EPL

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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.

Controversial Match Gives Chelsea First EPL Defeat of Season

Chelsea hosted Manchester United at Stamford Bridge over the weekend and the match proved to be one of the most exciting games of the young season, complete with impressive goals, questionable red cards, and resounding controversy.  Manchester United came away 3-2 winners in a stadium where they haven’t won in roughly a decade, and Chelsea were left to rue the questionable decisions of referee, Mark Clattenburg.

Manchester United came out soaring and quickly established a two-goal lead from some lovely play by Robin van Persie.  Chelsea settled into the game and actually established a dominance in time of possession, but the Manchester club was the more effective in the early stages of the game.

However, Chelsea was able to get back into the match shortly before half time, when Juan Mata directed a superb free kick into the side of the goal.  It was the perfect way to go into the break for Chelsea, and one could feel the momentum shift after the goal.

Early in the second half the teams were level when a succession of crosses finally found the head of Ramires, who guided the ball into the net and set the fans alight in celebration.  Chelsea now looked the stronger side and would have been the bettor’s choice to go on to victory.

However, the decisions of the referee soon took the game elsewhere.  Branislav Ivanovic was sent off for a soft foul on Ashley Young.  In Clattenburg’s defense, Young was free in on goal and his foul denied him a goal scoring opportunity.

Only minutes later, the red card made a second appearance as Fernando Torres received a second yellow card for diving and was sent off. This was a very questionable decision as replays showed that Jonny Evans had made a slight touch.  Torres probably embellished the foul by falling so hard, but his sending off was a very harsh move by Clattenburg.

As Manchester United took hold of the game with a two-man advantage, they pressed forward and finally scored with Javier Hernandez from a short distance after a great cross by Rafael. Replays showed that Hernandez was slightly offsides at the time of the pass, but he was moving back and was behind defenders when he scored. In real time the decision would have been nearly impossible to see, but in examining the highlights, Chelsea should rightly feel slighted.

Controversy erupted from here on out.  The managers were shown exchanging less than friendly words on the sideline, and a steward was injured late in the match.  Reports surfaces that he was injured by items thrown from the stands, and this could be an embarrassment for Chelsea.  Further accusations erupted soon after the final whistle when Chelsea filed an official complaint to the FA that Clattenburg had not only ruined their chances, but had also used inappropriate language towards Chelsea players, including using a racial slur.  Time will tell if these accusations are well-founded or arose from resentment over how the game enfolded, but this truly has become a match of supreme controversy.

Regardless of the findings of these investigations, Manchester United came out to play, and were well-deserving of the victory.  The race at the top of the table has now tightened, and hope has been given to all of the other title contenders this season.

EPL Season Starts off Just as it Finished Last Year

Anyone hoping for great changes right off the bat in the EPL will have been disappointed to see the first round of matches continue in much of the same fashion that last season ended.

Arsenal got off to a lackluster result with a 0-0 home draw with Sunderland.  In typical fashion, the Gunners held the majority of possession and passed the ball around without creating more than a handful of chances.  Arsenal began last year terribly before improving to a 3rd place finish thanks to the exploits of Robin van Persie and Alex Song, but without those players their replacements couldn’t break the deadlock.

Liverpool fell flat on their faces with a 3-0 loss to West Bromwich.  The team looks resoundingly similar under new manager Brendan Rogers, and although they faced a few questionable decisions in the match, there really is no excuse for such a one sided score-line for what was once such a proud club.  It has been several long seasons of finishing outside the top 4 for Liverpool and this result suggests the trend is set to continue.

Manchester City had a more positive afternoon that featured a comeback victory 3-2 over Southampton, recalling memories of their stunning final day last year when they won the league at the death with a similar comeback of the same score over QPR.  Although they were able to stage the comeback more comfortably with ten minutes remaining in the match, their ability to find late game heroics will make them a force again in the Premier League.

Chelsea found success as new signing Eden Hazard earned an assist and drew a penalty in their 2-0 win against Wigan Athletic.  After their two early goals the team didn’t look very strong though, and striker Fernando Torres was largely ineffective at producing chances.  At least they were able to get a win though which is something they struggled mightily with during last season’s 6th place finish.

Manchester United will play against Everton tonight in a match that Red Devils fans would like to forget from last season.  During that April match, Manchester gave up two late goals in a 4-4 draw that saw them drop two points that would have won them the league.  Based on the other recurring themes from the last two days, I suspect that this match will be another hard fought draw, as Everton has the home advantage.

So it appears as if this season is starting off in a familiar manner, but with 37 games remaining for each team, surely there will be some twists and turns as the EPL season develops.