Defiant Arsene Wenger remains at Arsenal for another 2 years

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Was it ever really in doubt that Arsene Wenger would not walk away from Arsenal? The news that the Frenchman has signed a new 2 year deal, should be a surprise of sorts given Arsenal’s recent lack of titles, but the board evidently and emphatically love him. Continue reading

An FA Cup victory will not equal success for Arsenal

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If you want to pin point the difference between Arsenal of the late 1990s and the Arsenal of today look no further than how the players have reacted when winning a game. They have celebrated like they have just won the Premier League. This has been on show for the past decade as the Gunners have fought their way to finish within the top 4, just so they can pick up their invitation to the Champions League. Continue reading

The European football team of the season 2016-17

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The end of football in Europe has arrived. In England Chelsea wrapped up yet another league title under the guidance of new manager Antonio Conte. In France Monaco stopped PSG’s dominance with a very deserved and hard fought title win. Real Madrid finally won La Liga after a 5 year win less spell. But some things never change, in Serie A Juventus wrapped up their 6th consecutive title and Bayern Munich eased to yet another Bundesliga title.

There have been some superb performances this season and this will be celebrated below in the European team of the season. The format takes a 3-5-2 system.

Goalkeeper- Gianluigi Buffon

Simply outstanding for yet another season, Buffon has simply been a rock in goal for Juventus. His exploits have heavily influenced the Italians reaching a 2nd Champions League final in three years. It’s the one title he craves for as Juve look to win their treble this season. He’s conceded just 1 goal in the knock out stages of the competition and some of his saves against Monaco alone were worthy of inclusion here. There really isn’t anyone else who can touch the 39 year old at present.

Defender- Marcelo

The Brazilian has been consistant for a number of years now, but this season seems to have been his best as an individual. His timing in his tackles has improved as Real have become a constant thorn in their rivals sides. Marcelo has developed as a player and has so much confidence on the ball. Never afraid to go forward to, so he keeps that Brazilian tradition up, and his pace is electrifying.

Defender- Giorgio Chilleni

The Juventus man has been arguably the best Italian defender for a number of years now. His experience is second to none and he was born to play in the role of defender. He is now celebrating his 6th Serie A title in a row and like Buffon was pivotal to Juventus’ progress to this years Champions League final. He is part of a defence who has let in 26 goals this season which is the fewest in the league.

Defender-Leonardo Bonucci

Again we turn to another Juventus player. Bonucci, who plays the game so calm and can almost second guess what will happen before it does. His partnership with Chilleni could well go down as one of the great ones. Bonucci was once seen as spare parts by Inter, but the joke was on them that they let this talented Italian leave. Has had another tremendous season.

Midfielder- Cristiano Ronaldo

Of course because of his goals Ronaldo seems to fit into the more forward line of thinking. But the Portuguese has always been known as more of an attacking midfielder. Now into his 30′s Ronaldo shows no signs of slowing down. He hasn’t scored as many goals in the league as he’d like, but the goals that he has got have always been so important. Another title was added to his growing collection at the weekend and now he will be looking to win back to back Champions League, which has yet to be done. Quite simply Ronaldo has been irresistible this season just like the 10 that preceded it.

Midfielder- Eden Hazard

Serious questions were asked last season when Hazard and Chelsea had a nightmare and collapsed. Just how good was Hazard? Well this season he has proved just how good he is. His silky runs, dribbles, great play off the ball and his wonderful goals have underlined Hazard as one of the best players in Europe. He’s the very one player in England that when he has the ball everyone takes a deep breathe. Superb and highly consistant.

Midfielder- Bernardo Silva

The Monaco man is one of the reasons they are celebrating the Ligue 1 title. A brilliant distributor of the ball, with an eye for a great tackle, Silva has been phenomenal this season. He also scores goals and Monaco will do well to hold on to the Brazilian. One of the very best players in France right now.

Midfielder- N’golo Kante

Everyone could see how brilliant Kante was at Leicester and was a major reason Leicester surprised everyone with a league title. At Chelsea he has grown in stature to become one of the very best players, and now he has won 2 league titles in a row with different clubs. Kante has been magnificent this season where many after his Premier League player of the year regard him as one of the very best mid fielders in the world.

