Welcome to my Arsenal blog for the 2014/15 season. Here you can read match reports, transfer news and other important things to do with Arsenal
Latest News: Arsenal draw 1-1 with Leicester, goal came from Alexis Sanchez - match report now up!

Monday, 1 September 2014

Laboured Arsenal drop points at promoted Leicester

Arsenal's somewhat laboured but unbeaten start to the season continued away to newly promoted Leicester on Sunday afternoon. Alexis Sanchez opened the scoring before Ulloa equalised minutes later for the Foxes who came away from the game with a deserved point. As for the Gunners, it signals that many improvements are needed and the same problems that we faced last season still need addressing. Writting this on deadline day it's clear that we need to sign a striker with only one natural one in Sanogo being available with Giroud's injury. However there were positives to find despite struggling against a team we should quite frankly be putting several goals past. The line-up saw a return for Ramsey who was suspended in the week against Besiktas which meant Wilshere missed out despite impressing. The Ox was back on the bench as Sanogo started up front whilst the defence were unchanged from the 1-0 win in midweek.
Alexis Sanchez scored his first goal in the Premier League
Following Arsenal's qualification into the Champions League for a 17th successive season, everyone in the club hoped that now would be the ideal time to kick on and really display our intentions. However, a draw against newly promoted Leicester was obviously not the best result to head into an international break off the back of. It was a slow performance and we struggled to create any real chances, just as the case was against Everton last week.

As much as Giroud is slated he's a much better alternative than that of Yaya Sanogo who still looks way out his depth at the moment and signing a striker in my opinion is a necessity. Sanogo was however involved in the goal but it was typical him in the fact that his miscued shot found Sanchez who was left with more or less an open net to fire into. It was the Chilean's second goal in as many games and he looks to already be paying back his hefty price tag. 

Arsenal's defence looked a bit shaky meanwhile and that was proved by the Leicester goal. Schlupp was allowed to get down the left and then Koscielny misjudged the ball to allow Ulloa to come in and head past Szczesny who arguably could've done a little better. Koscielny had to go off though and on came Chambers who looked assertive again. Nacho Monreal continued his consistent start to the season and he looks a completely different player to last season which is hugely encouraging considering Gibbs' injury troubles.

Mesut Ozil wasn't overly impressive but looks to be finding some sort of rhythm again but Santi Cazorla who was playing in a more central role, and a preferred central role looked much better than out wide. He managed to control the game quite well but we lacked that proper penetration from midfield to kick on in attack and that's why we didn't create that many chances. Again Ozil looked isolated on the left and another German, Podolski did when he came on up front which didn't surprise me.

Next up after the international break is Manchester City which will be an incredibly tough test but hopefully we'll sign one or two players on deadline day that will massively improve the team. Here's to hoping we don't get any injuries over the break too!

The teams line-ups:

Leicester: Schmeichel, Moore, De laet, Morgan, Konchesky, King, Mahrez(64), Schlupp(70), Hammond, Nugent, Ulloa(76).
Subs: Hamer, Wood, Drinkwater(76), Cambiasso, Wasilewski, Albrighton(64), Vardy(70),

Arsenal: Szczesny, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielnu(27), Monreal, Flamini, Ramsey, Cazorla(77), Sanchez, Ozil, Sanogo(77).
Subs: Martinez, Chambers(27), Wilshere, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain(77), Campbell, Podolski(77).

My man of the match: Alexis Sanchez.

Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Attendance: 31,535.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Arsenal rescue point but same problems still remain

Arsenal once more put in a far from convincing display as their slow start to the season continued. The Gunners had to come from two down against Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday evening as late strikes from Ramsey and Giroud rescued a point. It was a game of two halves and it took Wenger to make some bold changes in order for the game to turn around. Over the years matches between Everton and Arsenal have been very interesting and this was no different! Arsenal made a few changes from the opening day win as Ozil and Mertesacker returned whilst Flamini came in for the injured Arteta. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also started ahead of Santi Cazorla.
Olivier Giroud scored a vital late equaliser as Arsenal drew with Everton
It is difficult to describe exactly what Arsenal fans feel like after the draw with Everton. In some ways it feels like a win, and there is a mass sense of relief. However, you can't be happy with the way the side played. It was bold of Wenger to play quite an experimental line-up, as Alexis started up top with Ozil on the left. It was an experiment that didn't quite pay off, especially with Mertesacker playing with Chambers at the back for the first time.

