This Week In: English Football – Arsenal On The Brink

Arsenal fans once again let Wenger hear their displeasure at the Emirates
Arsenal fans once again let Wenger hear their displeasure at the Emirates

During Arsene Wenger’s first nine seasons in charge of Arsenal, they won the league three times (1997/8, 2001/2; 2003/4) and the FA Cup on four occasions (1998, 2002, 2003, 2005); but results in the last week make it look likely that it will be eight successive campaigns since then with no trophies.  Against Blackburn in the FA Cup last Saturday, Wenger named a weakened team and was made to pay for it – as he saw his team exit a cup competition at home against lower league opposition, for the first time during his 17 year reign.  On Tuesday, their attention turned to the Champions League as the beaten finalists from last year’s competition, Bayern München, visited the Emirates.  Despite a bright looking start by the Gunners, the German team were in complete control of the match for all but a 15 minute spell in the second half – during which time Lukas Podolski gave Arsenal some hope with a free header from a corner – but goals from Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller and Mario Madzukic ensured that Bayern returned to the Allianz Arena for the second leg with a healthy 3-1 lead.  Munich will be wary of complacence as they have given up strong positions against English opponents before (most notably in the 1999 and 2012 finals against Manchester United and Chelsea respectively), but if Wenger’s men continue to give away so much space between their defence and midfield, it is much more likely that they will be without silverware once again and have only a top four place to fight for in the Premiership.  The good news for Arsenal fans on that front is that, with Tottenham the team they are chasing, they are almost certain to pass their rivals as they have done on every other occasion during Arsene Wenger’s tenure as manager.

Blackburn were the only side to beat an opponent from a higher division in the FA Cup fifth round, as all of the ties went according to the script: Manchester United held off Reading’s usual late comeback to prevail 2-1; Wigan won 4-1 away at Huddersfield; Leeds were thrashed 4-0 at the Etihad by Manchester City; while Barnsley and Millwall took care of business away from home against MK Dons and Luton respectively.  Oldham remain the only team from League One still in the competition, as a late equaliser gave them a 2-2 draw against Everton and a replay at Goodison Park; and Chelsea will be Middlesbrough’s opponents in the fifth round as they won their replay against Brentford, 4-0.  In the one Premiership fixture played last weekend, Brendan Rodgers new club, Liverpool, thrashed his old one, Swansea, 5-0 at Anfield, to lift the Reds to within three points of sixth place, currently occupied by their Merseyside rivals, Everton.

Elsewhere in Europe, there was a shock at the San Siro as two ex-Portsmouth players, Kevin Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari, got on the scoresheet to earn AC Milan a 2-0 win over the favourites to win the Champions League, Barcelona.  Also in that competition, Porto gained a crucial 1-0 home win over Malaga; and Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba – who have both won the trophy before with previous clubs – played for Galatasaray in their 1-1 draw with Schalke 04 in Turkey.  In the Europa League, Tottenham – who beat Lyon 2-1 in the first leg at White Hart Lane with two brilliant free-kicks by Gareth Bale – progressed thanks to a late equaliser from Mousa Dembele in the second leg, the first time that someone other than the Welshman or Clint Dempsey had scored for Spurs since New Year’s Day.  Newcastle also progressed with a 1-0 victory in the Ukraine against Metalist Kharkiv; Liverpool had dug themselves into a deep hole against Zenit St. Petersburg as they were 1-0 down in the second leg at Anfield – 3-0 on aggregate – and, although two free-kicks from Luis Suarez and a strike from Joe Allen leveled the score overall, the Reds ultimately exited the competition on the away goals rule.  Chelsea had won their first leg 1-0 in the Czech Republic against Sparta Praha, but found themselves behind by the same scoreline for most of the return match at Stamford Bridge, until a late thunderbolt from Eden Hazard ensured that last season’s Champions League winners progressed into the final 16 of this year’s Europa League.

This weekend in the Premiership, Arsenal’s third home game inside a week comes against relegation strugglers Aston Villa; Queens Park Rangers host Manchester United; the richest clubs in the league face off at the Etihad, as second placed Manchester City take on Chelsea, who are in third; while two of the bottom three also play each other, as Reading entertain Wigan.  The first game of the weekend is not the most enticing, as Stoke travel to Craven Cottage for a match against Fulham; Norwich and Everton meet at Carrow Road; Sunderland are away at West Brom; Alan Pardew faces his old club, as Newcastle are home against Southampton; and Monday’s encounter is a London derby at Upton Park between West Ham and Spurs.  There are just nine fixtures scheduled for the weekend, as Liverpool and Swansea have a rest having played their game last Sunday. Note: They moved that fixture because Swansea are involved in the League Cup final this Sunday against Bradford City at Wembley, with the winners claiming the first trophy of the domestic season.

Predictions

Last week, 0-1; Season, 108-141

Fulham vs Stoke – Home win

Arsenal vs Aston Villa – Home win

Norwich vs Everton – Away win

QPR vs Manchester United – Draw

Reading vs Wigan – Home win

West Brom vs Sunderland – Home win

Manchester City vs Chelsea – Home win

Newcastle vs Southampton – Draw

West Ham vs Tottenham – Away win

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