Midfielder- Lionel Messi

The Argentinian is here again of course and it was difficult to leave him out even if Barcelona have been underwhelming this season. Messi still got 37 goals in La Liga easily the most in the league. His goals and influence have been sublime and even though this has clearly not been his best season he has still for moments clearly been far and away the best player on the planet.

Forward- Gonzalo Higuian

Higuian moved to Juventus in an £80m deal and the pressure was on the forward to deliver. And he did. 24 goals in Serie A may not put him top of the pile but he was part of a team and he did deliver the goals that gave Juventus their 6th title in a row. He continues to score goals at a superb rate and gives Juventus an all round completion. One of the very best centre forwards in Europe.

Forward- Harry Kane

The Tottenham forward simply couldn’t be ignored as he finished top of the goal scorers in England with 29. Kane has been brilliantly consistent for Spurs scoring those 29 goals from just 30 matches and in the last two seasons he now has 54 goals from just 68 games. The future is certainly bright for Kane.

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Premier League set to finish with no excitement as TV loses out

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The English Premier League often hailed as the best in the world, if not the most exciting couldn’t have ended in a more sour dead rubber note if it tried to. And television companies will have been feeling miserable this past week. Why? Well because the most ‘exciting’ league in the world finished early this season.

Chelsea were confirmed as champions, so there was no down to the wire excitement with Tottenham, who after such a superb season went to underachievers West Ham and lost. This handed an even greater advantage to Antonio Conte’s team and in the end they have run away with the league and of course most deservedly.

Relegation was all wrapped up as Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hull City were sent down to the Championship. This means that we won’t bear witness to masses of fans screaming and running on the pitch as their club stays up.

It also means of course that television suffers too- there will be zero emotion on the final day- winners have been notified and losers have been shipped off. Television will be at a loss and yet there is still one glimmer of hope. The top 4.

Chelsea and Tottenham are still the only confirmed teams. However Manchester City currently in 3rd place will be joining them in qualifying for the Champions League. Not only have the team found some form but they can only miss out on a top 4 berth if they get beaten heavily by six goals against Watford, it won’t happen and this is something that even in the wildest imaginations of TV land can’t be hyped up.

So then we are left with a straight fight between Liverpool and Arsenal. But then again Liverpool’s task is just to beat Middlesbrough at Anfield, a club who are not only relegated but have won just 1 game away from home all season. However Liverpool cannot afford to draw the game either. Over at Arsenal they will have perhaps a sterner test against Everton but the Gunners will start as the favourites considering they are playing at home.

Scraps of excitement then. Just think if, on the final day of the season Arsenal had to play Liverpool, 1989 revisited albeit under very different circumstances. But that would have been the game that would have got television stations buzzing from here to Beijing.

The sad truth is that the final day of the Premier League could well be a forgettable one. And with the amount of money being poured into football by television the 2016-17 season may well be remembered as one of the biggest anti-climaxes since the Premier League began.

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Paul Pogba – Manchester United’s worst ever signing!

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He came with great expectations from Juventus, the Frenchman Paul Pogba arrived, no he came back ‘home’ to Manchester United last summer in a deal reported to be worth a staggering £89m, but after a most forgettable season at least in the league for the Red Devils, the question needs to be asked, is Paul Pogba Manchester United’s worst ever signing?

Pogba is currently the most expensive player to ever have been transferred from one club to another. He cost United £3.5m more than Gareth Bale’s transfer to Real Madrid and a cool £9m more than Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s fair to say that United have not got their bang for their buck so to speak when comparing players.

Of course it’s not Pogba’s fault that United decided to break the transfer record to get him, but after the dust has settled down and we’ve had a good 10 month look at him on English shores Pogba seems to be a decent player, but hardly a special one.

Of course Pogba was the fish that got away and the sheer cost of bringing him back to United was seen by many as grotesque if not daft. United under Sir Alex Ferguson had got Pogba from French side Le Harve back in 2009. The cost has never been made clear, though it was alleged that the deal was signed for £87,000 plus a house for the Frenchman. But just three years later Pogba refused to sign a new contract and was off to Juventus for the grand old sum of £800,000. His transfer history at least in football terms was still incredibly low.

That was until Pogba was deemed to have had a superb Euro 2016 with France, the eventual runners up to Portugal in that summers tournament and with a new manager at the helm in Jose Mourinho, Pogba was brought back, but for a kings ransom.

