Saturday, April 28, 2012

Wigan's Great Recent Form to Save Season?

The bottom of the English Premier League table usually provides just as entertaining an finish to the season as the contenders for the title. The brilliance of the relegation system means that the bottom feeders will need to muster every last bit of courage and energy to keep their place in the top flight of English soccer. The reward comes with another year of excited fans as well as a boatload of money.
As recent as February, Wigan Athletic looked to be a side ready to drop. Like a fish out of water, they floundered about in last place with a mere 20 points on the season. The run in appeared dangerous, as teams such as Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, and Arsenal still resided on the upcoming fixtures list.
Wigan's recent form has stunned the odds-makers, and the team has propelled themselves out of the drop zone. Their first upset came against Liverpool at Anfield. It was the Latics first ever win at the stadium and provided the much needed boost of confidence to make a charge.
Wigan followed up that victory with a 2-0 home win over Stoke City. Then came Chelsea. Wigan played their hearts out and Mohamed Diame appeared to have tied the match in the 82nd minute with a thunderous effort, but Chelsea went on to win with a late goal by Juan Mata. However, Chelsea's 2-1 success was marred by the fact that both their goals were unquestionably offside. Wigan was robbed of another miraculous win over a big four club.
But, as some teams often crumble under the raw hand of fate, Wigan rose as one and responded with a 1-0 win over league leaders, Manchester United. Striker Shaun Maloney provided the winner in emphatic fashion. The game should have been more decisive as Victor Moses had a goal disallowed in the first half. For Maloney, the goal was a proud moment as the Scottish player has made few appearances this year due to injuries. Now, he is providing a spark that could save the season for Wigan.
Wigan's revival continued the following week as they claimed their first ever points at the Emirates Stadium. Two early goals enabled the team to defeat Arsenal in a match that displayed their grit and determination to stay in the Premiership. They followed up that win with a loss to Fulham, but as a whole the run has given Wigan hope as they enter the final three matches of the season.
Newcastle will provide a stern test since they are in contention for a Champions League spot this year. Then they face Blackburn in a match that could very well decide their Premier League fate. Finally, they will play host to Wolverhampton, a team that is already assured to drop to the Championship next year. Wigan has displayed a knack as a giant killer in recent weeks, and I dearly hope that they will fight on to stay in the league next season.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Local Derbies to Fire Up FA Cup Semifinals

The FA Cup thrives on "the all or nothing" nature of each match. In the simplest form of a knockout tournament, it's not always the best team that wins but the team that craves it the most. Never before have we seen two encounters quite as enticing or of such importance as the semifinal match-ups before us this Sunday at Wembley.

First off, both matches are local derbies. Everton against Liverpool is always an exciting affair, as too is Tottenham versus Chelsea. Both teams are playing not only for the pride of their fans, but for the pride of their city. They play for the bragging rights as well.

Tottenham and Chelsea are both struggling in the EPL. Their title hopes have been dashed and the clubs are stuck in the battle for fourth spot and the Champions League berth that comes with it. Liverpool and Everton reside slightly lower in the table but are neck and neck only differing by a single point.

For Chelsea, the FA Cup now holds the key for manager, Roberto Di Matteo. His role as caretaker will be a short one if he cannot win some immediate silverware. As the league is already lost, winning the FA Cup would prove to the owner that Di Matteo means business. For the players as well, such a victory would release all the pent up frustrations from the previous management and could bring the team back to its winning ways ahead of next season.

Tottenham have struggled in recent weeks. Their spot in the Champions League looked certain two months ago but not anymore. A tragic tumble in league matches since manager Harry Redknapps' name was linked to the English National Team managerial role has seen them back in the thick of the race, and in rather poor form. A victorious FA Cup campaign would do wonders for licking their Premier League wounds.

Liverpool have now struggled for years, though their Carling Cup success has offered a bright hope. Unfortunately, their form since lifting a trophy has been appalling, and the club continues to stoop to Premier League mediocrity. They would love to continue their cup success with a domestic double, and could also go lengths to inspiring a seemingly flat team for next season.

Everton have played well in the last month or so and lead Liverpool in the table, although most pundits feel they are the underdog. They were pummeled 3-0 the last time they faced Liverpool, but a win here to progress to the final match would restore their pride, and would also give the team the confidence it needs to finish above their rivals in the table.

I feel the semifinal matches will go a long ways to elevating the winning teams towards better league positions, so therefore I feel that whoever wins the upcoming game will finish higher in the table as well. With confidence and the will to win no matter what, these teams need to realize that their test of the season is now. It should make for some great FA Cup matches!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Andrei Arshavin's Return Home Might Have Him Ready For Euro 2012

Four years ago, Andrei Arshavin's magic play made him one of the takeaways from Euro 2008. His performance in Russia's quarter-final win over Holland was particularly impressive. When Arsenal signed him right after Euro 2008, it was to the envy of many clubs, especially after he scored 4 goals in one game at Anfield. However, something along the way did not click. Too often Arshavin has seemed disinterested, either for his poor fitness, or morale, or because the club is not utilizing him in the right way. After Arsenal recently loaned Arshavin to his former club Zenit St-Petersburg on a loan, he has started to perform much better for his old club. Wether it was a lack of action, or simply homesickness, Arshavin was not himself, particularly towards the latter stages of his tenure at Arsenal. A lack of match action was undeniably true towards the end of Arshavin's time at Arsenal, as he managed only 84 minutes of playing time between the Fa cup tie against Leeds on January 4th and the end of February, but he was struggling even before a lack of playing time. Arshavin never seemed to regain the form he showed in 2008, but his recent surge has reminded everyone why we fell in love with him in the first place. Perhaps, a return home is what Arshavin really needed.