Things We’ll Learn In Football This Month – May

 

This is the end, beautiful friend, this is the end, my only friend, the end.

 

Yes that’s right one of the most underwhelming Premier League seasons we’ve ever had to endure is spluttering its way toward some sort of unsatisfactory conclusion. The Champions League places are all but concluded with Chelsea impressively but unmemorably coming top of the pile, there is a bit of a scuffle to avoid the Europa League and in fairness to the dregs at the bottom of the league there is still a bit of a question mark as to who will drop down into the Championship. But in the overall scheme of things this has been a poor season in terms of quality, drama and laugh out loud incompetence.

 

The first weekend of the month has no interesting games, none, not one. It’s utter dross. Do some work in the garden or something, or maybe go swimming? It’s been ages since you’ve been at the pool and you always enjoy it when you go. Whatever you do don’t watch the football, especially Spurs (49/20 with Intertops.eu) vs Man City (19/20) which looks deceptively like a game that might be good but in reality both sides gave up weeks ago.

 

The second weekend starts terribly with the inexplicable decision to televise Everton vs Sunderland and doesn’t get much better after that. Hull vs Burnley is a big one down at the bottom of the table but the soul crushing inevitability of Burnley’s relegation and the fact that no one in the world cares about Hull mean that I’m going to stop writing about it now. There is a ‘Super Sunday’ of sorts, with Chelsea vs Liverpool, which if nothing else will be a nice ‘have a look at what you could have won’ moment for Steven Gerrard.

 

Stop press we’ve got a game that might be alright! Weekend number three is mostly awful meaningless nonsense but finishes with Manchester United hosting Arsenal. Louis van Gaal will be looking to overcome the handicap of his weird hair to exact revenge over Arsene Wenger for their FA Cup defeat. For the last 4 months Arsenal have looked like a side who can challenge for the title, there is a new found pragmatism to sit alongside the flair. Of course this could be (and probably is) just Arsenal being Arsenal and they’ll regress to the mean with a spectacular explosion of incompetence before we know it, however a fixture against a rejuvenated but still not all that good Manchester United might give us a better idea.

 

I care so little that I can’t even be bothered looking at the last day, so in an effort to end on a mildly entertaining note I’m going to abandon the formula and go rogue by paying tribute to those who for one reason or another won’t be with us next season.

 

Steven Gerrard – Heading for MLS. Either one of the greatest players of his generation or the worst human of all time, depending on who you ask, Stevie is a man that splits opinion. One thing you can’t deny though is he has very consistent hair.

 

Frank Lampard – Heading for MLS. Got called fat a lot even though he wasn’t fat (but is still a bit fat for a footballer). Scored loads of goals, rumours that he’s a Tory.

 

Manuel Pellegrini – Will probably get sacked. City want Pep so big Manuel is probably done for sooner or later. Got called a “f**kin old c**t” by Alan Pardew and once wore a hoodie like he was nipping to the shop for milk rather than managing one of the richest clubs in the world.

 

Sam Allardyce – West Ham will probably let his contract run out. There are few finer sights in football than the big man after he’s ‘out tacticed’ one of the league’s elite. If there was an instrument to measure smugness then he’d break it.

 

Radamel Falcao – Heading to the glue factory. Knee injuries and advancing years (some say they’ve advanced more than his passport is letting on) mean that the Colombian’s stay in England has been a massive anti-climax. Another name to add to the lost of South Americans who haven’t quite cut it at Old Trafford.

 

John Carver – Heading for the record books. In years to come when they talk of the worst managers in history, big John and his staggeringly bad stint at Newcastle will be right up there. Great stuff.

 

I’m sure there are others but we all have things to do so let’s wrap it up. Some of you might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the FA Cup but I’ve just found out I’m at a wedding that day so I’m pretending it isn’t happening.

 

Betting Instinct tip – defy Ally by betting on the very real FA Cup Final. Arsenal to win and both teams to score is 2.98 with Intertops.eu

 

Ally avatar ALLY MONCRIEFF is a freelance football writer and editor of All or Nothing magazine. Sometimes even he can’t  tell if he’s being serious or not. Follow Ally on Twitter and maybe he’ll be your friend.

 

 

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Things We’ll Learn In Football This Month – April

 

April is a glorious month, the days get warmer and longer, outside boozing become socially acceptable and I can start my now annual crusade to be allowed to wear shorts to work. The football season also approaches what that Football Cliches bloke on Twitter would call the ‘business end’ (or are we there already? – ed.).

