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New Cash-Happy Arsenal Set to Buy Huntelaar after Sealing Big Sponsor Deal?

The big news of last week for Arsenal was that they signed a contract extension with Emirates that will total 150 million pounds over the course of five years to keep the airline company’s name on the front of Arsenal jerseys.  For the Gunners this is a huge financial bonus that has fans crying for manager Arsene Wenger to buy some new additions to the squad.  Almost immediately after the big money move for the club was announced, it seemed rumors began to spread that Arsenal may be looking to sign Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.  Personally, I see this as the perfect move for both the player and team.

Huntelaar is a wonderful Dutch striker playing for Schalke 04 in Germany’s Bundesliga.  Last season he scored an astounding 48 goals in 47 total matches in all competitions.  He led the Budesliga with 29 goals, and helped his side reach the UEFA Champions League.  Facing Arsenal in the tournament’s group stage, Huntelaar scored twice in two matches, and his team earned four points off of the Gunners to take control of their group.  Apparently he caught the eye of Wenger in those games.

With his contract set to expire at season’s end, a move seems perfect.  Arsenal needs to replace striker Robin van Persie, now of Manchester United.  Huntelaar has always been the number two man for the Netherlands in international matches, and if he could become the new top man in England, he might just usurp that position.  He would have every opportunity to compete against his compatriot, and if he led Arsenal to glory, what Dutch coach could deny his starting role?  This is the perfect way for Huntelaar to emerge from Van Persie’s shadow!

For Arsenal the move is a no-brainer as well. Although the team recently purchased forwards Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud over the summer, only Giroud is a true striker.  And Giroud even stated upon arriving at the club that he didn’t intend to replace Van Persie.  Giroud is a good striker with a large stature, but currently Arsenal has no real depth behind him.  The option used so far this season has been the erratic Gervinho, whose play is best suited for the wing.

Think of the strikers at Arsenal’s competitors: Manchester City houses Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko, and Carlos Tevez (4 world-class strikers!).  United boast a forward trio of Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, and Javier Hernandez.  Arsenal just has Giroud.

After their grand announcement of the new Emirates deal, the team stumbled to a 0-0 draw against Aston Villa.  Goal scoring has been a touchy subject for the Gunners this season.  They are tied for just fifth in the EPL with 23 goals from 13 matches.  This is the same mark as teams like West Bromwich, Everton, and Tottenham; not the stuff you’d expect from a team with a history like Arsenal.

Huntelaar brings experience and talent to the team.  He has been described by Dutch manager Louis van Gaal, as the “best player in the world, bar none (in the penalty box).”  At age 29, he is in his absolute prime and has played for many prestigious clubs including Real Madrid and AC Milan.  If he brings his talents to North London, Arsenal could once again have a fearsome attack, and Huntelaar may well be on his way to earning a starting spot for his national team.  Although Schalke may hold onto him until summer based on their good Champions League form, Huntelaar would be wise to join Arsenal sometime soon.

Jack Wilshere Returns to Arsenal Side But Must Cool his Head

Arsenal fans have had to wait for over a year since Jack Wilshere’s nagging injury first kept him out of soccer.  He has now played in two matches since his return and once again looks like a bright prospect in the Gunners’ midfield.  However, his recent showing against Manchester United saw him sent off for two dangerous challenges and leaves me with the impression that the young player still has a lot of growing up to do.

Wilshere’s return match against QPR was very impressive.  He had a perfect pass completion rate throughout the first half before fatigue led to his substitution later in the game.  Although the side was unable to find the net with him on the pitch, he did provide a golden opportunity for Aaron Ramsey that hit the crossbar.  It was a frustrating day for Arsenal, though they did manage a late goal to beat the struggling QPR.

Wilshere then faced with a much stiffer test this past weekend as the team traveled to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United, and this showed a more vicious side of the English central midfielder.

In both his yellow-carded tackles, Wilshere deserved to be booked.  The second was the result of a rash decision to step into the leg of Patrice Evra with his studs up, and he was rightly sent off.  Clearly, the player was frustrated with the proceedings as Arsenal had yet to manage a single shot on target and had just fallen behind 2-0, but this is where maturity is so vital for quality players.  The sending off left Arsenal without a hope in the world at making a comeback, and after the thrilling midweek encounter (when Arsenal came back to win from 4-0 down to Reading), one must rue Wilshere’s inability to contain his anger.

This is a trait that has been seen before in the youngster and will limit him.  Arsenal do need a more physical and aggressive approach at times, but Wilshere needs to learn when to engage in hard tackles and when not to.  Already on a yellow card from an earlier challenge, he should not have gone in so hard.