It was clear to see the defense had been shuffled about and ultimately that led to our down fall, as well as the fact we had no runners when it came to our attacking phases of play. The first goal was poor marking at the back post as Ozil allowed Coleman to get round the back of him and head home a cross. As for the second one, Mertesacker was bullied by Lukaku before Chambers dived in and Flamini didn't go to his man. That all allowed Naismith to fire home despite looking slightly offside.

What was encouraging though and for the second week running was Arsenal's will and determination to not give up and to keep going. Arsenal had to go down and make some changes and the main one was that of Olivier Giroud. Sanchez hadn't particularly played as well as he could've done upfront and as a result was subbed at half time. Giroud completely changed the game around and gave us a different dimension up top and showed how valuable he can be at times. He did miss a big chance with his first touch at the beginning of the second half, blazing a volley over from close range. However he made up for that by scoring a vital headed equaliser from a Monreal cross in the dying embers of the game.

Aaron Ramsey was the player to yet again make the difference though. Another of the subs Santi Cazorla played well when he came on as he swung in a low cross to Ramsey who couldn't miss with six minutes remaining. The midfield combination of Wilshere and Ramsey hasn't seemed to work yet and it wasn't until Jack was brought off that Ramsey seemed to have more of an effect on the game. The question remains over Wilshere and he's going to really have to pick up his own game for the good of the team, and for his overall performance levels.

Arsenal's attacking play with Giroud on the pitch was very encouraging but like with all games there are negatives and despite the way we came back the defence does need addressing when it comes to these big games. Hopefully we'll see Koscielny back for the game against Leicester next weekend. First up is the second leg against Besiktas and following a 0-0 draw in Turkey, we simply have to win.

The team's line-ups:

Everton: Howard, Coleman, Distin, Jagielka, Baines, Barry, McCarthy, Mirallas(84), Pienaar(9), Lukaku(74), Naismith.
Subs: Joel, Alcaraz, Stones, Besic, Osman(9), Atsu(84), McGeady(74).

Arsenal: Szczesny, Debuchy, Chambers, Mertesacker, Monreal, Flamini, Wilshere(74), Oxlade-Chamberlain(74), Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez(45).
Subs: Martinez, Koscielny, Bellerin, Rosicky, Cazorla(74), Campbell(74), Giroud(45). 

Referee: Kevin Friend
Attendance: 39,490. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Late Ramsey goal ensures opening day victory

Arsenal were made to work to ensure they came out of their opening Premier League fixture of the season with a win. Crystal Palace were Saturday's opponents who after Tony Pulis was sacked two days before the season got underway, didn't have a manager. Many predicted because of that the Gunners would steamroller their opponents but it was far from comfortable. Crystal Palace took the lead through a corner before Koscielny equalised and then Ramsey scored a real poachers goal deep into injury time. Arsenal were unchanged from the Community Shield as Sanchez, Debuchy and Chambers were all given league debuts for the club. Yaya Sanogo meanwhile continued up front.
Aaron Ramsey's late goal rescued all three points for the Gunners
Compared to last season's opening day, a game which we lost 3-1, the weekend saw a vast improvement. That improvement wasn't really something to be admired though. It was a slow performance with little attacking penetration. If you look at the win over Manchester City the weekend before there was a lot of interchanging passes on the edge of the area but against Palace they made that difficult as they remained solid at the back and gave us little chance to play the one-two's we find so effective.