 

March finishes with the bleak nothingness of an international fortnight so thank the Lord above that April has an absolute cracker of a game to get us started. Brendan Rodgers and his band of merry men travel to face Arsenal, where they really have to win to keep their top 4 hopes alive. They do of course make this trip minus their captain, which in most cases would be a disadvantage but in all honesty when your central midfielder is so busy raging against the dying of the light that the physical act of football becomes an irrelevance in his tortured mind then maybe it’s for the best if he takes his place in the stand. Arsenal are in form and at the stage of the season where they traditionally win games so are heavy favourites. Their form is such that there has even been talk of a title challenge, that obviously won’t happen but they could conceivably finish in the top two, which would represent progress of a sort and save any awkward early season ventures to deepest darkest Europe in the name of Champions League qualification.

 

Arsenal v Liverpool Betting Odds: 

Arsenal win  4/5

Liverpool win 3/1

Draw 53/20

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change) 

 

The other stand out game that first weekend is the Tyne Wear derby, Sunderland (29/20 with Intertops.eu) have terrible players and are terrible so they will lose, but then again Newcastle (19/10) gave up on their season a couple of months ago and have a terrible manager so they’ll probably lose as well. Sunderland have a new manager who is in theory less terrible than the last one so that might help. Honestly unless you support either of the sides you’re only watching this one for the inevitable comedy violence.

 

The following weekend we get to witness the sight of Tottenham’s greatest ever manager returning to the scene of both his glorious triumph and the scandalous betrayal that ended his White Hart Lane reign. It is never wise to speculate on how history will remember a man and his deeds but in the case of Tim Sherwood we can rest assured that future generations will speak of him with the reverence reserved for only the truly great. He does have to be a bit careful that for all his undeniable majesty and grace he doesn’t end up forgetting to stop Villa getting relegated. A win at Spurs would be handy.

 

On Sunday we have the Manchester Derby and although United have spent the majority of the season grinding out results whilst playing suspiciously Moyesish football their recent upturn coupled with City’s recent malaise probably makes them favourites. United might have Van Persie back but he probably won’t get in the side ahead of Marouane Fellaini. Which when you think about it is a bit odd.

 

The season is actually in real danger of petering out, the top 4 looks familiar and unlikely to change save for a bit of jostling. The teams occupying the relegation zone all have a very Championshipy look about them, Burnley might just drag themselves out and haul someone back in, with Sunderland looking most likely. Leicester have played quite well at points this season without ever looking like they might still be here come next August and QPR are a shambles both on and off the pitch. I’m not saying I’m struggling to find things to write about as we approach the conclusion of another campaign but we could really do with a good handshake/non-handshake scandal to keep things interesting over the next few weeks.

 

The only saving grace may come in the remaining cup competitions where the Champions League despite/because of (delete as appropriate) its lack of English participants looks particularly well poised for a brilliant last few rounds. We get repeat of last years final where Atletico (8/5 to qualify with AllYouBet.ag)will be looking for revenge against their city neighbours (11/25) and if there’s one man on this planet you’d bet on to exact his revenge it would be Diego Simeone. His rebuilding of the second Madrid club is one of the great stories of modern football and rarely can one team have been created to resemble so closely the mould of its master. That’s probably the pick of the ties but Zlatan visiting any club he feels he has been wronged by is always entertaining, so Barcelona vs PSG should be fun.

 

There’s also the FA Cup where we’d all like to see Steven Gerrard sign off as a champion/fall over and gift the opposition a goal in the last minute (delete as appropriate). Arsenal will probably win the thing for the second year running but it’s been a while since they spectacularly imploded against lower league opposition so maybe they have one of those in store for us.

 

Betting Instinct tip Liverpool to beat Blackburn in their FA Cup replay and move closer to that dream final is 3/5 with Intertops.eu

 

 

Anyway that’s enough filling, see you next month. Or maybe I’ll see you over on Twitter where I recently got 250+ RTs on a tweet with a typo which I thought was the type of thing that only happened in horror stories designed to frighten grammatically substandard children https://twitter.com/AllorNothingMag

 

 

Manchester United trip presents golden opportunity for Danny Welbeck and Arsenal

While fixtures between Manchester United and Arsenal aren’t what they used to be, there is still a sense that an awful lot rests on Monday night’s FA Cup Quarter Final. For the winners, it’s a chance to condemn their old rivals to an almost certain trophyless season, whilst also maintaining momentum in the all-important race for the top four.

 

FA Cup Outright Betting Odds:

Liverpool 19/10

Manchester United 5/2

Arsenal 3/1

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

The game will be Danny Welbeck’s first at Old Trafford since he left United for Arsenal last summer. Welbeck made a promising start to his Arsenal career, performing well as a lone striker in place of the injured Olivier Giroud. His hard work and enthusiasm resonated well with his new supporters too, as it had done in Manchester previously. An impressive showing for England in the Euro 2016 qualifier against Switzerland in September, where he scored a brace, also supported the view that at £16 million Welbeck had been a great signing. A hat-trick in the Champions League against Galatasaray followed and Arsenal fans were starting to believe Ravel Morrison’s infamous words that Welbz was indeed “dat guy”.