And so the highly anticipated return of Jack Wilshere is moving along at a less-than-spectacular pace, but that should be expected given his length of absence from soccer.  Players rarely come back into a side and impact games after such injuries.  Also, Wilshere is having to get used to a whole host of new team mates.  These are his first matches with nearly the entire squad including Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski, and Per Mertesacker.  Thus, Wilshere is currently just like a “new signing” and will have to become more acquainted with his team.

I do think that he will learn to play less dangerously, but such changes take time.  Perhaps starting him at Old Trafford in only his second game back was something of a stretch for the player, but if he is to become Arsenal’s leader, he will need to gain experience in the high profile matches.  Either way, Jack Wilshere will now have a bit of a break from action due to his suspension, and perhaps that is a good thing for him given his need to slowly edge back into the Arsenal side from his injury.

What Does Liverpool Need to Do?

Liverpool has been in a state of disarray for roughly three seasons with final standings of 7th, 6th, and 8th in their most recent English Premier League seasons.  This campaign currently finds them in 17th place with only two points from four matches.  The start under new manager Brendan Rodgers has been the worst start to a Premier League campaign in over 100 years for Liverpool.  It seems as if the Reds are a team of the past and that their star is fading fast.  What can they possibly do to correct this team?

Clearly, the team suffered following the departure of Xabi Alonso, who was an anchor in the heart of the midfield.  Quite astonishingly, the club hasn’t really made any serious moves to replace him.  Javier Mascherano, his supposed replacement left the following year.   Recently the club brought in Raul Meireles, who performed very well but then set sail for Chelsea after only one season.

And now, instead of investing in this position, Liverpool has spent their funds on seemingly every position but the one they need, with big purchases like striker Andy Carroll and a host of more attack minded English midfielders like Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing, and most recently Joe Allen.  These players are largely inexperienced and have failed to establish a solid midfield at Anfield.

What is most alarming has been the downfall of captain Steven Gerrard.  Gerrard is by far the most acclaimed Liverpool player and was one of the best during the mid 2000’s, leading Liverpool to a UEFA Champions League victory with stunning goals and relentless leadership.

But in recent seasons, Steven Gerrard has disappeared.  Since 2009, after his last season paired with Xabi Alonso, Stevie G has failed to score ten goals a season in the Premier League.  That season he amassed a personal best of 16, but he has yet to rediscover that sort of form.  Worse yet, he has been sidelined for much of the last two years through injuries and clearly Liverpool lacks the depth to replace him.

He seems to play desperately now.  In the most recent match, a 1-1 draw with Sunderland, I saw him repeatedly go for glory and miss on several long-range efforts, the kind that he used to score.  Also, I noticed that he would receive the ball at midfield and hopelessly blast it up to a forward but end up turning the ball over.  This occurred several times throughout the match and perhaps one could suggest that his best days are well behind him.  At age 32, Gerrard should be playing near his top and this drop in play is frightening.

In summary, I feel that Liverpool needs to buy a good defensive midfielder, with experience, who can come in and help re-establish the heart of Liverpool.  Perhaps that will re-kindle the fire in Steven Gerrard, but I worry that we may never see his former greatness again, and that Liverpool may want to part ways with their captain if they wish to once again see sunlight.

Team USA Needs to Regroup after Jamaica Setback

America is usually one to dominate the World Cup qualification from the CONCACAF region, which is filled with Caribbean island nations and Central American teams.  Currently in the second round of qualifiers, America is joined in a group with Guatemala, Jamaica, and Antigua and Barbuda.  Though on paper these teams hardly pose a threat, the reality of the situation is that through three games played America has earned one win, one draw, and most recently a loss when they played Jamaica in Kingston.

This leaves them tied for second in a group where only two teams will progress to the final round to decide who makes it to Brazil 2014.  For a team like America, this is unacceptable.  As the youth team learned when they were denied a place at the 2012 Olympics, there is little room for error and complacency in these high-stakes matches.

Yes there are excuses to be heard, such as the injuries to Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley that prevented them from playing in the Jamaica matches.  Yes, Clint Dempsey is way out of form because of his summer transfer saga that saw him refuse to play for Fulham while he secured a move to Tottenham.  Dempsey played 90 minutes in the Jamaica loss, and although he triumphantly scored a tap-in goal after only 30 seconds, he didn’t do much else and looked sluggish.  I’m not sure how much he will be able to play during the home match tomorrow, nor am I certain that he will be able to influence the game.  So, yes, without three key players, the Americans are hardly the lively bunch that they usually are.

