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Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Best 11 Outside The Big Four in England (08/09)

another article i published on

Most fantasy 11s are made up of huge stars playing for top teams. This season, many of the smaller clubs have upset the members of the top 4, with the hardest hit being Arsenal.

For a while, it looked like Arsenal might have let Aston Villa grab 4th spot ahead of them. Even though it looks unlikely now, I think the rest of the 16 teams have been generally competitive and most teams would have at least one player that would make this list, which is basically a dream team comprising players who ply their trade for English teams outside the top 4.

Being the nearest challengers to Arsenal, Aston Villa and Everton will definitely have players featuring in this lineup, but I've looked at every club and picked out the top-performing players, then made some really tough decisions, and this is what I've come up with.

Goalkeeper: Chris Kirkland (Wigan)

Chris Kirkland has been dogged by injuries since he joined Liverpool back in 2001. Right now, fully at home after a similar injury-plagued spell at West Brom, he has once again proven himself to be an excellent shot-stopper. His quick reflexes and towering frame have proven vital in Wigan's push up the table this season. They are now knocking on the door of Europe, and it would be just reward for an excellent season for Kirkland. Wigan fans, just pray he doesn't get injured again.

Notable mentions:
Robert Green (West Ham)
Brad Friedel (Aston Villa)

Right-back: Glen Johnson (Portsmouth)

Glen Johnson has been one of the few bright spots in a bad season for portsmouth. having kicked off the season with an array of talent at harry redknapp's disposal, the team now has had its heart ripped out with the departures of redknapp, lassana diarra, and jermain defoe. however, glen johnson has been an ever-present in a portsmouth team currently battling relegation. his defending used to be questioned, but it has improved considerably this season. offensively, he has scored a few absolute crackers this season, and has 3 goals to his name already. if portsmouth are to retain their status as a premier league team, glen johnson is going to be key.

Notable mentions:
John Pantsil (Fulham)
Habib Beye (Newcastle)

Centre-back: Phil Jagielka (Everton)

Jagielka has been an absolute rock for Everton this season. Strong in the air, reasonable pace, but most importantly, a strong desire to keep the ball far away from his goal. Never one to shy away from a challenge, yet one who always plays hard but fair. I haven't seen Jagielka intentionally go out to hurt anyone, and that's exactly why he isn't just a superb defender, he is a perfect role model for kids out there who want to know how to play football, or in fact any other sport. Determination to win, but above all, sportsmanship. His partnership with Lescott/Yobo is the one of the reasons why Everton are right up there with Arsenal and Aston Villa.

Notable mentions:
Titus Bramble (Wigan)
Matthew Upson (West Ham)

Centre-back - Brede Hangeland (Fulham)

Brede Hangeland, the giant Norwegian defender, has been an integral part of Fulham's back four this season. The fact that Aaron Hughes actually looks like a decent defender is probably down to Hangeland being absolutely dominant in the air. With his height and natural aerial prowess, he has repelled most teams that still try the aerial route against Fulham. On the offensive end, he might not have scored many - just the one in fact, this season, but it was a vital goal that gave them all 3 points against arsenal at craven cottage. If he keeps up this form, I will not be surprised if bigger clubs come knocking at the end of the season.

Notable mentions:
Jonathan Woodgate (Tottenham)
Michael Turner (Hull City)

Left-back - Joleon Lescott (Everton)

Lescott is picked at left-back, even though he has spent half the season in this position, and the other half at centre-back. Although he is a very competent left-back, I think his selection is more down to the lack of good options from the other clubs. To be fair to him, he has once again delivered the goods for Everton. Though a little panicky at times, he can never be accused of lacking commitment, as he harries and chases attackers ruthlessly once they get near his goal. His physique also allows him to muscle wingers off the ball fairly. He has also picked up 4 goals this season, which is a decent return for a defender.

Notable mentions:
Leighton Baines (Everton)
Maynor Figueroa (Wigan)

Right-winger - Stephen Ireland (Manchester City)

This was a tough choice. I had to fit Stephen Ireland into the team, considering how good he has been for Manchester City this season. With the spotlight on Robinho and other supposedly "bigger" stars, the graduate from City's Academy has won his place in the first 11 with a series of good performances, that have yielded him 7 goals and 7 assists already this season. That's some feat, considering City are useless away from home. With an eye both for a goal and a pass, he has been an integral part of City's attack, and despite not being an orthodox right-winger, his switching with Shaun Wright-Phillips has given City more options when they attack.