Earlier in the season United legend Gary Neville hinted that Pogba was confused when playing against the better teams, though admitted that Mourinho needed to incorporate the player better into his role. In March Paul Merson commented that Pogba’s play is being hampered by United forward Zlatan Ibramhimovic, in that Zlatan did not play to Pogba’s strengths and therefore the Frenchman could not get into what is his favoured position- the final third.

For the sum of money and return Pogba would statistically be the worst signing for United. However one should not forget other players that have come and gone from Old Trafford, most of them cruelly becoming the butt of pub jokes.

Massimo Taibi was signed from Italians Venezia in 1999 where he was struck off the books almost the moment he landed in Manchester. The goal keeper who was bought for £4,5m made just 4 appearances conceding on average almost 3 goals a game.

More recently was the swoop for Bebe from Guimaraes for a whopping £7.5m. United went for the player even though in Portugal he was relatively unknown and local media couldn’t believe that a club like United were coming in for him. Bebe went on to make just 7 appearances for the club before being loaned out. And then there was the deal for Wilfried Zaha who ended up being Sir Alex Ferguson’s final signing at £12m. Zaha went on to play just 4 games for the Red Devils.

And we can’t finish this piece without of course mentioning Eric Djemba-Djemba cruelly labelled the next Roy Keane. Djemba-Djemba came from Nantes for £3.5m and was sold to Aston Villa two years later after his career failed to take off at United.

As for Pogba it could well be that we will see the best of the player next season, but as it stands it could well be one of the worst signings in United’s history. And one can’t fail to think that had he stayed in Italy he would have won another league title and be playing a certain Champions League final on June 3rd. All of this seems very distant at United right now.

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Real Madrid and Barcelona remain neck and neck for Spanish title

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In the past few weeks its been a syndrome in Spain of whatever you can do we can do too. And so it proved yet again in La Liga where Barcelona scored 4 goals on their way to beating Las Palmas and Real Madrid repeated that trick at home to Sevilla.

Both clubs have remained neck and neck since Barcelona stunned Real at the Bernabeu last month. A last minute Lionel Messi goal ensured the Catalans walked away with a 3-2 victory to put them into first position. However Real have been content in 2nd place given that they still have a game in hand over Barca and the two teams share the same points.

The consistency of the two teams has led to a flurry of results which has seen the clubs scoring goals almost for fun and it hasn’t always been down to Ronaldo and Messi to get the winning goals. For Barcelona Luis Suarez and Neymar have had to step up their game. For Real Karim Benzema and James Rodriguez have had to fill in.

However the two best players in the world have still been pivotal this season where Ronaldo and Messi have chalked up 57 goals between them. They look set to break the 60 goal barrier with ease.

So just who will come out on top this season? Will Barcelona be able to win their 6th title this decade or will Real notch up their first league win since 2012? This has been Real’s worst gap in league titles since the early 1990s when they had to watch Barcelona under Johann Cruyff win the league 4 times in a row before they finally claimed it in 1995.

However in between their 2012 league title Real have consolidated themselves well with 2 Champions League and will be aiming to win another on June 3rd. But the league title is leaving a gaping hole in the club’s resume and they will want to push on and claim what would be their 33rd league win.

Barcelona have just one match left where they will play Eibar at home and they will be massive favourites to win that game and end the season on 90 points. Real Madrid of course have two games remaining. First they will play Celta Vigo this Wednesday away from home in what will be a must watch game for both Real and Barcelona fans.

If Real get through that match then it all comes down to May 21st where they will again be away from home against tricky Malaga. Barcelona will be hoping that two away games is one too much and that Real will drop some points, but they will have to lose at least one of them to give Barca any chance of the title.

In 6 days time we will all know the outcome to that.

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Atletico Madrid win last ever Madrid derby at Vicente Calderon

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The Champions League final will be between Real Madrid and Juventus after Real qualified for the final by beating Atletico Madrid 4-2 on aggregate. But for Atletico they left the competition at least with their heads held high after they won on the night 2-1. It was one of the most important victories in the club’s history given that it was the very final Madrid derby to be played at their infamous stadium Vicente Calderon.