However, a combination of injuries, big game misses and the return of Giroud have made the second half of this season more difficult for Welbeck. A little of the early positivity surrounding him has perhaps dried up and since Giroud’s reinstatement as Arsenal’s principal striker, Welbeck has had to make do with playing on the wing or starting on the bench. Neither player gave a good account of themselves against Monaco but it was Giroud who received Arsene Wenger’s backing in the next game against Everton and repaid that faith with a goal. This continued into the week, with the French striker scoring the opener against QPR on Wednesday night.

 

What counts in Giroud’s favour, as well as his goals, is his ability to win the ball in the air and to hold up play, enabling Arsenal’s cohort of talented midfielders to be brought into play more. Welbeck has proven to be a little lightweight in this role but on the other hand he is better at getting behind the defence with his pace.  As such, recent appearances have tended to come out wide.

It is always difficult to predict how players will perform against their former clubs, but it is worth remembering that Welbeck built a reputation at United as a big game player. He rarely shirked responsibility and performances like the one at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid two seasons ago stand out as evidence of rising to the grand occasion. He is a young player, still developing his game and the prospect of maturing alongside other English players like Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is an exciting one.

United themselves still look like a side in transition. Until recently, they had been above Arsenal in the table but Louis van Gaal is yet to pull off many truly convincing displays. David de Gea has saved them many points this season and should Welbeck start, he is likely to enjoy running at his former teammates. They are without ex-Arsenal striker Robin van Persie, who has had no qualms seeing off the Gunners in the past.

 

Finally, Monday night represents a massive opportunity for Wenger to prove that Arsenal’s performance at Manchester City earlier this year was not a one-off. So long berated for his record in big games, victory for Arsenal would break a real hoodoo. Wenger has not won at Old Trafford since September 2006 – out of Arsenal’s starting line-up that day, only Tomas Rosicky remains at the club. Since then, there’s not been much to enjoy for Wenger in the red half of Manchester. Memories of being sent to the stands and abused by the United fans in August 2009 and the humiliating 8-2 defeat two years later are still fresh in the memory.

And yet, Wenger has remained one of the few constants in English football. The FA Cup has always been a trophy dear to the Frenchman and if Arsenal can see off United on Monday, Wenger could well be on course for a historic sixth. This would draw him level with the great Aston Villa manager George Ramsay and overtake Sir Alex Ferguson. With Fergie out of the picture, it is really time for Wenger to show what his Arsenal side are capable of.

 

Betting Instinct tip Arsenal to win on Monday night is 39/20 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Hugo avatarHUGO GREENHALGH is co-founder and editor of The False Nineand a contributor to Eurosport and When Saturday Comes. He can be found following his favourite clubs: Arsenal and Dulwich Hamlet. Follow Hugo on Twitter.

West Ham want to win the FA Cup; does anyone else?

The fifth round of the FA Cup is just about the time of the competition when neutrals begin to hope that the plucky underdogs are all sent packing. With the semi-finals and final a mere 180 minutes away for some teams, the prospect of a third tier side rolling into Wembley with the intent of killing a game so they can snatch a 1-0 win leaves few salivating at the prospect. Instead the desire is for teams that genuinely want to win a trophy finding a way into the hat for the last eight of the world’s oldest cup competition.

 

FA Cup Outright Betting Odds:

Arsenal 5/2

Manchester United 13/5

Liverpool 19/4

West Ham United 10/1

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Hull and Wigan have shown in recent seasons that second-string teams can make it all the way to Wembley, even when their managers show absolutely no desire to mastermind a cup run. And it’s for that very reason that West Ham United have to beat West Bromwich Albion in Saturday’s early kick-off.

Sam Allardyce’s side were in fourth position in the Barclays Premier League on Christmas Day and some fans were allowing themselves to think of the Champions League as an actual possibility. Seven points from eight league games since December 25th have killed those hopes dead; but replaced them with dreams of a trip all the way to Wembley.

 

The Hammers have got 38 points to their name. They aren’t going down. And though Allardyce isn’t going to let his side slack off – Big Sam is well aware of the difference in prize money (both actual tournament winnings and television revenue) that comes from finishing just one place higher – he has made it clear that he fancies a go at winning some silverware; especially without the baggage of having Andy Carroll in his side.

Allardyce can instead focus his side on playing the vibrant, attacking brand of football that delighted so many of us in the opening weeks of the season; rather than relying on finding the target man with long balls. Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia have been two excellent signings and without Carroll inclusion forcing them to play wider than they would like, both should be able to take on the mantle as West Ham’s main attacking options for the rest of the season.

In their way stand a West Brom side just four points clear of safety. Regardless of how switched on they will pretend to be when Tony Pulis sends them onto the pitch, the whole group have their minds on the trip to fellow strugglers Sunderland in the Premier League next week.