Notable mentions:
Aaron Lennon (Tottenham)
Valon Behrami (West Ham)

Central Midfielder - Gareth Barry (Aston Villa)

Having been placed in various positions from the start of his career, ranging from left-back to centre-back, then left-wing to central midfield, it's safe to say Barry has found his true home in the middle of the park. As comfortable in defence as he is spraying probing passes around the field, Gareth Barry is Mr Aston Villa. It's hard to imagine a Villa side without him, which is why Villa fans should count their blessings that the move to Liverpool never materialised. With 4 goals and a number of assists to his name, his return is decent, but it's his unseen work that makes me pick him in this lineup. The decoy runs, the tracking back, the sheer effect of having him on the field. These cannot be seen from statistics, which is why they often don't tell the full story. He would be an excellent addition to other top clubs, such as Arsenal or Liverpool, and I hope he gets to experience Champions League football before he retires.

Notable mentions:
Sean Davis (Portsmouth)
Scott Parker (West Ham)

Central Midfielder - Mikel Arteta (Everton)

Mikel Arteta. What can I say? This man is a magician with the ball. His close control is excellent, his set pieces are almost always spot-on, and his passing range is among the top ten in the league. With him in the middle of the park, most of Everton's play went through him, and why not? He is to Everton, what Fabregas is to Arsenal, what Barry is to Aston Villa. With him on the field, the team look dangerous. Without him, Everton are a bunch of scrappers, although I must admit Everton are very good at that too. It is a real shame that he has to miss the rest of the season, as I think had he been around, Everton might be even closer to 4th place.

Notable mentions:
Danny Murphy (Fulham)
Luka Modric (Tottenham)

Left-winger - Ashley Young (Aston Villa)

Who else could it be really? When he was first signed for 8 million pounds from Watford, more than a few eyebrows were raised. However, he has been absolutely superb for Aston Villa for the past two seasons. Week in week out, we see Ashley Young tormenting defenders down the wings with his blend of pace and trickery. As if that wasn't enough, his set-piece delivery is good as well, opting to bend the ball into the danger zones at pace, causing opposing defences all sorts of problems. He has 5 goals already this season, which is a decent return for a player who spends much of his time hugging the touchline. At a tender age of 24, I foresee a bright future for the talented Mr Young.

Notable mentions:
Steven Pienaar (Everton)
Jonas Gutierrez (Newcastle)

Striker - Carlton Cole (West Ham)

One of the reasons for West Ham's revival under Gianfranco Zola has been the form of Carlton Cole. Strong and fast, Carlton Cole has always had the attributes to be a good striker in the Premier League. However, he hasn't exactly set the league alight until this season. With 9 goals and 3 assists to his name, on top of some superb performances, even Fabio Capello has been impressed, and has called him up to the England squad this season. When Bellamy left, many predicted West Ham would go through a slump in form, but Carlton Cole has managed to forge an effective partnership with David Di Michele as well, ensuring that West Ham haven't really missed the Welshman that much.

Notable mentions:
Peter Crouch (Portsmouth)
Kenwyne Jones (Sunderland)

Support Striker - Tim Cahill (Everton)

Forced into this position by injuries to Moyes's side, Tim Cahill has proved to be a revelation up front. Not only is he a scorer of goals, he is a scorer of vital goals. His leap in the penalty area is unreal, and it gives him the opportunity to get his head to the ball, considering his disadvantage when it comes to height against usually taller opponents. He times his runs perfectly as well, and as he usually comes from a less advanced position, it makes it very difficult for defenders to track him. By the time they realise he's unmarked, it's way too late, as he wheels away to the corner flag, and punches it in glee. It's fair to say that without him, Everton would be nowhere near the top 5 this season, and it's often in matches where he doesn't play, that Everton end up drawing or losing. His collaboration with Fellaini upfront was a tactical surprise that worked a treat, and I'm not sure Everton are really better off with Jo up front.

