- Preview: Arsenal v Reading, team news, 18yr old starts + prediction
- 4-2-3-1 v Reading: Perez & Jeff start – My Arsenal starting XI
- [Photos] Several youngsters join Ramsey & Giroud in Arsenal training
- Team News: Arsenal duo ruled out but star to return against Reading
- Arsenal boss confirms these 9 players will feature against Reading
- Wenger to hand attacker first start of the season against Reading
- Arsenal boss offers injury update on Cazorla & Giroud
- Ratings: Cech shines but Ozil fails to spark as Arsenal held
- Video: Arsenal 0-0 Boro: Lackluster Gunners drop valuable points
- Teams: Arsenal v Middlesbrough: Cazorla out, Elneny in
Arsenal and The Rest of the ‘Big 4′
Arsenal Station’s Preview Week comes to a close with our look at the rest of the ‘Big 4′ followed by highlights of our best big 4 matches from last season.
Despite having brought in over £80m from the sale of Ronaldo, United have uncharacteristically spent less than £20m this summer. Antonio Valencia hardly inspires fear in the rest of the Big 4 except to think they might one day be duped into buying such a mediocre player for £16m. But that just “gives other players the chance to step up,” say United fans and all the Fergie-fearing pundits and reporters. Yet, Owen Hargreaves has started only 17 league matches in the last two seasons (16 of those in 2007-08) with no return date in sight. United’s other ‘big buy,’ Gabriel Obertan, is out until October as is Edwin van der Sar. Still, there is Darren Fletcher, Nani, Anderson, etc… Nani is also out injured but the bigger question is how will the either mediocre or aging players in midfield cope without Ronaldo to soak up all the defensive pressure and attention? Great players make those around them look and even play better. The greatest player did that even more so. With Scholes and Giggs one year closer to timely retirements and one year further from effectiveness, United’s midfield will now be shown to be the charlatans they are. Rooney will return to a more welcome central role partnering Dimitar Berbatov but Ronaldo’s absence will also affect the way teams can defend in the back on the two strikers as United will have no proven wide threat. As for Michael Owen, I happen to think it’s a smart move on Fergie’s part. First of all, he was free. Second, he can score goals if he can stay fit. Whether or not he can stay fit is the question mark hanging over his head. The verdict on Manchester United is that they are significantly weakened over last season, perhaps more so than any other Premier League club.
Chelsea’s one major signing this summer has been the Russian, Yuri Zhirkov. A good player to be sure but hardly the kind of signing we, and Chelsea fans, have come to expect. Chelsea bloomed last season once Guus Hiddink took over the club but now he’s gone. What makes it worse is that the players seemed to genuinely like Hiddink and had begun to feel comfortable with him. Now, they will start again from scratch. But Chelsea’s collection of 30-somethings are now a year older: Ballack, 32, Lampard, 31, Anelka, 30, Drogba and Carvalho, 31. John Terry is only 28 still but has the speed of a 48-year old. What can we expect from Chelsea this season? A lot of 1-nils. The appointment of Carlo Ancelotti hardly has anyone awaiting breathtaking football at the Bridge, especially considering even Hiddink couldn’t make Chelsea look as creative as Arsenal’s FA Youth Cup side. This could be a good thing for Chelsea though as their best seasons came when they were most solid defensively. The verdict on Chelsea is they are a year older, have a new manager to get used to again, and will be boring to watch.
It is no secret that the key to Liverpool’s success is Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. Or at least that’s what Liverpool supporters say in the wake of Alonso going for the gold, literally. Alonso may be overrated… he is not necessarily a ‘great’ player. But he was extremely important to Liverpool’s success and anyone who watched them on a regular basis understands Alonso’s importance to their style of play. Without him, their midfield looks quite different and bringing in Alberto Aquilani, an already-injured Italian out until October that has played in less than half as many games as the notoriously injury-prone Michael Owen over the last two seasons hardly seems a replacement. As for Gerrard and Torres, they only both started together in 14 matches of a possible 38. Granted, Liverpool won 12 of those matches but it just shows how dependent Liverpool will be on the fitness of both players and Gerrard is already doubtful for the weekend with a groin strain. The verdict on Liverpool is that they had their chance last season and blew it and, without Alonso, expect even more hoofing.
Arsenal finished 22 points above Manchester City last season and that hardly seems a gap that is easily closed no matter how much money Manchester City have spent this summer. The potential pitfalls of City’s strategy have been outlined here in previous posts so I won’t rehash them. But consider that City actually lost a place last season from the previous campaign despite having their money. Also, as Sean Ingle points out, they have spent alot of money but almost all of it was on players that were not their first-choice. Despite all their money, City is being forced to settle in building their dream team and their reckless abandon in the transfer market is not going to guarantee them Champions League or even Europa League football. As for the title, well… someone needs to drug test Shaun Wright-Phillips if he seriously thinks City will be challenging for anything but a Europa spot come April and May. Everton and Aston Villa are even thinner this year than they were last year and while David Moyes, to his great credit, stubbornly told City to go fuck themselves, Martin O’Neill couldn’t keep hold of Gareth Barry. And if the match with Holland is any indicator, it would seem Barry is somewhat distracted up North. The verdict on the others is that there is no others.
So what does this mean for Arsenal? Good stuff, my friends… good stuff. Yes, we have lost Adebayor and Toure, but neither of those are as big losses to the club as the injuries we are suffering from with the current squad. If, and there has probably never been a bigger ‘if,’ we can stay relatively healthy, I fully believe we can make a run for the title. United and Liverpool will not even resemble the same teams they were last season considering both have lost important and irreplaceable players. Meanwhile, Chelsea have lost Hiddink, who will be shown to have been largely responsible for their success last season as well as a bit more of their quickly dwindling ‘youth.’ The stage is set for the Arsenal to make their move this year. But, even so, the title will not be won against the rest of the ‘Big 4,’ but on cold, rainy Saturday afternoons in places like Bolton, Blackburn, Birmingham, and Wigan. [digg=http://digg.com/soccer/Arsenal_and_The_Rest_of_the_Big_4]
Arsenal v Manchester United (8 November 2008)
Chelsea v Arsenal (30 November 2008)
Liverpool v Arsenal (21 April 2009)