But the other players need to win this game against Jamaica on Tuesday.  They will have the home support and typically perform much better at home.  Players like Jozy Altidore, Brek Shea, and Herculez Gomez need to seize upon this opportunity and earn a crucial win.  Anything less and America will head into their final two matches with everything on the line, and it could prove troublesome.

Jamaica will have strong belief coming off of their historic victory, which was produced from two fine free kick efforts.  They are on top of the group and will be ever hungry to reproduce another victory that would likely push them through.

I do see the home field advantage being a huge benefit to America here.  The crowd in Jamaica was ruckus and definitely helped swing the momentum to their favor.  Such crowd support will be in America’s favor and could possibly help them to a big victory.  I predict that America will earn a solid 3-1 win and help ease the fears of fans across the nation.

Sceptical about Van Persie Transfer

It has just been announced that Manchester United have agreed a £22 million transfer deal with Arsenal for Robin Van Persie.  RVP will receive a staggering £200,000 per week for his services!

A lot of United fans are hailing this as a fantastic signing, but personally I’m not so sure…I can see another Berbertov on the horizon.

Van Persie is a great striker there is no denying that; winning the Premier League golden boot with an impressive 30 goals last season, however this is a player with some “baggage” attached.

Firstly he is extremely injury prone, since joining Arsenal in 2004 he has been injury an incredible 27 times, and has meant an average of only 26 starts per season.  Based on his history, and the fact that he is already 29, I can’t see him even making it to Christmas before he picks up his first injury at United.  See a complete list of Van Persie’s Arsenal injury list at the bottom of this article.

Secondly he has a bad attitude, he has shown with both the Dutch national team and with Arsenal that he likes to stir up dressing room discontent, play the blame game when the chips are down, and give unauthorized interviews airing the teams dirty laundry.  He will quickly find that at Manchester United this kind of attitude is not tolerated at which point he will either change, which seems unlikely, or follow Berbertov on the fast-track to no where.

Hopefully Van Persie will prove me wrong by staying injury free and continuing to bang in 30 odd goals a year; but I think it’s more likely that he will be continually injured until he slowly fades into the history books.

Robin Van Persie Injury Record List

Groin Strain 2012 February 29th
Ankle/Foot Injury 2011 August 7th
Knee Injury 2011 February 28th
Hamstring Injury 2011 February 22nd
Flu 2011 February 8th
Ankle/Foot Injury 2010 August 28th
Ankle/Foot Injury 2010 June 1st
Sprained Ankle 2009 November 14th
Knee Injury 2009 September 13th
Groin Strain 2009 April 18th
Groin Strain 2009 March 30th
Hamstring Injury 2008 October 6th
Ankle/Foot Injury 2008 August 31st
Thigh Muscle Strain 2008 May 2nd
Thigh Muscle Strain 2008 April 4th
Thigh Muscle Strain 2008 January 11th
Thigh Muscle Strain 2007 December 24th
Knee Injury 2007 October 18th
Metatarsal Fracture 2007 January 22nd
Ankle/Foot Injury 2006 November 19th
Hip/Thigh Injury 2006 September 14th
Ankle/Foot Injury 2006 February 10th
Ankle/Foot Injury 2005 December 22nd
Knee Injury 2005 October 17th
Ankle/Foot Injury 2005 February 5th
Sprained Ankle 2004 November 26th
Sprained Ankle 2004 August 27th

Tim Cahill to Provide Henry and Red Bulls with Support

2012 has so far been a very successful season for the New York Red Bulls.  They sit near the top of the table of the Eastern Conference of the MLS, and could regain their poll position if they can beat the Houston Dynamo this week.  They have established a great start in large part due to their prolific striker pair of Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper, despite their midfield shortcomings.

The recent signing of Tim Cahill could change all of that.  Cahill is a true playmaker in the advanced midfield position.  He holds the ball well, makes smart passes and runs, and can even surge into the penalty box and add to the goals.  For a team with two great strikers, Tim Cahill’s arrival will make the Red Bulls favorites to win the MLS Cup at the end of the season.

Tim Cahill has been a star for quite some time at Everton in the English Premier League.  As skilled as he is, the Australian also has a relentless burst of energy that is vital to orchestrating attacks and keeping defenders off balance.

Surely, the opportunity to play with legendary former Arsenal man Thierry Henry will have played a role in Cahill’s decision to make the move to the MLS.  At age 32, he could have stayed at Everton, but clearly he wants this new opportunity.

The transition will be a challenge at first.  We already witnessed a rough outing for Cahill when the Dynamo beat the Red Bulls 2-0 in Houston to take the top spot in the standings.  Cahill played well, but the Texas summer heat and lack of form looked to catch up with him as Houston dominated the entire match.