All that was proved by the goals we scored. After having gone behind to poor marking to allow Hangeland to head home, Arsenal's first goal also came from a set-piece. Alexis Sanchez floated in a free-kick and Koscielny got free of his marker to flick home the Gunners first goal of the new campaign. The second came after a bit of a goal mouth scramble. Koscielny and Giroud both got up well to keep possession and then Debuchy saw an effort saved. The ball however rebounded to Aaron Ramsey who couldn't miss as Arsenal won the game with a matter of moments left.

Arsenal's late surge was helped by a red card to Jason Puncheon. Earlier in the second half he'd been booked for challenge through the back of Ramsey but then saw red for a clumsy challenge on Nacho Monreal. Monreal had originally been on the bench but due to yet another injury to Kieran Gibbs the Spaniard came on. Nacho had had a good start to life at Arsenal but he struggled for any real consistency last season but when he did come on against Palace he looked assured and gave Arsenal another dimension down the left hand side. Is the curse of the dreaded number 18, which he now wears, finally over? Only time will tell.

There weren't many standout performances but Mathieu Debuchy once again gave Arsenal fans a reason to be happy. There were doubts when Sagna left but Debuchy has been brilliant so far and we haven't missed his fellow Frenchman at all. He's showing clear reasons as to why he's been the preferred choice at right back for the French national side and long may his fine performances continue. He already looks very committed and his passion is second to none. His celebration with Monreal after Ramsey scored backs up that point. He's certainly already one of us despite only playing two competitive games for the club.

Calum Chambers has been thrown right in at the deep end since his move from Southampton but once again slotted straight in at centre back and looked assured. Perhaps not as assured as in recent weeks but his performance was still of a high caliber and he looks the real deal. Koscielny meanwhile saved us on a couple of occasions and apart from the goal we conceded the defence didn't really look in much trouble.

The midfield weren't as good as we expect from them but Wilshere especially is beginning to find his level again. There were instances when Arsenal struggled to keep hold of the ball and that'll have to be improved in the weeks coming. Against the bigger sides it'll be punished and it almost was when Arteta gave the ball away a few times in the Community Shield. Yaya Sanogo it's fair to say has been given his fair share of opportunities but despite scoring four relatively simple goals in the Emirates Cup against Benfica, he was poor against City last week and again against Palace. Giroud gave us something different when he came on and hopefully he'll start to play regularly now he's built up his match fitness.

Next up is a tough away trip to Besiktas for the first leg of our Champions League qualifier before we face Everton away from home next weekend.

The team's line-ups:

Arsenal: Szczesny, Debuchy, Chambers, Koscielny, Gibbs(53), Arteta, Wilshere(69), Ramsey, Sanchez, Cazorla, Sanogo(62).
Subs: Martinez, Monreal(53), Coquelin, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain(69), Campbell, Giroud(62). 

Crystal Palace: Speroni, Kelly, Dann(75), Hangeland, Ward, Ledley, Jedinak, Puncheon, Bolasie(90), Chamakh, Campbell(85).
Subs: Hennessey, McCarthy, O'Keefe(90), Delaney(75), Bannan, Gayle(85), Murray.

My man of the match: Mathieu Debuchy.

Referee: Jonathon Moss.
Attendance: 59,962.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Arsenal win Community Shield with victory over Man City

Arsenal started the new season in the way they finished the last one, by winning a trophy. Sunday afternoon saw the Gunners take on League winners Manchester City in the Community Shield at Wembley, and despite both sides having weakened line-ups, it was Arsenal who ran out victors with a 3-0 win. Arsenal hadn't had the best pre-season possible having lost 2 out of the 4 games they played but they showed no form of rustiness with a brilliant counter attacking display against City. Alexis Sanchez, Calum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy all made their competitive debuts whilst new captain Mikel Arteta started in midfield. With Giroud lacking match fitness Sanogo started up front following his four goals against Benfica in the Emirates Cup.
It was a very comfortable display from Arsenal who dominated for many periods of the game and weren't really troubled by a City side who were lacking in strength due to a number of their World Cup players not featuring. Arsenal were without the likes of Ozil, Mertesacker and Podolski but that didn't seem to matter as Cazorla, Ramsey and Giroud sealed another win at Wembley for Arsenal.

