Is This The Year?

Here we are in the winter of 2016 and Arsenal currently sits at the top of the English Premier League standings with the 16 (league) matches still to be played. Many pundits have insisted that if Arsenal are going to break their title drought in the EPL then this is the time to do it.  Mainly because the first half of the season was unlike any in recent memory or in other words “the teams that normally contend for the title have been terrible.”  So with that in mind I get to spend the next 5 months trying not to lose anymore hair.

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Arsenal has its next three matches at home. League matches versus Chelsea and Southampton with an FA Cup tie against Burnley sandwiched in between. The Gunners will be looking to rebound after two tough draws at Liverpool (3-3) and Stoke (0-0). Most fans will agree that the match at Liverpool should’ve been a win. Earlier this season, Arsenal lost 2-0 at Chelsea and were thrashed 4-0 at Southampton in December. These two matches will be key as it will give Arsenal a chance to get Alexis Sanchez – HOPEFULLY – back on the pitch. We’ll also see the return of the great Mesut Ozil as he sat out on Sunday with a foot injury. This stretch of matches could also bring about the first appearance of new signing Mohamed Elneny. If Elneny is able to bring on some positive play then it would give Arsene Wenger the opportunity to rotate his squad and rest some players. Another positive would be the return of Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck but they seem to be a few more weeks away.

As if trying to win the Premier League isn’t enough, the team will face Barcelona in February and March in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League. This will prove to be a crucial stretch for the Gunners as they could play as many as 12 matches (consisting of EPL, FA Cup, and CL) in 41 days versus the likes of Leicester City, Barcelona (twice), Manchester United, Tottenham, and Everton to name a few. It’s easy to say that this will definitely determine whether Arsenal will be in the running for the title. I want them to be competitive in the matches versus Barcelona and have a good showing. If wins are there, go for them but most importantly don’t get anyone hurt. I’d like to see them win the FA Cup matches. The match above mentioned against Burnley (please win this to avoid a replay at Burnley) and then a possible Quarterfinal match versus an opponent TBD. They’re currently going for a three-peat in the competition having won in 2014 and 2015. That leaves the seven league matches that are split 4 away and 3 home. All 21 points would be great but if I were being realistic then I’d take 15-18 points.

The closer Arsenal is to 20 points total from those 7 EPL matches the better. They currently sit at 44 points after 22 matches. My gut feeling is that the club that gets closest if not to 85 points by the end of the season will win the title. That’d mean that the Gunners would need 21 points in their final nine EPL matches. Then there is the whole goal differential situation if the decision has to come to a tiebreaker. Petr Cech’s clean sheet on Sunday was a good start. I also think the squad will find the back of the net more often as the 2nd half of the season progresses. The return of the players I mentioned earlier could play a big role in that. It’s been rough at times but I’ll take the (1-0 or 2-1) results as long as it is a win. May 7th could be a big day in the Premier League but I don’t want to get too far ahead – as I’ve already done – being that it’s only mid January. Hopefully when I return to talk about the last quarter of the season it’ll be positive for Arsenal and my hair!

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Is This The Year?

5 Reasons To Watch the UEFA Champions League Final

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Today I’ll try to sway you casual sports fans into watching soccer by giving 5 reasons why you all should watch the match on Saturday. I may even be able to sway those of you that’ll just be lounging around the house when the match kicks off. So first off some of you are probably wondering “what is the UEFA Champions League?” The “Champions League” is a soccer tournament that features clubs(teams) from Europe’s top flight professional soccer leagues. The tournament was originally known as the European Cup before the name was changed in 1992. This year’s final features two storied clubs in FC Barcelona and Juventus F.C. FC Barcelona hails from Spain. Barca as they are sometimes referred has won the Champions League 4 times in 7 finals appearances with the most recent being in 2010-2011. They’ve won the La Liga title – the top league in Spain – 23 times (most recent 2014-2015) and the Copa del Rey – the primary domestic tournament in Spain that professional clubs participate in – a record 27 times (most recent 2014-2015). Barcelona has had a long list of talented players that have entertained for both the club and internationally. Juventus F.C. is from Turin, Italy. Juve as they are referred to has won Serie A – the top league in Italy – 31 times (most recent 2014-2015) and the Coppa Italia – the primary domestic tournament in Italy that professional clubs participate in – 10 times (most recent 2014-2015). Juve has appeared in the Champions League Final 7 times winning it twice. They last won the tournament in 1996 and last appeared in the Final match in 2003. Now I’ll list the 5 reasons why you should watch the Champions League Final.