 

Sadly, there isn’t such a simple case to be made in the instance of Arsenal taking on Middlesbrough on Sunday. Neither side would have too many complaints if they ended up going out of the competition this weekend.

With the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League against Monaco looming and Southampton refusing to budge from the top four of the Premier League, Arsenal really don’t need a cup run. Arsene Wenger won a trophy last season so he’s got another five or six years before he really has to win another and his focus will wander elsewhere. He’ll still be able to pick a strong squad but don’t expect to see Ozil, Cazorla and Sanchez all starting together.

The Frenchman will, one would expect, prioritise European qualification for next season and the chance of European glory over the FA Cup. Unfortunately the competition will also fall down the pecking order for the visitors.

 

Middlesbrough are top of the Football League Championship. That’s normally enough to suggest a side as capable of taking a Premier League scalp in the fifth round. However Boro are set to play three league matches in the 10 days after Sunday’s match and with the promised land of the Premier League moving onto the horizon, Aitor Karanka may want to re-evaluate his hopes for the season.

Tuesday’s 2-1 victory over Blackpool did see the Spaniard shuffle his pack a little and give a few of his important players a rest, so he may be planning to have a go at Arsenal. But if his side find themselves 1-2 behind with six minutes to go; a late goal to take things back to the Riverside Stadium for a replay won’t be chased as passionately as it could be.

It won’t finish in a draw; that’s the only thing both managers will be keen for. Neither team needs another fixture added to their schedule.

Betting Instinct tip Draw at half-time/Arsenal at full-time is 11/4 with AllYouBet.ag

 

Ryan avatar RYAN KEANEY (ryankeaney) is a huge sports fan who spends most of his week toying around with sports data.  He is the editor of www.thefootballproject.net and a co-editor for In Bed with Maradona. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Manchester United and Sunderland face potential giant-killings in FA Cup 5th Round

Love is in the air this weekend, and I don’t mean the cheap Valentines Day booze-up and romp you regret nine months later. No, open your hearts, put down those homemade 50 Shades-inspired whips and chains, and rejoice as the magic of the FA Cup comes hurtling back with all the mystique of a Silent Witness episode.

In truth, last time out proved to be quite the upset as Chelsea were felled at home by League One opposition Bradford City (more on them soon), and the number of Premier League teams left in the competition were reduced to 10.

 

Out are big-hitters Chelsea and Manchester City, who have appeared in five of the last six finals, concentrating their efforts on league glory instead.

And now, just two rounds away from the Wembley showpiece, thoughts of the smaller clubs will start to turn towards the rare possibility of following in the footsteps of recent finalists Millwall and Cardiff. Two teams in particular will be hoping to do their best David impersonation as they take on top tier Goliaths.

 

Bradford City v Sunderland Betting Odds:

Bradford win 5/2

Sunderland win 19/20

Draw 23/10

(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Bradford welcome Sunderland to Valley Parade for the first game between the two teams in 12 years. While the visitors’ ability should see them through, Bradford have pedigree in similar situations to these. In 2013 they overcame Premier League clubs Arsenal, Aston Villa and Wigan to reach the League Cup final. Although that proved a bridge too far, with the Bantams losing to Swansea 5-0, Bradford’s capacity to cause a shock result should not be doubted, having beaten Chelsea in the previous round.

Currently two places outside the League One play-offs, the Yorkshire club has lost only two of its last 17 games across all competitions, winning 10. And if they come out swinging like their co-chairman over the BBC’s decision not to show the tie, then we should be in for a full-blooded slugfest on Sunday afternoon.

 

In Sunderland’s case, this fixture could offer the respite needed from the doom surrounding their league campaign. Sitting a mere two points off the bottom three, Tuesday night’s loss to relegation rivals Queens Park Rangers will have dented their confidence further heading into the sell-out away FA Cup fixture.

But a game against lower league challengers provides the perfect opportunity for retribution, and a chance to improve their mind-set with a convincing win ahead of a crucial couple of months.

In all likelihood, it’ll be an attritional contest, fought out on a pitch resembling a tattered old rug won by the side with greater fitness and talent. Yet with Sunderland in need of shoring up their defensive errors that have seen them slip in the new year following a defiant November run, and struggles at the other end – even the January arrival of 32-year-old striker Jermain Defoe hasn’t mended Sunderland’s goal-woes – there’s every chance of a surprise.

 

Monday night’s prospect of Preston North End versus Manchester United should finish predictably too, but Preston’s manager Simon Grayson has form when it comes to defeating United. Five years on from his League One Leeds side stunning Manchester United thanks to a Jermaine Beckford winner, Grayson is hoping to repeat the feat.

Preston may not be on the kind of form Leeds were then, where they went into the game unbeaten in 17 matches, however they do reside comfortably in fourth place of League One with the third tightest defence in the third tier. Although struggling for goals in the league, Preston forward Paul Gallagher is the Cup’s leading scorer, and with United having conceded in six of their last eight league matches, he may well add to that tally.

