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Even Sir Alex Ferguson has said this is Manchester United’s biggest game ever and considering the youth of Arsenal, it is even bigger for the Gunners.

Arsenal will be boosted by the possible return of forward van Persie. Playing with two forwards when goals are desperately needed was essential so it’s great to have the Dutchman back fit. Now Wenger has to start him.

As van Persie might come in, Silvestre might only make it to the bench. The former United player has a groin problem and might not be risked with a start (I hope so!).

The importance of the match cannot be stressed enough. For such a young side to reach the semi finals is not an ordinary achievement. It is something even the likes of Real Madrid haven’t managed to do in quite a long time now.

But the 1-0 deficit could prove to be dangerous. One away goal and Arsenal will then have to score an unlikely 3 goals against Vidic, Ferdinand and van der Saar. That is going to be very tough.

Arsenal will have to try and get an early goal. That goal can shift the advantage towards Arsenal. The longer Arsenal fail to score tonight, the tougher the chances of progressing will become so certainly an early goal is vital.

But apart from the early goal Arsenal have to defend exceptionally well. Almunia, Sagna, Gibbs and Toure can do the job well but the problem rests with the other central defender. If Silvestre is started then the tie will be nearly over right at that moment. A start for Djourou and the chances will be better. This side has 8 consecutive clean sheets at the Emirates. Making that nine and scoring a couple of goals with it will be a huge achievement!

It will be interesting to see who starts. Wenger must not make any big mistakes this time like he did in the FA Cup final. DON’T PLAY DIABY. I would prefer Song ahead of Denilson. And please play Nasri on the left instead of as a holding midfielder. Walcott on the right and van Persie playing just behind Adebayor.

Sagna     Toure     Djourou     Gibbs
Walcott    Fabregas    Nasri
van Persie

This line-up has got defensive stability and a decent attack that can get even three goals when needed. Lets hope Wenger goes for it. Fingers crossed!

After the result of the first leg I had lost hope of progressing but now I am confident this side can do it. They can stop United from scoring and they can score 3 against United.

2-0 to Arsenal!

A highly rotated squad should be expected in today’s trip to Fratton Park as this match hardly has any importance compared to the big match at the Emirates on Tuesday.

Unlucky Eduardo will miss da remaining season and he is the only man out for Arsenal from Wednesday. It’s bad news becuase I wanted a 4-4-2 on Tuesday because playing with just one man up front hardly works against against big teams and especially when you need two or three goals to win.

So now considering Eduardo is out Vela might get the chance as the likes of Fabregas, Walcott and Nasri should be rested. But I don’t really expect it. Wenger hasn’t really trusted him enough to give him a chance to start in the Premier League.

The team should look like:

Gibbs     Toure     Silvestre     Sagna
Eboue     Song     Diaby     Arshavin
Bendtner    Adebayor

I would want Vela instead of Adebayor but Adebayor needs to get into some form so he could be started. He was hopeless in mid-week and we can’t afford another poor game on Wednesday.

Moving to the teams forms now. We all know about Arsenal’s amazing run in the Premier League. 20 unbeaten matches says it all.

Against Pompey the unbeaten run may continue but it might be in the shape of a draw. Their recent form looks like: DDWLD. So they have been getting quite some draws lately and Arsenal wont be a full strength side so a draw does look quite likely.

Especially their home form is quite decent. WWDW. Really good form and that has helped them to get away from the relegation battle. They are safely 7 points away from the bottom three.

Well, I wouldn’t be too sad with even a defeat as long as Arsenal go through to the Final of the Champions League on Tuesday.

Prediction for today: 1-1

This season is shaping into one we could all remember in the years to come. To make that happen Arsenal would love to get a win in Spain against Villareal.

But Arsene Wenger, unlike us Gooners, refuses to count Arsenal’s chances in the Champions League. The Arsenal manager said:

“We are super outsiders because all of the favourites are Liverpool, Manchester United and Barcelona. I think tonight is a 50:50. We are super-outsiders to win the trophy of the Champions League because when you look at the bookmakers, we are not in there.

“It puts a little less pressure on you but once you are on the pitch, it doesn’t change too much.

Villareal will come into this match after a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Almeria but apart from that set-back they haven’t been doing too badly. WWLWL.  Both the defeats have been away from home and the last time they lost at home was way back in December when they lost 2-1 to Barcelona. Since then they have won 5 and drawn 2 at El Madrigal. It’s a decent enough record to at least force a draw from Arsenal but if the Gunners play like the way they have been lately, there will be no stopping them!