Atletico will say goodbye to the stadium that has hosted their games since 1967 at the end of this domestic season. Their very final match being against Athletico Bilbao on May 21st.

For manager Diego Simeone a win in this match meant everything to the club even though qualification after losing the first leg over Real 3-0 was but a distant dream. After the game Simeone was full of pride for his players and the fans “I’m proud: we competed yet again, as we have for five and a half years; it makes me emotional every day we were 3-0 and some thought that when we said we could come back it was just words, but the path we took was wonderful. Those 20-25 minutes will be in the history of the club, the atmosphere. This was a magical Calderón night that will be in people’s memories for ever.”

It was an incredibly emotional night in Madrid and it was of course very fitting that we would bear witness to some wonderful goals. It was also fitting that the last goal scored in a Madrid derby at this stadium would fall to Antoine Griezmann, a player who has risen to one of the best in the world since his time playing for the club.

This match though was all about the fans, the fans of Atletico- who, before the game, had held a banner proclaiming ‘proud not to be like them’, there was no guesses who that was directed at. And unlike Madrid weather especially for May, the sweaty balmy air turned to thunder and lightening which given the scene put upon us seemed very apt indeed.

Lasting memories is what life is about, and for the fans, even though they had just witnessed a season with full confirmation that there would be no trophies, and that they had just been knocked out of the Champions League – and by their fiercest rivals there was also the joy, since they had won the match.

They stayed for over an hour singing and rejoicing, and if one had not known the score you could have easily thought that Atletico were through to the final. They weren’t but what they did do was gracefully say their first goodbyes to such an iconic and loving stadium.

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Chelsea on verge of league title as Tottenham blow their chance

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And so a huge swing in the Premier League title may well boil down to Monday evening when Chelsea host Middlesbrough at Stamford Bridge. Antonio Conte’s team will have the chance to go 7 points clear at the top with just 9 more points on the board.

Tottenham have put up a brave effort this season which has saw them go unbeaten so far this season at home, which incidentally will be their last season at White Hart Lane. They will also finish 2nd and in doing so finish above their eternal rivals Arsenal for the first time since the mid 1990′s. Harry Kane has turned into one of the hottest properties in European football and Dele Alli has shown his maturity. The team pound for pound has arguably been the best in the Premier League, and yet the usual collapsing Tottenham antics remains.

Rewind to Friday evening where Spurs had to travel to West Ham, a club who simply loathe their north London rivals. The Hammers who have had an unspectacular and difficult debut season in their new ground got a surprise 1-0 victory over Tottenham. This defeat was only Tottenham’s 4th all season and had come at such a reminding and one could say nightmarish time for them. Who remembers the meltdown from last season where Spurs destined for 2nd place, gave it up predictability to Arsenal, which ended up with losses meshed with red cards and a bad taste in the mouth after such a solid season?

Four points behind Chelsea and with the Blues having  a game in hand in the last furlong of a 9 month season, the odds look helplessly stacked against Tottenham who have not won the league since 1961.

If Chelsea do claim their 5th league title it will be richly deserved, as they have been so dominating this season, apart from a few speed bumps- namely the surprise loss at home to Crystal Palace a few weeks ago. The hard truth for Spurs is that even if Chelsea failed to beat Middlesbrough, they would still be holding all of the cards- with another game wiped off the board and still a 4 point advantage.

Eden Hazard et all will be aiming to put one hand on the Premier League trophy one that they have won 3 times alone this decade with victory over Boro.

Sorry Tottenham, but the league title is evidently going south of the river once again.

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Real Madrid and Juventus likely to meet in Champions League Final

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Of course anything can happen in football and the game can be turned on its head within minutes but judging on what we have witnessed this week, Real Madrid look set to meet Juventus in the Champions League final.

Real were up against city rivals Atletico Madrid. A team they have struggled against in the league but in European competition have won the last four fixtures. Two of those were actual Champions League finals. The first leg at the Bernabeu ended up being a one sided affair which Real won 3-0 courtesy of a terrific Cristiano Ronaldo hat trick.

The Portuguese star hasn’t scored as many goals as he would like in the league this season, but when he has been finding the back of the net they have been all important ones.

Atletico now need to win 3-0 at home to force extra time, but just 1 goal from Real and Atletico would need 5. Real Madrid then look all set for their third final appearance in the last four years. And of course if they win it they would become the first team since AC Milan in 1990 to retain the trophy.