Notable mentions:
Craig Bellamy (Manchester City)
Sanli Tuncay (Middlesbrough)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Can Arsenal Finally End Four Year Trophy Drought?

right, i suddenly had the urge to write about arsenal. so i went to bleacher report and submitted an article. here it is.

Can Arsenal Finally End Four Year Trophy Drought?

by Eddy Hirono (Contributor)

WEST BROMWICH, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 03:  Andrei Arshavin of Arsenal celebrates after setting up the second goal for his team during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal at The Hawthorns on March 3, 2009 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

The last time Arsenal won anything at all, it was a scarcely-deserved penalty-shootout triumph over Manchester United, who have gone on after that to win rather more trophies, and that is an understatement.

The images should still be clear in the minds of Arsenal fans. The commanding figure of Patrick Vieira positioning the ball on the spot, taking a deep breath, and then slamming it into the back of the net to clinch the FA Cup. We did not deserve it, not after registering one shot on target throughout 120 minutes of football. However, the winning mentality came through, and we did it.

Unfortunately, since then, Arsenal have won nothing. The closest we've come was a League Cup Final against Chelsea a couple of years back, and last season's spectacular late-season collapse after starting so well in the league.

So the big question remains. Can Arsenal actually break their long drought and bring back a trophy, any trophy to the Emirates faithful this year?

With Arsenal 10 points off the top in the English Premier League, it is highly unlikely that we will pose any threat. So, the spotlight is firmly focused on the FA Cup, and the UEFA Champions League.

In the FA Cup, Arsenal have a semi-final against the mighty Blues of Chelsea. This will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination. Many might point to Arsenal's impressive 2-1 victory at Stamford Bridge for proof of Arsenal's ability to beat Chelsea. However, let's not be fooled by that result. It was achieved without a very important player for the Blues, Didier Drogba.

The Ivory Coast international terrorises defenders across Europe, but he has a real liking for bullying Arsenal centre-backs. He single-handedly won the League Cup for Chelsea with two goals after Theo Walcott had opened the scoring for Arsenal.

In the league, he has scored winners against us on more than one occasion. The problem is, as much as Gallas and Toure are able defenders, they lack the physique that Drogba possesses to challenge him effectively in the air.

For Arsenal to get past Chelsea, they have to look to Arshavin. Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink will know all about the talent of the Russian, and will definitely detail players to mark him tightly. This will play straight into Arsenal's hands, as they can utilise the superior movement of the other players to create problems for Chelsea.

If they do reach the final, Manchester United or Everton await them. Once again, it's not easy. However, Arsenal tend to thrive against teams that attack them. This season our losses have mostly been to teams that defended as if their lives depended on getting a result (Hull, Fulham, Stoke, etc).

Assuming we do get Manchester United in the final, I honestly do fancy our chances. Manchester United are not unbeatable. Should Ferguson play Giggs/Scholes/Neville, then Arsenal will rip them apart with a fast, attacking game. Even one of their best players this season, Nemanja Vidic, has shown in recent matches that he is human after all, and perhaps more crucially, a lack of pace on the turn, something that can be exploited by the likes of Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri.

So that's for the FA Cup. The UEFA Champions League is no easier. First up, we face Villarreal. Arguably, this is an easy tie, as Villarreal are one of the weakest teams left in the competition. With crafty players such as Santi Cazorla, Robert Pires, Nihat Kahveci, and Giuseppe Rossi in the side, one can never rule them out though. Nevertheless, I am confident we will overcome the Spanish obstacle.

It is in the semi-finals where we face Manchester United or Porto. As mentioned above, I do fancy Arsenal to pip Manchester United should it come down to this. And if we actually face Porto, I'm supremely confident that they will not pose us any problems whatsoever.

In the finals, if we can get there, we will face Barcelona/Bayern/Chelsea/Liverpool. None are easy, but I think having got to the final, we should fancy our chances. With Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott back, who's to say Arsenal can't do it?

I have a feeling this is going to be a special season for Arsenal fans. I hope it's not just the Arsenal fan in me speaking.

and that's the end of the article. of course this being after all, here's my tip.

$5 on arsenal to win champions league @ 9.00 = $45.00
$5 on arsenal to win fa cup @ 4.00 = $20.00

odds taken from bet365