We are all quite aware of the hot form Arsenal are in at the moment. 7 consecutive wins (if you count the penalty shootout victory as a win) and unbeaten in 22 matches in all competitions.

Moving on to team news now. Samir Nasri is back after sitting out the win over Man City because of flu. van Persie and Eduardo remain out of the squad due to groin injuries and cup-tied Arshavin will also not feature. So Wenger can use the same formation he used against Man City on the weekend with Nasri filling the void in midfield left by Arshavin.

Clichy     Gallas     Toure     Sagna
Denilson     Song
Nasri     Fabregas    Walcott

If Fabregas is on song just like he was on Saturday, I see Arsenal coming back home with a lead in hand. He is an exceptional talent. And then Walcott can keep making those defence piercing runs and Adebayor keep finishing the way he is capable of and we should all but guarantee a place in the semis after just this leg!

Realistically speaking though, a draw seems the most likely result but a win for either side is still quite possible.

And lets not forget this Villareal held Manchester United to goal-less draws both at and away from home.

Hull will look to emulate their historic win at the Emirates last year...

Hull will look to emulate their historic win at the Emirates last year...

Arsenal will look to continue their fight for trophies from two fronts as they face Hull City at The Emirates tonight in the FA Cup. But they will be without the services of Eduardo, Clichy and Almunia for it. Eduardo injured his groin against Roma and is not fit enough to return yet. Almunia is also out injured. Clichy has been rested. Wenger also mentioned Ramsey has been rested because “he is growing in stature and a bit tired”. How come he is tired without even being given a chance to play?! That’s odd. I am a big fan of Ramsey and he surely has a bright future ahead of him but he should be given chances at least in the FA Cup. He must be feeling sitting on the bench week in week out: “Damn, I should have stayed at Cardiff.” But he has to be patient. Wenger knows how to bring up these youngsters to the top level and Ramsey should turn out to be another one of his wonders. Arshavin is a doubt for the match but he is in the squad and his involvement will be decided late on because the Russian is desperate to play. He was annoyed at Blackburn’s physical game and called them the toughest tackling team he has played against. Arsenal’s new recruit’s foot had been cut badly by Ooijer and he is in pain and had eight stitches on it. Regarding his involvement Wenger said: “We will make a decision today. He is desperate to be involved. He just wants to play.”

Arsenal will be looking to continue their brilliant form and march on on the road to Wembley. Even if Arshavin does not start, Nasri is world class and so is Walcott so we shouldn’t miss him much. Walcott really is exceptional. I have a feeling he is going to get an assist or two tonight. Who will play in the central defence is a question. Toure and Djourou were very solid at the weekend but Gallas had some rest and maybe that rest was for this game. Toure and Gallas partnership on their day is one of the best in the world. Song and Denilson are also forging a decent central midfield partnership with Song going through the best form of this life. I expect this line-up:

Sagna     Gallas     Toure     Gibbs
Walcott     Denilson     Song     Nasri
Vela     van Persie

Quite a strong line-up but van Persie will need to improve a lot from his recent performances. Wenger is confident Arsenal can go on and do something special this season:

“Of course there is a burning desire to win a trophy and if we focus on our performances then we can create something special.”

Arsenal will look to exploit Hull’s poor form. Just 2 wins in the last 9 games for The Tigers. But despite coming into this game as big underdogs, Geovanni isn’t at all worried by the fact that they are coming into this game with a poor form and play against a team that is in hot form:

“It is another game where we can prove ourselves. The FA Cup is important because it can help everybody’s confidence. The target is go there and win. It is a big game and Wembley will be important. Everyone wants to get there. My dream is to be at Wembley.”

I think Arsenal should prove to be too good for Hull but they will surely put up quite a fight. It will be a close encounter but Arsenal should come out on top. Hull cannot afford to sit back and defend so that will be of immense help to Arsenal because the Gunners love to play against teams that like to play football and attack them. An early goal for Arsenal could provide a deadly blow and Walcott’s pace is dangerous enough to do that just like we saw against Blackburn. I predict 2-0 to Arsenal.

Arsenal vs Blackburn Rovers

Arsenal vs Blackburn Rovers

Arsenal have the chance to win back their 4th spot with a win against Blackburn Rovers, though it only may be for around 24 hours if Villa defeat Spurs on Sunday.