 

For United the FA Cup has been a kind affair, though unnecessarily difficult to progress in, requiring a replay to defeat Cambridge United. In the midst of journalists and supporters bickering over whether they are a long-ball side and limp wins, United have crawled their way to third in the division. They have lost just once in 18 games in all competitions and manager Louis van Gaal seems content now to use a Plan B where essential.

It may well be another tough watch, but we can’t see past United leaving victorious and through to the quarter-finals having jinked past Premier League draws en route.

Betting Instinct tip – Paul Gallagher to score at any time is 10/3 with Coral.co.uk

 

FRANCIS KELLYfrancis avatar is a sports writer who has contributed to the Independent, the Guardian and The Cricketer magazine. He can be found waxing lyrical about Norwich City on Twitter

Romance Is Dead. Long Live The FA Cup 4th Round

Marko Arnautović helped spare Stoke's blushes in the third round against Wrexham

Marko Arnautović helped spare Stoke’s blushes in the third round against Wrexham

While the third round has become hamstrung by cliché and mythology and never fails to disappoint, all the cool kids know the fourth round is where it’s really at. It’s the orange to the third round’s black. Chia seeds to quinoa.

Let the hopeless romantics delude themselves that a postman will score a late winner against a Premier League side. Let them evoke nostalgia from Motty’s sheepskin coat. Let them revel in sepia-tinged David and Goliath fables of yesteryear.

For those of us who Andy Townsend might describe as ‘having something about them’ it is this weekend that offers the true promise of upset and drama as the gene pool gets stronger and the vague notion of a cup run becomes a genuine possibility.

FA Cup Outright Odds:

Chelsea 17/4

Manchester City 9/2

Manchester United 5/1

Arsenal 7/1

(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)

Take Rochdale’s (15/4 with Intertops.eu) hosting of Stoke (13/20) on Monday evening. The Potters’ previous opponents were Conference side Wrexham at the Britannia and though the Welshmen applied themselves outstandingly – ‘plucky’ I believe is the obligatory term – was there any doubt as to whether the top flight club would ultimately prevail? They always do. Class tells as legs tire and all that.

This time out Mark Hughes’ men travel to Spotland to face a side contesting a League One play-off place who have brushed aside a Christmas blip and rediscovered some fine form. In a tight hostile environment packed to the rafters with fervent believers – and presumably some snowy conditions levelling the field – even Hughes’ battle-hardened eleven will struggle to impose their superiority.

 

At Villa Park Bournemouth (19/10 with AllYouBet.ag) almost go into the tie as favourites having scored more goals in the Midlands in a single game this term (their 8-0 drubbing of Brum at St Andrews in October) than a misfiring Aston Villa (5/4) have managed in 11 attempts (having notched just seven at home). It’s a mind-boggling statistic that aptly illustrates the gulf in attacking freedom shown by both sides and you almost feel sorry for Paul Lambert that the hat threw up this no-win clash for a game that might decide his managerial fate.

Elsewhere high-flying Bristol City (13/5) will fancy their chances against West Ham (19/20) while draw-specialists Brighton (4/1) will see the visit of Arsenal (57/100) as a blessed relief from relegation concerns (all odds via AllYouBet.ag).

 

For those among us who still believe in the magic of the cup – aww bless – please brace yourselves for this but what really takes the fourth round up a notch on its quixotic cousin is the increasing likelihood of an all-Premier League affair. Oh and while we’re at it Santa Claus doesn’t exist either.

Unusually this year however there are only two top flight clashes in Tottenham v Leicester and Southampton v Palace and while neither are exactly an all-Merseyside derby or top four grudge-match both offer intriguing narratives. Victory at the Lane will give Foxes fans a rare glimpse of Wembley on the horizon to accompany a spirit-sapping fight for survival while Alan Pardew will scent the opportunity to cement his place back in Eagles folklore should Southampton prioritise their Champion’s League dream. The odds for either club going all the way this year are generous across the board – especially considering their onerous away trips this weekend – but bear in mind the recent trend for relegation-battlers reaching the final.

Another long-shot for cup glory lies in the victor from Birmingham v West Brom, a tasty Midlands encounter that is given extra titillation with each side being turned around by new managers. Since his appointment in late-October – following their eight goal humiliation as it goes – Gary Rowett has performed superbly in revitalising the Blues fortunes while new Baggies gaffer Tony Pulis may not usually value a distracting cup run but is intent on imposing winning ways to his new club.
Okay, so you want one ceding to FA Cup magic? It of course comes in the form of Cambridge squaring up to the slightly more famous United. Televised this Friday evening – how traditional – it will give the U’s some welcome exposure, some even more welcome revenue, and their players a chance to swap shirts with Wayne Rooney and co.

They won’t win naturally because romance is dead but all the very best to them.