Real may well be joined by Italians Juventus who impressively took on and beat a Monaco side who had lost just once at home all season. A 2-0 away victory is simply gold in Europe and with the way Juve defended it seems very difficult to think that Monaco can go to Italy and go through. Just one more goal from the Old Lady and the French team would need 4. Gianluigi Buffon, the Juventus goal keeper was highly impressive saving a string of shots but Juve also showed maturity and that classic way that only Italian teams play to see out a game that in the end they dominated at least by the pace of how it went.

If we get a Real Madrid-Juventus final it would be a repeat of the 1998 one which Real won 1-0. Then Juventus were arguably the best team in Europe and had started the game well and looked good for the win. But Real persisted and took their chance and got a narrow victory. That win was highly significant as it was Real’s first European Cup since 1966 and their first Champions League victory. They have now won the Champions League in its current format 5 times.

Juventus have 2 European Cups with victory in 1985 and 1996. But they have starred in many more finals losing in 1997 and 1998 and then in 2003 and 2015 where they were no match for Barcelona.

The final will take place on June 3rd at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales.

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Tottenham win emotional last derby at White Hart Lane

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White Hart Lane bid farewell to its final north London derby today and did so in style as Tottenham beat their eternal nemesis Arsenal 2-0. Dele Alli and Harry Kane who else, were on hand to get the goals and keep Spurs in the title hunt with just four games to go, and now they are just four points behind Chelsea.

Perhaps because this was the very last derby at this ground the feeling, emotion and play of the game had remnants of football played from yesteryear- the colour clash of shirts, so vivid added to the atmosphere. But also seeing Arsene Wenger still in the dugout, still somehow plying his trade as manager of Arsenal after nearly 21 years was another. Though the Frenchman cut a sombre figure. Arsenal’s season has been so forgettable that the club may well be best remembered this season for Wenger and his right hand man Steve Bould’s constant slouching on seats complete with faces hanging a million miles in tandem.

This was a game that was deservedly won by the home team, a game that summed up both clubs seasons. Tottenham have at least for now stepped out of Arsenal’s shadow, this win confirmed that Tottenham will finish above Arsenal for the first time since Wenger took charge of the Gunners.

Spurs played at a frantic pace, created chances and missed easy ones. Relief threw itself around the ground like a scarf to neck on a cold winters night when Alli, so alert throughout, grabbed his chance to put his side a goal up. A minute later Tottenham were awarded a penalty and Harry Kane kept his cool to leave Petr Cech stranded and with no chance. It felt almost like Cech wasn’t ready. The irony of this was that Cech kept Arsenal in the game and kept the score to a respectable figure. He was nothing short of stunning, with superb saves throughout the game.

And there above the stands stood big brother, the future, a new stadium for Tottenham awaits and it’s construction takes shape. It was at this point very easy to feel cynical about what was happening especially looking around at White Hart Lane and seeing before your eyes a quiet wonderful stadium. Nothing spectacularly wonderful as Camp Nou in Barcelona, but all the same it is a stadium that holds a million memories good and bad. It is a stadium that has hosted legends of yesteryear, a stadium where the press box was directly next to the dugout. It was not unknown for friendly banter between journalists and past coaches. The one tier behind the dugout that gave way to executive boxes- the little things, made and make stadiums like White Hart Lane stand out. A minimal stadium perhaps- the restricted views were never welcome, but still a stadium that will be dearly missed.

However it would be wrong to write off why the club need to move into a larger home. This isn’t by force but by evolution. Sure money is a factor, but like every business you have to evolve or die and keep taking strides forward. It won’t be too long before Spurs fans join Arsenal and West Ham to take two recent moves as example and watch old footage of their club at former homes and have memories whizzing quicker than a Son Heung-min run at the Arsenal back four.

As we go into the final month of the Premier League season, Tottenham will certainly finish no lower that 2nd place. However you get the feeling that the desire and hunger is still there to go on and win the league for the first time since 1961. It was after all hugely telling that at the final whistle the players took this win as any other. There were no title like celebrations like there would have been in seasons past with such victories. This was seen as just another stepping stone to a trophy in a quite remarkable season.

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