Blackburn will not be an easy opponent. With Sam Allardyce as their manager and a very physical squad they are bound to make Arsenal work hard for the win. Being physical and parking the proverbial bus is a counter against Arsenal’s free flowing passing game and Blackburn are expected to do just that (the fact that they have been shown more yellow cards (60) than any other this season proves just that). Stoke defeated Arsenal employing this strategy and Blackburn are fully capable of doing the same.

But Blackburn’s track record against Arsenal isn’t encouraging enough for them. Arsenal have not lost to Blackburn since 2002 and Arsenal brushed them aside in the reverse fixture 4-0 with the currently injured Adebayor getting a hat trick. Arsenal have found Blackburn an easy side in recent meetings scoring 9 goals in the last 3 meetings and also got a 6-2 win a couple of seasons back. To add to that they have lost all of their meetings with the big 4 this season and only managed to win three matches against top half opposition. But a draw is a big possibility. Arsenal have managed to draw the most number of games so far this season including 3 straight 0-0’s at the Emirates. But Arsenal are starting to convert those draws into wins lately so to predict the outcome of this match is a very tough task and I will rather not do it this time!

Moving on to team news now, the only change from the team against Roma is that Eduardo is out with a groin injury and cup-tied Andrei Arshavin returns. Who is going to start is another difficult question. One would want van Persie not to start considering his below par performances lately but the Dutchman has an exceptional record against Blackburn, eight goals in seven appearances in all competitions against them. So van Persie should start. Arshavin is also likely to start. I would prefer a start for Gibbs ahead of the vulnerable Clichy. Song should start to counter the phyical game of Blackburn to some extent and he also is fresh enough having not played against Roma. Nasri on the left and Walcott on the right. Diaby or Denilson to complete the central midfield. The back four should be unchanged apart from Gibbs coming in for Clichy.

As for Blackburn, they will be short of quality on the attacking front being without the injured Santa Cruz and most probably Gamst Pedersen also.

Lets hope Arsenal continue the revival of their season. A win will help them overtake Villa and then hopefully Spurs can beat Villa on Sunday so we can keep the 4th place! As much as its hard to believe, for once Gooners will be hoping for a Spurs win! At least we should be!

It is interesting to note that Blackburn, if they lose will drop down to 18th.

Arsenal vs Cardiff CIty

Arsenal vs Cardiff CIty

Arsenal players can now swap their national teams shirts back to the red and white of Arsenal. Arsenal are stuck in the 5th round as first they had a draw in the away game and then the replay had to be postponed due to heavy snowfall.

The FA Cup is the competition that Arsenal have the most realistic chance of winning and finally bringing to an end the trophy-less years. Arsenal are further helped by the fact that all the matches leading up to the semifinals will be home ties for them. That will be quite an advantage.

But leading up to this match Arsenal are going through a bad patch. Way too many draws for them. 0-0, 1-1, 0-0 and 0-0 in their last four games says it all. What is even more alarming is that they have scored just a single goal in their last 4 games. Arsene Wenger is also quite surprised by that run:

“It is completely unlike us, the circumstances are a little bit strange. We played against West Ham who had a very good side, we played at Cardiff which is a little bit special and then we played at Tottenham with 10 men. We are used to scoring goals and we will score goals again, don’t worry. We have always had a good forward line and we were very close to scoring many times against West Ham and Cardiff. At the moment it is difficult for everybody to score but if we keep playing well as a team I’ m sure that will come back.”

Dramatic improvement is needed. But on the positive side. Those are 3 clean sheets from 4 matches and moving a bit more back, it’s 5 clean sheets from the last 8 games.

But Wenger is not worried by the last three draws as when you look at the bigger picture, Arsenal are unbeaten in 11 games and that is quite a run. The Frenchman said:

“We want to prepare well because we know it is a very important game for us and we need to focus. We are unbeaten in 11 matches and want to keep that going in every competition — the longer that lasts, the stronger you will be. If the three draws put together don’t look good, then you must put the whole 11 games together and that looks like we are on a run.”

On the other hand, ironically Cardiff are also on an 11 match unbeaten run. In those matches they are 6 matches unbeaten away from home but it includes 4 draws and have let in 7 goals in these 6 away games. Their last four matches are much better than Arsenal’s: 1-1, 0-0, 2-0, 2-0.