Santi Cazorla's goal came at a time where we had been putting an unerring amount of pressure on City. The Spaniard, back from an unsuccessful World Cup campaign, put that all behind him as he swiveled and put the ball onto his left foot before firing past former team mate Willy Caballero in the City goal. The second goal was taken brilliantly by Aaron Ramsey as he linked up with Yaya Sanogo before flicking the ball over the defenders leg and firing into the far corner. The game was to be settled by a bit of rare individual brilliance from Olivier Giroud. He got the ball 30 yards out from goal and hit a dipping effort which sailed into the net for undoubtedly his best goal in the red and white of Arsenal.

Olivier Giroud was bizarrely given the man of the match award despite only playing the second half. In my opinion the young Calum Chambers at centre half deserved it for an outstanding performance. A few eye brows were raised at the £16m price-tag but that has all been forgotten after some brilliant displays at the Emirates Cup were followed up by an excellent display of defending yesterday against City. For such a young player he has adapted remarkably well and looks as though he's been playing for years. He's very assured and composed on the ball, whilst his decision making and reading of the game is also brilliant. He reminds me a little bit of Per Mertesacker, just younger and with obviously more pace.

The other debutantes meanwhile also put in a solid shift. I was a bit apprehensive about the signing of Mathieu Debuchy but having seen him play yesterday he's an absolute warrior and gave his all for the team. He got stuck in and made some brilliant tackles which contributed to a comfortable defensive display for the Gunners. Alexis Sanchez ran himself into the ground in the first half before being substituted at half time. He never stopped running and could've had a goal and a number of assists to himself.
Arsenal lifted the Community Shield for the first time in 10 years
With the Germans to come back into the side, everything looks very positive at Arsenal at the moment. One or two more additions and I think we'd be set but providing the players stay relatively injury free we should be there or there abouts in terms of the Premier League this season. Our first game of the season is against Palace and here's to hoping it'll be a lot lot better than 2013/14's opening day!

The teams line-ups:

Arsenal: Szczesny, Debuchy, Chambers, Koscielny(45), Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey(83), Wilshere(67), Sanchez(45), Cazorla(70), Sanogo(45). 
Subs: Martinez, Monreal(45), Flamini(67), Rosicky(70), Oxlade-Chamberlain(45), Campbell(83), Giroud(45). 

Manchester City: Caballero, Clichy, Boyata, Nastasic, Kolarov(75), Fernando, Toure(60), Navas(83), Nasri(45), Dzeko(60), Jovetic. 
Subs: Hart, Richards(75), Rekik, Zucilini(60), Milner(60), Silva(45), Sinclair(83). 

My man of the match: Calum Chambers.

Referee: Michael Oliver.
Attendance: 71,523. 

Thursday, 12 June 2014

World Cup Preview; Groups G & H

In the final part of my preview ahead of this year's World Cup in Brazil, I explore both Groups G and H.

Group G:

Germany: The Germans are being tipped as widely one of the favourites to go far, and maybe even win the tournament. They've finished in third place at the last two World Cup's and came second in 2002. It will be up to Joachim Low's 'nearly men' to go further and win their fourth world title. It's extremely hard to pick a weakness in their squad. They have arguably the best keeper in the world, a mix of youth and experience, a solid defence, a vast amount of creative players and Miroslav Klose who is just two goals away from scoring the most goals at a World Cup finals by an individual player. Aside from Brazil, I think Germany are one of the teams with the most pressure on them at this years tournament. Prediction: I think they will at least makes the semi-finals and could possibly go onto reach the final and maybe even win it.

Portugal: They go into this World Cup with possibly one of their worst crop of players they have ever had. Saying that, they do have the best player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo who has the potential to win games on his own for Portgual. They reached the finals through a play-off win over Sweden and their side not having a renowned striker means they may not live up to their full billing. Their defence looks decent but in Bruno Alves and Pepe they may pick up a lot of cards, meanwhile their midfield will probably be ran by Joao Moutinho of Monaco. Prediction: Behind Germany it's a three horse race to see who will qualify in what is being named the Group of Death. However, because of Ronaldo I think they'll just about scrape through.

