

Nicolas Bendtner is NOT in the same mould as David Villa. He has the build and probably the finishing skill, but he is devoid of the physical strength. He seems to fall over very easily compared to other players of his type, the Drogbas and Rooneys of the Premier League. If Arsene Wenger were to splash out (unlikely) on a better player than Bendtner, his team would be so much more deadly and a much bigger character in the title chase. With a true centre-forward, Arsenal should be able to deal with teams like Everton, Newcastle and West Bromwich Albion. These are the teams that tend to 'park the bus' against the 'Big 4' and have caused the Gunners the most issues - Arsenal have dropped points to all 3 of these teams - and this was largely down to the 10-man defences shutting out the gaps that Arsenal thread the ball through every Saturday. With a player such as Villa they could quite possibly have found a way through tough defences using a powerful, bullying player.

Suggestions? Unfortunately, Carlos Tevez doesn't look long for this country. Villa has just signed with Barca. There are very few of these 'traditional' #9s left in modern football. Fernando Torres has reportedly been uncomfortable at Liverpool and if they do not make it into the Champions League again this season he may well walk away from Anfield. 
 Surely Arsenal wouldn't pass up on the chance of a legit, world-class centre-forward?

Until then, Arsenal may find themselves dropping more points to teams that play with ten defenders.

10 Dec 2010

F1 Season Review 2010: Title fight comes to the boil! (PART 4)

Ferrari and McLaren had very different weekends at this year's Italian Grand Prix. Ferrari had very strong practice sessions throughout Friday and McLaren were up there with them, Red Bull were outclassed in a rare weak race for the team.

6 Dec 2010

Chelsea slump becoming a crisis

Chelsea have forgotten how to win. 5 points in their last 6 games: 1 win, 2 draws and 3 defeats against 6 teams that should have been 6 victories.

2 Dec 2010

FIFA: Brilliance or Bribery?

The 2018 Football World Cup will be held in Russia, largest country in the world, one of the biggest economies and military superpowers. Also one full of corrupt police officers, alcoholism is commonplace and bribery.

FIFA head Sepp Blatter and Russia's Depute
Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov after the nation's success
However, nobody can argue that Russia do not deserve a World Cup, they have qualified for a few of them before, they are a huge superpower and they have the money and manpower to create the infrastructure. Russia is a huge market that FIFA have never before tapped in to and would be a very interesting atmosphere to hold a major tournament. They had already proven their abilities by winning the rights to the 2014 Winter Olympics and have shown that they have already got several high-quality stadiums around their large country.

Russia's biggest disadvantage is it's sheer size. It stretches from Moscow, a few hundred miles from Poland, to bordering the South China Sea. The difference in time is vast.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter reveals the 2022 host
The biggest shock of the announcements was that the tiny Arabian principality of Qatar would host the 2022 tournament. Rank outsiders, Qatar pulled off a huge coup to win the rights and has already raised many suspicions of bribery. Qatar made no secret of it's spending power, they have access to some of the largest oil fields in the world.

Their slogan 'Expect Amazing' perfectly captures the reaction to their astonishing success. Qatar will have to build 12 new stadiums in just 12 years. The stadiums will only be built for the length of the tournament, and afterwards they will be dismantled and the pieces used to build new stadiums in other 3rd World countries. This is all very nicey-nice and all, but why has FIFA abandoned the old footballing powers so quickly? Germany was the last 'old power' to host, it will be at least 2026 when an old power (Italy, Spain, England) can host the tournament.

Qatar have many high-profile disadvantages. The country is a muslim country. Meaning alcohol can't be consumed outside the home and only on certain days. A big part of the World Cup atmosphere is being able to sit in a pub and watch the game with a pint. That can't happen unless Qatar organise 'Fan Zones' which throws up even more problems (see what happened in Manchester 2008 when things go wrong). Also, the game will take place in the middle of the Arabian summer, where temperatures can reach highs of 45C, games will need to be played during the daytime to compensate for the time-difference to Europe, FIFA's main audience. Qatar has one advantage for the teams playing: All matches will take place within 60km of the Capital. This does cut down travel time for players and fans, but does it really make any difference when planes can take teams from America to London in just a few hours?

Suggestions of bribery have surfaced, Qatar being a very rich country, and the English media uncovered a number of voting members selling their votes for cash to be used for their own countries. Could Qatar have bought votes for cash? Or has FIFA president Sepp Blatter managed to convince his members that 3rd-World development is a better idea than rewarding traditionally successful footballing nations?

BBC Panorama's investigation drew criticism from the English Bid team
Did the English media again cost their country success? It was well accepted that the English media were partly to blame for their national team's failure at the World Cup after they continuously built up and hyped up England's chances only to savagely criticise them for losing. And then BBC's Panorama program aired it's investigation into FIFA's corrupt members. This program was aired on November 30th, less than 2 days before the bid. Should the program have been held back until after FIFA had finished voting? Did the program make the FIFA members retaliate by refusing to vote for a nation who's state media unveiled their corruption? This would be unacceptable and morally wrong, but with members such as Jack Warner - A man who owes his country's international players hundreds of thousands of pounds in UNPAID bonuses with NO intention of paying  - nothing is beyond possibility. And Mr Warner has 3 bids out of the 22.