Long live the 4th round. Motty, put away your sheepskin, things just got real.

 

Betting Instinct tip Manchester United to crush Cambridge dreams with a 4-0 win is 9/1 with AllYouBet.ag

Ste avatar STEPHEN TUDOR is editor of the Daisy Cutter, the football newspaper that only sometimes lies. He also writes  for  Sabotage Times, When Saturday Comes, Late Tackle and others. Follow him on Twitter.

Is Arsenal vs. Hull City the end of civilisation as we know it?

Can Arsenal win their first final at 'New Wembley'?

Can Arsenal win their first final at ‘New Wembley’?

The West Antarctic ice sheet is melting! Soon all will perish amid sea level rises too big for even Bruce Willis to stop, seemingly rendering the result of Arsenal’s crunch Community Shield qualifier against Hull City irrelevant on the grand scale of things.

This is of course false. Had the world paid more attention to football in the first place, none of this would have happened. Mankind’s greatest error was to put their faith in hockey stick graphs rather than transfer gossip columns about the landmark transfers of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, or something. Heat maps could have saved us all if only we’d listened.

Still, there is some hope that a few emaciated survivors may be able to scrape together an existence during the coming Armageddon out somehow. The FA Cup stands as a testament to humanity’s ability to cling on within a post-apocalyptic landscape.

 

Arsenal v Hull City Betting Odds:

Arsenal – 1.24 

Arsenal to win in 90 minutes – 1.44

Hull City – 4.00

Hull to win in 90 minutes – 6.80

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Having once been the jewel of the English football calendar, cup final day has slipped into becoming a desperate struggle for recognition in the arid wastes between the Premier League finale and the Champions League final. Manchester United used to be the great Satan, who fatally undermined this institution with a transcontinental lust for silverware, but with Atletico Madrid and Barcelona’s La Liga decider currently threatening to steal away viewing figures, the problem seems bigger than a fixture clash.

Similar to the rules of the Thunderdome from Mad Max 3, at Wembley two teams will enter, but only one shall leave. In contrast to the movie’s blood sport however, it’s the loser that gets to walk away, with the victors instead set to be called back for a sound beating at the hands of Manchester City some August.

 

Even the supposed grand prize of a shot at the Europa League feels like a demoted consolation offering. Steve Bruce’s side have already been informed that they’ll be heading off to face the likes of FC Luch-Energiya Vladivostok (wow – turns out that’s actually a real team – ed.) whatever the result against Arsenal thanks to the Gunners’ Champions League qualification via the top four. In that respect, the FA Cup final is left looking more like a passing out ceremony for this season’s press ganged, sacrificial offering to UEFA’s secondary tier, rather than a prestigious bounty. A season scrabbling across Europe to take part in the competition formerly known as the UEFA Cup could even send Hull out of the Premier League next year. If you thought Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was a terrifying and depressing read, don’t spend to long mulling over the death by glory inflicted upon clubs forced into competitions they have neither the squad nor resources to properly fight.

Then again, while the heat death of the FA Cup may be stretching out the public’s attention spans and will-to-watch, as if expiring through the footballing entropy of the game’s own laws of thermodynamics, perhaps this year might be different?

 

For once, it’s not just the plucky minnows who are striving for an unlikely trophy win. Arsenal would do well to check that Patrick Vieira didn’t thrown down a Bela Guttmann-esque curse on the club  when he left in 2005. Arsene Wenger’s team haven’t won a proper pot or title since.

With their status as this year’s Liverpool, before Liverpool too—having let slip a commanding lead in the title race rather than a cataclysmic and very literal one for Demba Ba to shatter their dreams—the likes of Aaron Ramsey will be keen to ensure something tangible comes through from a season that promised so much However, Hull need only look back to Birmingham City’s League Cup win over the Gunners to see how their last appearance in a final that was billed as a relative formality turned out.

 

Unfortunately for Bruce’s challengers, his two star strikers—Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic—are cup-tied for the final, but as any fan of disaster cinema will tell you, being outnumbered and outgunned is all a protagonist needs to escape the rapture. Even John Cusack did as much in that one where the Buddhist monk climbed to the top of Everest only to be swept away by a giant tidal wave. It had planes taking off in earthquakes and a big aircraft carrier thing he had to throw his kids onto at the end. High Fidelity was it? Who knows.

Regardless, the fate of the FA Cup could well depend on who can discover their inner Cusack. Sone Aluko or Olivier Giroud. It’s got to be Arsenal, right? Right?

 

Betting Instinct tip – Arsenal to win 2-1 after a spirited Hull performance is 7.60 with GR88.com.

 

Greg avatar GREG JOHNSON (gregianjohnson) is a freelance football writer based in London and contributor to  FourFourTwo, Squawka, Drowned In Sound and Mirror Football. He also co-edits The False Nine football  blog and podcast. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

 

It’s FA Cup Semi Final Weekend!