Ghana: In 2010 the Ghanians managed to reach the quarter-finals and have the potential to perhaps go far again but will probably come unstuck against Germany and Portugal by their leaky defence. They have a great midfield and attack with incredibly depth though which means they should be fine when it comes to scoring and creating goals. Kevin Prince-Boateng, Asamoah Gyan, Essien, Muntari and the Ayew brothers will be big players for them. Prediction: Have the potential to harm Portugal and therefore may make it out of the group, I think they'll just fall short and finish third though.

USA: The Americans may have a tough time at this years World Cup but have plenty of experience. However, their defence could be exposed against the greatness of the attacks of the other teams in their group. They themselves have a decent attack in Dempsey and Altidore. They meanwhile have Jermaine Jones who used to play for Schalke and also Tim Howard in goal. Landon Donavon was surprisingly not included in the squad and that could prove to be a mistake. The US managed to draw with England in 2010 but you feel that Germany and Portugal will be a bridge too far for them in Brazil. Prediction: Bottom of the group having not won a game, a dismal tournament for Jurgen Klinsmann's men.

Group H:

Belgium:  Belgium could prove to this years surprise package and are filled with some amazing talent that could see them go far in the competition. The finished top of their qualifying group having not lost a game and they'll look to take that form into Brazil. For all their amazing talent, Hazard, Kompany, Witsel, Courtois etc, they could struggle due to Benteke being out injured and Lukaku only just returning from an ankle injury. Therefore their hopes could rest upon young Divock Origi to score the goals. What could get them far though is their extremely solid defence and the strength in depth in the midfield department. Prediction: I think they'll top the group but the last 16 could be the limit for the Red Devils.

Algeria: This time round the Algerian's will be hoping that they can actually score a goal at this year's tournament, let alone get any points in their group. In South Africa they didn't score a single goal but this time round a lot of their players play in Europe's top five leagues. The man to watch for them will most likely be Valencia's Sofiane Feghouli. Their forward line doesn't look great but they have depth in midfield and that could be crucial if the Algerian's want to progress. Prediction: Like with 2010, I think they'll finish bottom of their group having not won a game.

Russia: The Russian's go into this World Cup managed by former England boss Fabio Capello and could cause an upset along the way. It's a very interesting group and it's hard to tell who will probably follow Belgium into the last sixteen. Like with a few of the other teams in Brazil, they have a good mix of youth and experience to call upon. Ignashevich is a very experienced defender whilst their goalkeeper, Igor Akinfeev isn't too bad either. Alan Dzagoev impressed at Euro 2012 and is their main creative outlet. Meanwhile, they will be relying upon Alexsandr Kerzhakov to bag them the goals needed to progress. Prediction: Second in the group, but knocked out in the last 16.

South Korea: With the group the South Koreans are in, they have the potential to get out of it but they don't usually seem to click when it matters. They're in poor form going into the World Cup and a 4-0 defeat to Ghana proved that. Their defence will probably be their man downfall but their midfield and striking department isn't all that bad. Park Ji Sung usually seems to perform well for South Korea whilst the also have ex-Sunderland player Ji Dong-Won and Leverkusen's Son Heung-Min to call upon. Meanwhile, Ki from Sunderland and Lee from Bolton have both been included in the squad. Prediction: I've said with many teams that they have potential and South Korea are one of those nations that definitely fall into that category. I can see them getting out of the group, but I can also see them failing, and that's what I think they'll do by finishing third in what looks an interesting group on paper.

World Cup preview; Groups E & F

Carrying on from my previews of the first four groups yesterday, I now take a look at groups E & F at this year's World Cup in Brazil.

