Footy Journal
Premier League: FA Cup Preview

The FA Cup has reached the quarter-final stage and Manchester United’s clash with Arsenal takes centre stage.

Manchester United beat Arsenal 4-0 the last time the teams met in FA Cup action at Old Trafford in February 2008 and they will be the pre-match favourites to advance to the semi-finals.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s troops have enjoyed the week off while the Gunners arrive in Manchester bruised and battered following their UEFA Champions League exit to Barcelona.

However, Arsenal have enjoyed FA Cup success at Old Trafford before and Arsene Wenger’s men will be keen to ensure they maintain their hopes of ending the campaign with a league and cup double.

Saturday’s other game sees injury-hit Birmingham entertain Bolton at St Andrews with manager Alex McLeish hoping at least eight wounded players are fit enough to feature.

Blues brushed aside League One outfit Sheffield Wednesday to advance to the quarter-finals, while Bolton edged out Fulham in their fifth round encounter at Craven Cottage.

Although Bolton’s Premier League form has dipped since the turn of the year they remain determined to win the cup and Birmingham will not have it all their own way in the Midlands.

Ambitious

The blue half of Manchester play on Sunday with ambitious Manchester City hosting surprise package Reading at Eastlands.

City go into the game on the back of a disappointing Europa League defeat to Dynamo Kiev and nothing less than success this weekend will do.

Reading are not to be underestimated having knocked out both West Brom and Everton already en route to the quarter-finals.

The weekend’s final clash sees hard-to-beat Stoke City host resurgent West Ham at The Britannia.

Stoke are notoriously difficult on home soil, although the visitors take on Tony Pulis’ troops full of confidence following rare back-to-back league triumphs, including a 3-0 victory over the Potters last time out.

The Hammers have been excellent in cup competitions this term having reached the Carling Cup semi-finals and will have no plans to bow out to the Potters.

Premier League: Wenger praises Wilshere and van Persie

Arsene Wenger singled out Robin van Persie and Jack Wilshere for praise after Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Wolves.

The Gunners kept up the pressure on leaders Manchester United thanks to a goal in each half from Van Persie at the Emirates Stadium, writes Stewart Coggin.

The Dutchman volleyed in a Cesc Fabregas cross after 16 minutes and doubled the advantage after a swift counterattack, with a low finish from a Theo Walcott cross.

  “He scored two different goals,” said Wenger. “I personally like the two. One he scored with his right foot and the other on a one touch counterattack where we know we can be very dangerous.”

After an impressive 45 minutes for England against Denmark last week, Wilshere produced another performance that belied his years. The 19-year-old delivered some exquisite passes into the penalty area and contributed to a performance that should have resulted in more goals.

very good

"I think he had a very good game," continued Wenger. "He defends well, attacks well and creates chances and assists.

"At the moment I believe he will soon score because he comes close and has a hesitation to finish himself and chooses at the moment always to keep the ball but when he has more confidence he will score goals."

It was a comfortable afternoon for Arsenal who created a number of chances, with the likes of Andrei Arshavin and Walcott lively on the wings. The manner of the display was a boost to Wenger after watching his side lose a four-goal lead at Newcastle United last weekend.

"We confirmed with the number of chances we created the quality of our game and we were defensively solid which was important after the four goals we conceded," he added.

"The only regret we have is that maybe we didn’t score enough goals. The goalkeepers are very inspired here at the Emirates and their keeper (Wayne Hennessey) had an outstanding game."

slapped us

Wenger also confirmed that Samir Nasri has a chance of being fit for Wednesday’s Champions League second round first-leg match with Barcelona at the Emirates. The Frenchman sustained a hamstring injury in the FA Cup against Huddersfield Town two weeks ago but has returned to training.

Wolves manager Mick McCarthy accepted that his side were second best and deserved what they got.

"There was a murder going on out there and we were the recipient of it unfortunately," he said.

"We have tried everything but they were better than us from one to 11. Better all over. They have slapped us. We have tried everything, whether it be personnel, shape, formations, we have tried everything. I don’t have one complaint at all.

"I’m disappointed that we’ve lost but did I look at the fixtures against Manchester United and Arsenal and think that’s back to back victories for Wolves who are second bottom of the league and bottom after these results? No, I said we’d go and give it our best against them both but we have West Brom next week and that is a bigger game for our club. I have to admire that performance by Arsenal and aspire to it."

Premier League: Arsenal news

By Richard Clarke
 
Johan Djourou has been passed fit and will be available against Wolves on Saturday.
 
When the Swiss centre back hobbled off with a knee injury at Newcastle last weekend, Arsène Wenger initially feared the worst. But Djourou underwent a fitness test on Friday morning and came through OK.
 
Alex Song (thigh) was similarly examined and is expected to be fit as well. Abou Diaby is both injured and suspended while Tomas Rosicky misses out after collecting a groin injury on international duty. Denilson (hamstring) is back, Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas have recovered from sickness.
 
“Yes, Djourou is fit,” said Wenger at Friday’s press conference.
 
"Diaby has a problem but anyway he is suspended. Denilson is available. Rosicky has a groin problem coming back from the Czech Republic so he is not involved but Denilson is coming back. The rest of the squad will be the same as Newcastle. Cesc and Van Persie will both be playing.”
 
Djourou’s injury was particularly significant as Thomas Vermaelen, his fellow centre back, is still out. Wenger reported the Belgian is progressing well but a return is not imminent.

“He is doing better and he is in the normal process of rehabilitation,” said the manager. “When he will be fit again, I don’t know. It is very difficult to set any time on it. Something like three weeks.”