This match is very vital for Arsenal. They need to continue their unbeaten run and by doing so they will stay alive in the competition in which they have the best chance of ending up with the trophy. Wenger knows the importance of the match:

“We want to transform that bit of disappointment from a draw into a convincing victory, and the team is on a good way. I believe we should focus on our way to be successful and not too much on the others. We need outstanding performances until the end of the season and the only way to achieve that is by focusing on our performances.”

Which team will Wenger go for is a very difficult guess. It’s the FA Cup. Maybe Wenger will go for a side with a mixture of first teamers and fringe players or considering the importance of the match, you lose you are out, he might go for a full strength side. I expect the first possibility. Arshavin isn’t available as he wasn’t an Arsenal player at the time of the first leg so there is one player out of contention. Diaby is injured, Eboue suspended and also Ramsey is injured. Eduardo is back and may play a part though I don’t expect him to be handed out a start. I expect the following line up:

Sagna     Gallas     Djourou     Gibbs
_____     Denilson     Song     Nasri
van Persie     Bendtner

Now there is a gap there. Arsenal are out of right wingers at the moment. So maybe Wilshere will be given a start on the left with Nasri on the right, or Vela on the left and Nasri on the right. I would love to see either of them play. But from what I have heard Bischoff can play in the centre and on the right and I would be pleased to see him play. He can score absolute stunners! Eduardo might come on as a late substitute.

Prediction 1-0 to Arsenal.

by Zain Shahid

Arsenal vs West Ham United

Arsenal vs West Ham United

We’re back to Emirates now and once again needing a win. Dropping points now seems unacceptable. But West Ham have always been a tough match for Arsenal. This time around also it might be a difficult encounter as the Hammers under Zola are in hot form and have managed 13 points from their last 5 games compared to Arsenal’s 12. This match will be one to keep the pressure on Aston Villa for the Champions League place. People say its a fight between the Gunners and Villa but I think Chelsea and Liverpool are also in it, especially Liverpool. But in the end with the quality that big 4 have got and the lucky wins Villa are getting week in week out, it will be the same old Big 4 at the top of the table the end of the season in my opinion. Villa should have a tricky game against resilient Wigan, who held Liverpool to a draw in mid-week, at home. Then there is the big Liverpool Chelsea match so a draw in both of the games will be of great help to Arsenal.

Arsenal will look to continue their 9 match mini unbeaten run. To add to that only Arsenal have managed to score in their last 9 league matches. To expect Arsenal not to score is madness! van Persie is in hot form, Arsenal have only not scored 3 times in the League this season and have only failed to score once at the Emirates, which ironically was against West Ham!

The defensive aspect will be very important. I would like to point out here that on the 7 occassions that Arsenal have kept a clean sheet this season, they have won all those times. So keep a clean sheet and win!

I expect the same line up as was in the trip to Goodison Park:

Sagna     Djourou    Gallas    Clichy
Eboue    Denilson    Diaby    Nasri
Adebayor    van Persie

But Toure might get a start as he was rested in mid-week. Nasri should drift into the centre quite often and probably end the match playing there with Diaby on the left. Vela is quite surprisingly being played very less often than expected considering his impressive performances from the bench and I would want him to play at least 20 mins. The man to watch will be van Persie, no surprises here. He has scored 3 and assisted 5 of all the goals Arsenal have scored in January.

Arsenal will have to look out for Carlton Cole. The guy is good in the air and very physical. There lies a problem because Djourou isn’t too strong but if he is not played then both Gallas and Toure are not good in the air! I expect Djourou to start though.

A 2-1 win for Arsenal is my prediction.

by Zain Shahid

Cardiff City vs Arsenal

Cardiff City vs Arsenal

Another FA Cup weekend is here and as many say FA Cup is the most realistic chance of a trophy for Arsenal this season. People might say it’s another easy fixture for Arsenal after having an easy ride against Plymouth in the last round. Even though no match is too easy, everyone will have to accept that but considering that Manchester United and Tottenham play each other, Everton and Liverpool also face each other so comparatively Arsenal are advantaged in this round.

It has been the case in recent weeks that every Arsenal match has been a virtually ‘must-win’ encounter to stay in contention for the title. In this case too it is a must win match too. It’s the Cup; you lose, you’re out and that is something Arsenal cannot afford because as I mentioned this is Arsenal’s most realistic chance of winning some silverware this season.