We're down to four teams, but who'll make the FA Cup Final this weekend?

We’re down to four teams, but who’ll make the FA Cup Final this weekend?

The home of English football, Wembley Stadium, hosts the two FA Cup Semi Finals playing this weekend and all four teams will be desperate to return and fight to lift the trophy. Whoever progresses this weekend and reaches the final on May 16th will be impressive in their own right. Arsenal have failed to win a trophy in nine years, Wigan were relegated from the Premier League after lifting the trophy last season, Hull City have never reached the FA Cup Final and this Semi Final is their first in 84 years while the final side, Sheffield United, are mid-table in League One.

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

Wigan v Arsenal Odds:

Wigan – 6.20

Draw – 4.00

Arsenal – 1.46

Arsenal may come into this match as the favourites to progress to the final, but there will be masses of pressure, both internal and external, on the side to win this match. Their last trophy came in this competition in 2005 and with them having collapsed in the league from top spot at the start of the year to fighting for fourth place winning this match, and then the final, will be the only way that Arsenal can lift a trophy this season. There is pressure from the fans too as they are unhappy at the state of affairs at The Emirates, but will victory soothe the baying horde?

Wigan will be confident coming into the game following their progression to Wembley at the expense of Manchester City, whom they defeated for a second year running, and their recent revival under Uwe Rösler that has move into the Championship playoffs as they look for an immediate return to the Premier League. City put six past Arsenal on home soil, yet Wigan managed a 2-1 win there and have a 2-0 record at Wembley over the last 12 months so will they be able to upset the odds today?

I certainly feel that with the panic that Arsenal are feeling about their lack of trophies that they will be highly motivated for this match, yet, despite the division difference in the sides, Wigan are in the better form of the two teams and have shown they can mix it with the best sides in the Premier League. I see a close game between these two teams with plenty of goals to be scored by both sides.

Back both sides to score in this Wigan v Arsenal FA Cup Semi Finals match @ 1.80 with GR88.com.

Hull v Sheffield United Odds:

Hull – 1.67

Draw – 3.25

Sheffield United – 5.00

Although two divisions separate these two teams, the betting odds for this match leave the teams closer than the first FA Cup Semi Final between Wigan and Arsenal. Both sides are sat mid-table in their respective leagues with Hull having a solid season on their return to the Premier League, while Sheffield United’s season has improved vastly of late following an awful start that left them mired in relegation trouble for the first half of the season.

The outsiders to make the final have already beaten Aston Villa and Fulham from the Premier League on their march to Wembley and their excellent form has belied their position in the third tier of English football. They have lost just two of their last 17 games before this game and they will know that whatever happens this weekend they have nothing to lose, so they have the freedom to play naturally and this may payoff for them.

Hull have been at their best in this competition this season with them having kept three clean sheets in their five matches, as only Brighton found the net against them. They know that victory today will all but assure them of a place in Europe next season, and with their Premier League safety all but assured too they will give their all to this match on the hallowed turf of Wembley.

I see this being an open and exciting game of football, but I can see the Premier League side edging victory over their League One opposition this weekend.

Back Hull to win this match by at least two goals (Hull -0.75) @ 1.88 in the GR88 Sportsbook!

AntonyANTONY JORDAN (antonygr88) is an avid football and cricket fan who loves to play his favourite sports as much as write about them and bet on them.  Read his daily sports betting blog at GR88.com.

Arsenal favourites to reach Wembley at the expense of Everton

Mesut Özil puts Arsenal 1-0 up in the 1-1 draw at The Emirates in December

Mesut Özil puts Arsenal 1-0 up in the 1-1 draw at The Emirates in December

It’s FA Cup Quarter Final weekend this Saturday and Sunday as the final eight sides in the oldest and most prestigious club football competition in the world battle to play at Wembley in the Semi Finals and then, hopefully, the Final.

The four game schedule is kicked off on Saturday lunchtime with the clash of Arsenal v Everton at The Emirates in North London as the sides sitting third and sixth in the Premier League compete for a game in the final four stage. GR88.com favour a home win, but will The Gunners live up to this favourites billing?

Arsenal v Everton FA Cup Odds:

Arsenal – 1.79

Draw – 3.25

Everton – 4.10

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

Like the odds suggest this match promises to be a close match and recent clashes between the teams have proven the sides to be close in on pitch performances as all of the last eight matches have seen either draws or one goal victories. This pattern goes back to 2009 when Arsenal travelled to Goodison Park early in the 2009/10 season and thumped Everton 6-1, with Everton’s consolation goal coming in injury time at the end of the match.

Arsenal have won four and drawn four of these eight matches and are unbeaten against Everton in 13 fixtures, while it has been 18 years since Everton last won away against Arsenal. That came with a 2-1 victory at Highbury in January 1996. Despite this poor record the last three matches, including the last two at The Emirates, have ended level so will this FA Cup match be the end of Arsenal’s dominance over the Toffees?