La Liga: Madrid told to forget Cesc Fabregas approach

Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes has told rivals Real Madrid to forget about trying to get their hands on Arsenal’s Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas.

Madrid have been linked with a big-money move for Arsenal captain Fabregas in the Spanish media, but Valdes insists the 23-year-old would not be tempted to join Real .

Barcelona recently stated that any current bid for Fabregas was ‘dead’, although the club’s first-choice keeper knows that it is the playmaker’s wish to return to Camp Nou.

"I can’t imagine Cesc (Fabregas) in the white jersey (of Real Madrid) ,” Valdes said on Thursday.

Perfect fit

"As far as I know I think his wish is to come back here (to Barcelona) to his home. He knows the system here perfectly and would fit in very well."

Fabregas has openly admitted he would like to rejoin Barcelona where he came through the youth ranks before leaving as a youngster to make his name at Arsenal.

Barcelona bid for the Spanish World Cup star in the summer but Arsenal managed to hold on to their captain and the Spanish champions have said they do not have any plans to make another move for now.

FA Cup Round 4- Arsenal v Huddersfield

By Richard Clarke
 
“We can call him a ‘super pioneer’ because he really turned this Club into one that was ready for the modern era. He was ahead of his time and he was certainly the most influential manager.”
 
Surprisingly those words were spoken by, not about, Arsène Wenger this week.
 
The Arsenal manager was actually referring to Herbert Chapman, a man who brought the first real success to the newly-installed North London side when he arrived from Huddersfield in the summer of 1925.
 
The Yorkshireman won four League titles – two with each team – and two FA Cups, the second of which, in 1930, was Arsenal’s first major honour.
 
The side they beat in that final was Huddersfield Town so the Terriers’ visit to Emirates Stadium on Sunday for a Fourth Round tie in the same competition is heavy with history.
 
“It is a big tradition,” admitted Wenger at his press conference on Friday. “We even went to play a friendly with them in pre-season [in 2008] on the demand of our chairman because there is a long traditional link between Huddersfield and Arsenal.
 
“We are a modern club but have as well a big respect for tradition. It has a special meaning because Chapman was the most influential manager at this Club. So we have of course big respect for that.”
 
The current Huddersfield side are third in League One and gunning for promotion under Lee Clark. They have lost only once in their last seven games and beat Cambridge, Macclesfield and Dover to reach the Fourth Round. Arsenal’s 17-year-old striker Benik Afobe is about to start another loan spell at the Galpharm Stadium but is ineligible for this game because, unlike Sanchez Watt in the last round against Leeds, his deal was not for a full season.
 
Arsenal have had trouble negotiating Championship sides recently but they have not lost to a side outside the top two tiers since Wrexham in 1992 – which was historic for entirely different reasons.
 
Wenger’s side is likely to be much-changed from one that beat Ipswich to reach the Carling Cup Final on Tuesday. After that game, the manager said he would like to play one side against Huddersfield and an entirely different one against Everton in the Premier League 48 hours later.
 
He is a few players short of being able to do that but the return of Tomas Rosicky (sickness), Abou Diaby (calf), Manuel Almunia (ankle) and Sebastien Squillaci (hamstring) means he has more options at his disposal.
 
The Spaniard’s comeback after fourth months out is particularly intriguing given that, on Friday, Wenger said Wojciech Szczesny was the current No 1 and the gloves were his to lose. A decision on Sunday’s custodian will be made on the morning of the match.
 
This will be the ninth game of a massive January for Wenger’s side in every sense. In their 124 years, Arsenal have never played so many matches in the first month of the year. And, apart from a goalless draw with Manchester City in which they dominated, Wenger’s men have a 100 per cent record. Remember they may have lost to Ipswich and drawn with Leeds in individual games but the won both ties.
 
In those eight games they have conceded just three times (all in cup competitions) and have scored 16 goals – including three in each of their last four games.
 
“That’s a consequence of our style which is always trying and go forward and score goals,” said Wenger. “Some periods we are a bit less successful at doing it. But not now.”
 
It may be ‘only’ the Carling Cup to some but Arsenal’s players have had a sense of euphoria all this week. How can you dismiss a trophy you have never won? Or, for many of them, how can you dismiss a trophy when you have never won one at all?
 
But one thing is certain - Arsenal’s season will not be judged on the Carling Cup alone when they are Manchester United’s closest rivals in the Premier League and the Champions League is in the Knockout Stage. That does leave two questions of course. Where does the FA Cup fit in? And can Arsenal realistically go for all four trophies?
 
“Well quadruple is not a bad word,” said Wenger, answering the second part. “It is a very good word but, of course, we are far from that.
 
“What is good is that we are involved in all competitions and we are hungry to do as well as we can.
 
“What can we do? We don’t know. But we are happy because we won our last game. We are on a good run and feel we have a good confidence level and a good attitude in the whole squad.
“We are getting stronger and stronger, so this is what we want to do.
 
“Of course if we are involved in the four competitions we need a super-realistic approach, focus on the next game and just try to win it.
 
“You build the confidence in the team slowly and you lose it very quickly. One big bad result and you are down very quickly. So it’s important to keep our feet on the ground and to show we have learned from Leeds and Ipswich how difficult these games can be.
 
“But the FA Cup is very important for us. Did you see the team we played at Leeds? That just means it has an importance, we could have gone to Leeds and said ‘OK, we go with a reserve team’.
 
“But we went with a first team squad and we had everybody fired up and playing. We had to fight to qualify and so we focus on Huddersfield right now.”
 
Of course, those were Wenger’s words but they could have easily come from Chapman.
 
It seems the ‘super-pioneer’s’ legacy is in good hands.