Group E:

Ecuador:  This will be just the South American's third appearance at a World Cup final's and they've been placed in a pretty interesting group that could become quite tight with the teams in it. They're a team with plenty of pace in their attacking areas and that is outlined by former Man City striker Felipe Caicedo and Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia. Frickson Erazo should bring them some solidity at the back and will be used to the conditions as he currently plays for Brazilian side Flamengo. They recently drew 2-2 with England which means on their day they could perhaps cause an upset for the French and Swiss. Prediction: Fourth in the group having lost every game.

Switzerland: The Swiss are ranked pretty highly in the FIFA World Rankings, and are one of the seeded teams believe it or not. They are an extremely efficient side and were the only team to beat the 2010 winners Spain at the last World Cup. I wouldn't be surprised if they went far in the competition but with people favouring the American sides, they may come unstuck later in the tournament. They have a nice mix of youth and experience which should serve them well. Barnetta is one to watch, as is Bayern's Xherdan Shaqiri. Their defence meanwhile consists of Djourou and Senderos which some might feel is a big fault. However, in Diego Benaglio they have a solid goalkeeper. Prediction: Second in the group behind France but to bow out in the last 16.

France: The French go into this competition off the back of a disastrous 2010 campaign which sparked a lot of controversy within the French national side. They only qualified for these finals through a play-off too and even with that they were 2-0 down to Ukraine after the first leg. However they now look a rejuvenated side and their worst looks to be behind them. You feel they will be a little short when it comes to the latter stages but they do have some real quality in the team. They'll have to live with the absence of Frank Ribery though who will miss the World Cup through injury. They look very solid at the back, have some good creative outlets and have Giroud & Benzema up front. Prediction: Despite their recent troubles I'm tipping them to top the group and go onto reach the quarters.

Honduras: Like Ecuador, this will be Hondorus' third appearance at a World Cup. They managed to finish above of Mexico in qualifying which is an achievement but you can't see them doing particularly well in Brazil. They drew 0-0 with England meaning, like with Ecuador they could perhaps spring a few surprises knowing they can match one of the better sides in World football. Their ability to score goals will be reliant upon Carlo Costly whilst they also bolster Stoke's Wilson Palacios, Hull's Maynor Figueroa and Wigan's Roger Espinoza. Prediction: Won't get out of the group but will win their only game against Ecuador to finish in third.

Group F:

Argentina:  Argentina are being tipped as one of the favourites to win the tournament but I personally can't see all the hype. The conditions are being talked about a lot and that's probably why pundits see them going far. Many of their renowned players don't seem to perform on the biggest stage of them all though. Lionel Messi will be absolutely pivotal but he is yet to really show what he can do internationally. Their star studded attack is obviously one of the main reasons they could go far, Aguero and Higuain with of course Messi is freighting. Their midfield is perhaps the only weakness in a squad with Di Maria being their main creative outlet. Zabaleta, Garay and Mascherano means they should be solid at the back though. Prediction: Definitely have the potential to go far in the competition. I think at most they can reach the semi-finals but other people seem to think differently.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: This is Bosnia's first appearance at a World Cup finals as an independent nation but it's difficult to predict how they'll do. They do have some extremely good talent and if they play well then they could be a team to watch in Brazil. Edin Dzeko of course will be pivotal to their side, as will midfielder Miralem Pjanic. They meanwhile boast goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and if he has a good tournament, then Bosnia could be a difficult team to score against. Prediction: May well make it out of the group but their lack of major tournament experience could prove to be their downfall. I think they'll finish second in the group though but get knocked out in the last 16.

Iran: Now, I'm going to admit, my knowledge of Iranian football isn't very extensive, and that probably just about sums up their chances at this year's World Cup in Brazil. They are managed by former Manchester United assistant manager, Carlos Queiroz which means they certainly should be tactically astute. Their main player will probably be Fulham's Ashkan Dejagah whilst they also have former Bolton man, Andranik Teymourian in their squad. Prediction: Not really difficult to predict how they'll fare in Brazil, bottom of the group without winning a game.