Reason #5 – Time & TV Station
This year’s Champions League is set to take place in Berlin, Germany, which is 7 hours ahead of the Central Standard Time (Time Zone). Normally matches in Europe would be on in the United States early in the morning. The Champions League Final doesn’t start until 1:45 PM on Saturday. That means if you need to run some errands or sleep off a long night of partying you’ll have plenty of time to do so. Another good thing is the match will be telecast on FOX in the U.S. This means you won’t have to do any crazy searching or try to pull up a feed on the internet. You can just flip over to FOX and you’ll be good to go.

Reason #4 – Gianluigi Buffon
“Gigi” Buffon is the goalkeeper for Juventus. Buffon has been with the club since 2001 and has appeared in 423 matches. He is also the goalkeeper for the Italian National Team, appearing 147 times for his country (first appearance was in 1997). Buffon is considered one of the best goalkeepers of his generation and one of the best of all time. He has personal honors and accolades for both his club and country. Buffon will have to be on his game on Saturday as he faces a Barcelona club with the trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar. One other glimmer for Gigi is that in 2006 he helped Italy win the World Cup in the same stadium where Saturday’s CL Final will be played.

Reason #3 – Trebles
As mentioned above, both clubs enter Saturday’s match having won their domestic league title and primary domestic tournament. By winning on Saturday, one of the clubs will complete what is known as a “Treble”. Just to draw a comparison, it would be equivalent to a team in college sports winning their conference regular season title, their conference tournament/championship game, and winning the National Championship. In soccer the Treble consists of winning three trophies of some type. Generally it is the domestic league title and two secondary tournaments. Barcelona was able to accomplish this feat in the 2008-2009 season (La Liga, Copa del Rey, UEFA Champions League). FC Bayern Munich was the last club to win a Treble that included winning the Champions League (2012-2013 Bundesliga, DFB Pokal, UEFA Champions League).

Reason #2 – Star Power
As expected in any Championship Match, Saturday’s showdown features some big stars. Just to name a few there’s Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba, Carlos Tevez, and Arturo Vidal for Juventus and there’s Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez, and Xavi for Barcelona. Both Pirlo and Xavi will be playing their final match for their respective club. The two legendary midfielders will be moving on to other sides as they’ve come to the end of their careers in Europe’s top flight club fútbol.

Reason #1 – “The Beautiful Game”
For Club Soccer, this is the highest level. Honestly for all of soccer this is the highest level. Champions League allows us to see all of the top international soccer players from what are regarded as the best leagues. The talent that is brought together is astonishing. The World Cup draws a lot of attention but it doesn’t always mean that the best players will be present on the field (see Argentina during the 2014 World Cup without Carlos Tevez). While both clubs are very strong going forward I think the key will be the battle in the middle of the pitch. Juventus will have to find a way to pluck possession away from Barcelona and maintain it. And of course they’ll have to find a way to contain the 3 headed attacking monster “Messi-Suarez-Neymar”. Juve was dealt a blow when defender Giorgio Chiellini was ruled out because of a calf injury. If Barcelona is able to control possession then they will need to be cautious of the counter-attacking from Juventus. Juve will certainly look to get the ball forward to Tevez. Set pieces will also be important for the Italian club. Pirlo will definitely be looking for a moment of magic when a shot on goal via a free-kick presents itself. In the end, this match may come down to a magical moment by Messi. His run on goal in the Copa del Rey was beautiful. Juve will have to remain steady and weather any of his moments of brilliance. I expect it to be an exciting and well played match. I hope I’ve done enough to get you to carve out some time to watch.

5 Reasons To Watch the UEFA Champions League Final