In reality, it is unlikely as only World and European champions Bayern Munich have defeated Arsenal at the Emirates in 15 matches and they required a red card for Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczęsny before they were able to make the breakthrough on the night. Arsenal have won 11 of the other 14 matches on home soil in all competitions since losing to Chelsea in the Capital One Cup in October, including bouncing back from the Bayern loss with a 4-1 beating of Sunderland.

Everton’s away form of late has seen them slip down the table as they lost the last three away games to Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea without scoring a goal and they have beaten only League One Stevenage on the road in 2014. The three losses saw a 4-0 defeat in the Merseyside Derby, but losing 1-0 in London twice.

I feel that the corresponding differences between the side’s home and away forms will see Arsenal win this match, but only just as Everton are certainly not a side to give in easily despite their run of losses. Everton defend well and it took a late, late goal for Chelsea to beat them at Stamford Bridge but I see Arsenal just being the more ruthless of the sides and booking their place at Wembley with a one goal victory.

Back Arsenal to beat Everton in this FA Cup Quarter Final game @ 1.79 with GR88.com.

AntonyANTONY JORDAN (antonygr88) is an avid football and cricket fan who loves to play his favourite sports as much as write about them and bet on them.  Read his daily sports betting blog at GR88.com.

Manchester City v Wigan Athletic – The Key Battles

One of last year's FA Cup finalists will be eliminated this weekend

One of last year’s FA Cup finalists will be eliminated this weekend

For a few years it looked like the magic had gone out of the FA Cup. It had been five years since a team from outside the Premier League’s top four had won the trophy, while 2008 also marked the last time a second-tier side reached the final four.

However this changed last season as underdogs Wigan – in the midst of an ultimately fruitless battle to avoid relegation – shocked Premier League runners-up ManchesterCity with a 1-0 victory at Wembley.

 

Manchester City v Wigan Athletic Betting Odds

Manchester City win – 1.15

Wigan win – 17.50

Draw – 7.40

(All odds provided by GR88.com are accurate as of today and subject to change)

 

Wigan’s relegation means the sides have only met once since – City cruising to a 5-0 win in the League Cup third round (before going on to win the trophy last week). However the Latics have since appointed a new manager, Uwe Rösler, who has won more than 60% of his games in charge and reignited a play-off push in the Championship. Rösler, who turned out more than 150 times for City in his playing career, will certainly be up for this one.

Ahead of the meeting, Betting Instinct looks at some of the key battles:

 

 

  1. Sergio Agüero v Emmerson Boyce

Agüero’s absence through injury has been cited as the main reason for City’s slump, with the side losing at home in crucial matches against Chelsea and Barcelona without the Argentine. Yes, they won all but one of the games played during his spell out of action around the turn of the year, but a strikeforce of Álvaro Negredo and Edin Džeko has looked short on ideas at key moments.

Agüero has the ability to test the world’s best defenders, so one can imagine how he’ll fare against the worst player with the middle name Orlando to have played in the Premier League. Boyce misplaced a Premier League-high 109 passes in his own half in the 2012-13 season, a statistic he’s sought to improve upon by playing in a different division. And it’s worked, with no misplaced Premier League passes so far this campaign.

 

  1. Yaya Touré v James MacArthur

While Wigan’s Ben Watson was the comeback story of last year’s competition, returning from a broken leg to score the winning goal in the final Touré did the same in 2011 (apart from the broken leg bit), netting the only goal of the game as City saw off Tony Pulis’ Stoke to earn the club its first trophy in the Sheikh Mansour era.

With Watson out injured again, MacArthur will be crucial to Wigan’s chances. Proving this season that he and James McCarthy are in fact different people, the Scotsman will look to protect the defence in what will likely resemble an impression of a protester in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Still, they said the 2013 final would be one-sided too, so who knows.

 

  1. Manuel Pellegrini v  Uwe Rösler

After garnering a reputation for struggling to win trophies – somewhat unfairly considering much of his managerial career has been spent at Spanish clubs that are not Real Madrid or Barcelona – Pellegrini silence some critics by winning the League Cup last week.

Rösler’s managerial résumé is even less illustrious, with Wigan his fifth club after spells in Norway and Brentford, but he will be up for the occasion after spending several years at City back when they had more in common with Wigan’s current league standing. However it remains to be seen whether emotion and willpower will be enough – my guess is no.

 

Betting Instinct Tip – After a 5-0 win in the League Cup, City are understandably heavy favourites. The hosts to score three or more goals is 1.78 with GR88.com.

 

tvTOM VICTOR (editor)  is the editor and co-founder of Betting Instinct. He has written for a variety of sports sites in the past, including JustFootball, Footy Matters and BeNeFoot.