I fully expect New York’s newest international star to gel with the side soon, however.  Given that the MLS Cup tournament is still three months away, Cahill will have plenty of time to grow accustomed to his new surroundings.  Additionally, the weather will cool and become more in tune with what he had in Liverpool.

Tim Cahill’s arrival presents an excellent opportunity for the New York Red Bulls this season and beyond to establish themselves as a force in the MLS.  Already stocked with world class Henry, and the capable Kenny Cooper, the addition of Cahill simply means that defenders across America are set to be heavily tested throughout the year.  Cahill has a solid five years ahead of him before he may retire, and chances are that he will add an MLS Cup or two for the Red Bulls during that time.

Which Youngster Shined Brightest at EURO 2012

In addition to being perennial stomping grounds for Spain, major international tournaments like EURO 2012 can serve as proving grounds for young professionals to gain fame and secure transfers to major clubs.  With much of the world tuned in, those few games are often the most vital of any young player’s career.

Recently, players like Luis Suarez, Mesut Ozil, Andrey Arshavin, and Alexi Sanchez featured in major tournaments and earned big money moves to clubs like Arsenal, Liverpool, Barcelona, and Real Madrid.  EURO 2012 also enabled a new crop of young professionals to shine, and a few are likely to embark on a similar path as their successful predecessors.

One such player is Alan Dzagoev from Russia.  Already a key man at CSKA Moscow, the 22 year old burst onto the international scene scoring three goals in Russia’s first two EURO 2012 matches.  Unfortunately, a loss to Greece in the final match resulted in Russia’s elimination even though they had a better goal differential.  Thus the tournament was cut short for Dzagoev, but he clearly drew notice from a host of major clubs and has already been linked with Arsenal, Tottenham, and Manchester United.

Alan Dzagoev is an attacking midfielder and would improve any team with his smart passing and deft finishing.  At such a young age, he could develop into a world famous star if he seals a move to the right club.

Another exciting new player at EURO 2012 was Mathieu Debuchy of France.  The Lille right back had an outstanding performance against England in the country’s tournament opener which clearly drew interest from the English Premier League.  Earlier this year, Debuchy was heavily linked with Newcastle, but now it seems as if Chelsea or possibly even Inter Milan are set to swoop in and lure the player to a bigger club.

Chelsea would be a fantastic place for the Frenchmen where he could linkup with his former Lille team mate, Eden Hazard.  The tandem led Lille to a Ligue 1 championship in 2011 and would love the opportunity to help Chelsea improve upon their recent league troubles.  Debuchy’s attacking prowess makes him an intriguing talent.

Probably the most exciting player to emerge from EURO 2012 was Jordi Alba of Spain.  Alba was able to start each match at left back for the Spanish side after an injury to Carlos Puyol.  Those expecting a drop in quality were horribly mistaken.  Alba’s speed and technical skill helped Spain lift the trophy.  In addition to excellent defending, Alba also had an assist against France and a wonderful goal against Italy in the final.  He made a daring 60 yard run out from his own half and collected a brilliant Xavi pass and eased the ball into the net like a classy veteran.

Barcelona has already gobbled up this talent just last week, but we can expect lots of chatter about the destination of Dzagoev and Debuchy.  For these players, EURO 2012 was a tremendous success.  The soccer world will soon become quite accustomed to their names.

Samir Nasri has some Growing Up to Do

Frenchman Samir Nasri has just turned 25 years old, an age when the typical footballer matures and enters the prime of their career.  But he still has a lot of growing up to do in his dealings with other people.  The talented midfielder has had a rather tumultuous past few weeks with many highs and few lows, but his recent antics have left a rather sour taste in the mouths of his fans.

Following France’s EURO 2012 defeat to Spain, Nasri hurled a plethora of abusive swear words at a journalist.  Both the manager and the president of the French Football Federation have come out against Nasri’s words and have labeled the incident “intolerable” and “regrettable”.

This outburst was building after an apparent locker room fight following the Sweden loss, where Nasri was again in the middle of self induced drama.  His issues from that altercation resulted in his relegation to the substitute’s bench for much of the Spain match.

Samir Nasri has always been an outspoken player.  Following his first Premier League title with Manchester City this past May, he threw insults towards his former club Arsenal, berating their third place finish and lack of trophies in recent seasons.  He rejected claims that he had left for money and used the club’s celebration as an excuse for personal outrage towards Arsenal fans.