Nigeria: The Super Eagles come into this tournament off the back of a continental win with the African Cup of Nations at the beginning of last year. They meanwhile also participated in the Confederations Cup so will have already had experience of what to expect in Brazil. They could perhaps make it out of their group but they will be reliant on their attack which consists of Emenike and Odemwingie whilst also bolstering the non-scoring Shola Ameobi. They have pace on the wings in Moses and Musa but their defence, against Argentina, will probably be ripped to shreds. Prediction: Third in the group, just behind Bosnia.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

World Cup Preview; Groups C & D

Following on from my take on Group A and B, here's a preview of what's in store in terms of Group C and D in Brazil.

Group C:

Colombia: Colombia’s first World Cup since 1998 will see them have to go through a campaign without their talisman Falcao. They are expected to do well at this year’s tournament and that’s even without their star man who scored nine teams in qualifying. In attack they still have Jackson Martinez, Bacca and Adrian Ramos who will guarantee you goals though. Meanwhile, they have a talented midfield with the likes of Guarin, James Rodriguez and Barca bound Cuadrado. Prediction: Will safely get out of the group but will get knocked out in the last 16.

Greece: Group C has the potential to be very interesting and Greece will be one of the teams trying to finish second in the group to Colombia. They are a well organised group of players but they could struggle in the intense Brazilian heat. They are an extremely experienced side as well and bolster the likes of Samaras, Karagounis, Salpingidis and Katsouranis. On paper they don’t look like such a bad side but lack that extreme quality that is needed on the big stage. They will probably be over reliant on Mitroglou’s goals. Prediction: Despite what I’ve said about them, I think they’ll finish bottom of what will be a tight group.

Ivory Coast: The elephants never seemed to have lived up to expectation despite the fantastic array of players they have in their squad. They’re deadly going forward but their defensive capabilities could be questioned, and if they are to perform they need to sharpen things up defensively. Gervinho, Drogba and Yaya Toure are all big players and if they do well Ivory Coast should do well. Prediction: Second in the group but knocked out in the last 16.

Japan: Japan seemed to play fairly well at last year’s Confederations Cup and therefore may fancy their chances in Group C. On their day they are an extremely dangerous side but many of their players have proved to be extremely inconsistent. Honda and Kagawa are great creative outlets meaning Okazaki should score goals throughout. They meanwhile have the hugely experienced Endo in midfield and Southampton’s Maya Yoshida at the back. Prediction: Third just behind Ivory Coast. 

Group D:

Uruguay: The South American side are expected to do quite well, providing they get out of their group of course. In South Africa they finished in fourth place, and arguably, many of their players are now a lot better. Luis Suarez of course will be crucial, as will Cavani. Their defensive, like a few sides at the World Cup, can be questioned but in Godin and Muslera they have some reliability. Prediction: Will get out of the group in either first or second place.

Costa Rica: Costa Rica, as one of football’s minnows probably have, aside from Australia, the toughest group if you consider their football status. They have only qualified for three World Cup’s aside from Brazil and you can’t see how they’ll get any points in this group. Their defence doesn’t look great but in Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz they have quality going forward. Prediction: Bottom of the group with no points.

England: Perhaps the lowest expectation for an English World Cup squad in a very long time means we could actually surprise a few teams. Our preparation hasn’t exactly been amazing but our team is very exciting if you compare it to the one we took to South Africa. Wayne Rooney is yet to show what he’s made of at international level and he’ll be crucial to whether we go far in the competition. What is encouraging though is our defence looking solid, and our pace going forward. The conditions definitely don’t suit us though and we’ll have to be extremely patient and take our chances in this tough group. Prediction: We’ll just about scrape through the group, and could go onto reach the quarter-finals.

Italy: Before preparation began for the World Cup I saw Italy as a serious threat to our position in the group, however, on second thoughts they don’t actually look a great side. Their form isn’t great and their opening fixture against England could fizzle out into a boring 0-0 draw. They have obvious qualities in the form of Pirlo, Balotelli and Chiellini but seem to lack that deadly end product. Prediction: I’m going to be brave here and say they won’t get out of the group like four years ago. It’s certainly all up for grabs in Group D though.