Cardiff are a decent side and no doubt they will make Arsenal work really hard for the win. For Arsene Wenger, the fact that it is a Cup tie makes no difference as for him every match has the same importance and he wants to win every single match. Cardiff have the advantage with the home crowd behind them and if Ramsey is to be believed, the fans at Ninian Park are really noisy and are very much behind the team for the 90 mins.

For Arsenal, they have the same old injuries with only Gallas coming back. Clichy is suspended. Wenger is not prioritising any competition so we will see a full-strength Arsenal side with the exception of Fabianski.

The man to watch for Cardiff will certainly be van Persie. The Dutchman is in hot form, arguably the best form of his career so far, and so far this month he has been involved in a goal at least in every match. On the other hand Arsenal need to watch out for Jay Bothroyd. He has been a very successful buy for the Bluebirds and will certainly be looking to inflict some damage to his old club. Arsenal’s weak link will be Keiran Gibbs. He is relatively inexperienced and as he has been transformed from a left winger to left back so there are still some weaknesses in his defending, though going forward he can be exceptional.

The expected line-up should be:

Sagna      Toure(C)      Djourou      Gibbs
Eboue     Denilson     Ramsey     Nasri
van Persie    Adebayor

There is still the possibility that Arsene might rest at least one of van Persie, Adebayor and Nasri considering the midweek trip to Goodison Park is of immense importance and he would not want his main players fatigued or in the worst case, injured. There is also a possibility of Gallas returninig to the first team which would mean Toure might be left out and van Persie will wear the captain’s armband once again. But as he has just returned to full fitness so I don’t expect a start for him. Vela and Bendtner might get an important start too if Wenger decides to rest van Persie or Adebayor and I certainly would love to see Vela starting. Bendtner’s, if not started, substitute appearance might be a match-turning introduction if the match is not over already by then considering the form the Dane is in. And this FA Cup tie is another chance for young Ramsey to once again impress the fans and the manager and send a message to Denilson and Song that he is knocking on their door so they’d better start performing well! My prediction is a 2-1 win for Arsenal. Lets once again hope that no matter what the scoreline, Arsenal go through to the next round!

by Zain Shahid

Hull City vs Arsenal

Hull City vs Arsenal

Some might say it’s revenge time for Arsenal this weekend against Hull… but actually it’s more than just revenge. Arsenal are finally getting into a bit of form this season and are 6 games unbeaten coming into this match including wins in their last 3 games. Not only this, they are finally starting to win dirty, something that had been missing so far this season. On the other hand, Hull’s dream run in the season has come to a stop; or as many would say: the bubble has burst. No win from their last 12 matches and 4 consecutive defeats coming into this match. However they do have a bit of a morale boost with the 1-0 away win at St. James’s Park in the FA Cup. Just like it has been for the past few weekends, it can be termed as a must win game for Arsenal. Arsene Wenger knows that with 5 defeats already this season he cannot afford to drop points in matches like these, especially with trips to White Hart Lane, Anfield and Old Trafford still remaining. The last 3 matches have been wins for Arsenal but all have been at the Emirates so winning this match is very vital as Arsenal need to improve their away form. Arsenal need to set the tone for this year and spark a comeback into the title race.

The most probable line-up for tonight’s match is:

Sagna     Toure    Djourou    Clichy
Eboue    Denilson   Diaby   Nasri
van Persie    Adebayor

*In this line-up though, I am not sure if Nasri will be on the left or Diaby will be because we have all seen we need Nasri’s brilliant creativity in the centre in Fabregas’s absence. Arsene Wenger too was impressed by Nasri’s work in the centre. One thing is for sure, even if Nasri starts on the left, he will end the match playing in the centre.

However the line-up that I would love to see is:

Sagna    Toure    Djourou    Clichy
Eboue           Ramsey            Vela
van Persie    Adebayor

If Vela is not started then I think he should be brought on with around half an hour at least remaining so that he has ample time to make a big mark and as we have seen in recent matches he should play an important role in getting a result from the game if it’s not over yet when he comes on.

Keeping in mind the form of the two sides, I expect a 2-0 win for Arsenal if Hull don’t come out just to defend otherwise if they do so then probably Arsenal will come out with yet another 1-0 win. Lets hope whatever the scoreline be, Arsenal get the important 3 points.