Such a level of immaturity is the work of a schoolboy scoundrel.  Although he has had a very successful past few months, helping his club to victory and scoring an impressive goal at the EURO tournament against England, his frightening comments and angry behavior lead me to assume he will never become the next Zinedine Zidane of France as so many of the scouts proposed.

He is developing into the prototypical team cancer.  Even when he scored his EURO 2012 goal, he chose to celebrate by yelling “shut up” in the direction of the journalists, as though his effort was a mere excuse for him to chastise the press.  He made little attempt to celebrate with his team mates, and I feel he is more concerned with telling people off than winning games.

Nobody likes to lose, but one would think a professional could do so in style.  Samir Nasri has nothing to be sore about, as he was part of a Premier League winning side and a country that looks set for a decade of fortune.  Yet he still embraces every opportunity to speak his boastful mind.  Let us hope that he can begin to mature in his 25th year, because for as much as he likes to talk big, he has a lot of growing up to do on and off the pitch.

With both France and Manchester City absolutely loaded with talent, his silliness could result in reduced playing time and downward spiral to professional mediocrity.  Such a turn of events would leave his angry pleas to fall on deaf ears and silence.

England’s Euro squad suffers another blow

News has just emerged that Jermain Defoe has left the England Euro 2012 camp and headed back home due to the death of his father. At the moment it appears that he is set to return to the tournament, but at this point it is still unclear when that return will be.

I have nothing against Defoe he gets his share of goals, and he is certainly not afraid to pull the trigger but I’d just prefer to see some fresh blood.  Defoe has been there for England time and time again, but each time England have not done much.  England need to shake it up, and the man to do that could be Norwich City’s Grant Holt, he was in fine form this season with 15 premier league goals.  He’s a force in the air, but unlike Andy Carrol, he can score skillful goals too; he’s more than just a battering ram.

Defoe seems like a bit of an emotional fellow; he was fairly distraught over the whole Fabrice Muamba heart attack incident; and I’m sure this loss is going to hit him hard too.  Let him sit this tournament out and give Holt his shot.

When the chips are down, with 10 minutes left to play, if it’s Jermain Defoe coming on I’m not going to be filled with that nervous feeling of “a miracle might just happen”.  With Grant Holt, an untested diamond in the rough, that fairy tail moment might just be on the cards.

There has to be more to the Rio snub

Since becoming England manager, Roy Hodgson has really only made one controversial decision; that was to leave Rio Ferdinand out of the Euro 2012 squad.

At the time it didn’t seem to be that big of a deal because when you look through the list of included central defenders: Terry, Cahill, Jagielka, Lescott, Jones and put each up against Ferdinand it is debatable who is better.  I simple put it down to Roy thinking that these included defenders are playing better than Ferdinand at this point in time.

However the whole situation has become a bit more sinister since the injury to Gary Cahill.  One would assume that Rio is obviously next in line for a call up…but shockingly Hodgson has gone with Martin Kelly instead…

When you stack up the stats of Kelly versus Ferdinand this decision seems to make absolutely no footballing sense.

Rio Ferdinand – made 30 league appearances for Manchester United this season and they finished 2nd.

Martin Kelly – made 10 league appearances for Liverpool this season and they finished 8th.

And that’s just this season’s most recent and basic stats, which debunks the theory that Ferdinand is over the hill.  If you look at the history of both players it is hands down no contest. Ferdinand with 81 senior England caps, 5 Premier League titles, 2 League Cups, a Champions League, and FA Cup; versus Martin Kelly with 1 League Cup.

In footballing terms it is the equivalent of saying “I would rather take 1 less player to the Euros than include Rio Ferdinand”.

The next argument is that Ferdinand is injury prone, but we are talking about the 5th in line center back spot.  Hodgson has already shown that he has no problem including  recently injured players, such as Terry, Gerrand, Welbeck, Parker, etc.. so I doubt this is Hodgson’s reasoning.

Some managers like to stamp their authority on the team by locking out a high profile player, Fabio Capello was certainly the type of manager to do that, but nothing about Roy makes me think he is of the same ilk in this regard.

My only conclusion is that there has to be some ulterior motive.  Maybe Sir Alex made a man to man phone call to Hodgson saying in no uncertain terms “call up Ferdinand at your own peril”; it is, after all, well known that managers have been led on by the possibility of becoming the next Manchester United manager after the great man retires.

Or maybe behind the scenes Ferdinand’s personality is detrimental to team moral.  When watching him in a losing situation he does seem to be one of those players who turns to his teammates and says “you guys suck”… as opposed to giving a rallying cry.

Whatever the reason for this decision it has to be something strange, because no one can tell me Martin Kelly is a better defender than Rio Ferdinand.