Arsenal Arsene Wenger knows his side are sure to face another determined defence on Saturday, but believes in Andrey Arshavin he has a player capable of providing a key link between midfield and attack. “He can integrate well our combination game, he can move very well, he is very mobile so that is something we work on as well,” said Wenger. “He is a clever passer of the ball and that is something you need in every big team to open teams up.”
Aston Villa Curtis Davies has vowed to defy his shoulder problem for the remainder of the season and help sustain Aston Villa’s push for a Champions League spot. The central defender admits there is a weakness in his shoulder after dislocating it during the FA Cup reversal at Everton at the weekend. Davies said: “The shoulder is okay. It is a bit sore but it feels weak rather than painful. It is just a bit of a hindrance when you are trying to hold someone off but, other than that it is fine, so you get on with it.”
Blackburn Rovers Sir Alex Ferguson has tipped Sam Allardyce to keep Blackburn Rovers in the Barclays Premier League. “I am sure Sam will keep them up,” he said. “It is not easy down there. After the New Year, very seldom does a team gather the points they think. There are not many examples, West Ham a couple of years ago springs to mind, when a team goes on a long run. But that was unusual. Normally it is a point, or a point and a half per game at the most.”
Bolton Wanderers Gary Megson has been grateful for the two-week break – because of the club’s non-involvement in the FA Cup – after the 3-0 defeat at Everton as it has allowed a number of players to regain fitness. Striker Johan Elmander, midfielders Gavin McCann and Tamir Cohen and defender Nicky Hunt have all recovered from injury leaving only Joey O’Brien, who had a minor knee operation in America this week, on the sidelines. “We are getting a little bit stronger in terms of bodies available,” he said. “After the Everton game we would have liked to have played the week after but, having said that, it did give us the opportunity to get some of the players back.”
Chelsea Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill believes Guus Hiddink would find it difficult to manage both Russia and Chelsea on a permanent basis. He said: “The dual role is incredibly hard. I think there might be a reason for doing it on a short-term basis (at Chelsea). But overall, I think it would be very hard to combine an international management role with one in the Premier League over the fullness of time. I’m not sure that’s what they are looking at (at Chelsea). Eventually – when you lose a game or two – someone will accuse you of not spending enough time in one particular camp. I think it is exceptionally difficult. Nothing is impossible. Over a short period of time, I’m sure it could work but over a three or four-year period, I think that would be particularly difficult.”
Everton Phil Jagielka hopes his testing time against Spain can help him become a better player for club and country. The versatile Everton defender’s fine domestic form ensured he earned his second England cap – and first international start – in last week’s 2-0 defeat to the European Champions. He was at fault for David Villa’s opener but says he will look to use the experience as a springboard to continue his progress. “A lot of people are saying it will be a big learning curve for me,” he said. “It was a little bit nerve-wracking playing against Spain, the European champions, but it’s character building. I thought I played quite well but obviously it was my mistake that led to the goal. It was nice though, I got my first start for my country and it was a fantastic honour. Friendly games are normally a bit easier, but it’s nice to be tested against the best players.”
Fulham Two former Academy graduates and Sunday league team mates, Robert Milsom and Wayne Brown, made their Premier League debuts for Fulham at Old Trafford on Wednesday evening. After progressing through the club’s Academy ranks and Billy McKinlay’s Development Squad, Brown made an impressive debut against Bristol Rovers in last season’s FA Cup. For Milsom, the wait was 12 months longer and the midfielder was keen to impress against the likes of Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney when his chance finally arrived at the Theatre of Dreams. “I wasn’t really nervous,” revealed Milsom. “I just wanted to do the best that I could for myself in the short space of time I was on the pitch. They’re a great side with players like Paul Scholes who was running the show. To play against him was great.”
Hull City Chairman Paul Duffen has defended the club’s signing of Jimmy Bullard and dismissed any fears the player’s career may be over after he was ruled out for the season with a knee injury. Duffen said: “When he came to the club (from Fulham in January), we obviously knew what his medical history was, but the MRI scans we went through showed there wasn’t a problem with a former injury. It is definitely something, as was discovered by the surgeon, that is a new trauma. This is something that has happened since, during the game at West Ham. This isn’t a career-ending injury, this is a setback. Cruciate reconstructions are quite routine now in football and he is in the hands of the best-renowned surgeon in the world. I am sure we will see Jimmy back before too long.”
Liverpool UEFA are considering a request from Liverpool to move a Champions League match to avoid a clash with the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. Liverpool have asked if the second leg of their quarter-final – should they reach it – can be brought forward from its currently scheduled date of 15th April. That day marks exactly two decades since 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives at Hillsborough before and during an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest. Liverpool would like the match to be played on 14th April, allowing players and staff to attend a memorial service at Anfield the following day. The club have alerted UEFA, but European football’s governing body will not make a firm decision until after the last-16 ties are played and the quarter-final draw made. A UEFA spokesman said: “We have received a request and we will try our best to accommodate it, but we cannot guarantee at this stage that we will be able to.” Liverpool must first come through a two-legged tie against Real Madrid to reach the quarter-finals.
Manchester City Mark Hughes believes his side can return to domestic business with confidence after following Thursday’s UEFA Cup draw. Next up are title-chasing Liverpool on Sunday at Anfield, following the 2-2 draw against Copenhagen in the first leg of their last-32 European tie. A goal from substitute Martin Vingaard in stoppage time denied City a morale-boosting victory as a blizzard enveloped the Parken Stadium. Stephen Ireland appeared to have scored the winner in the 61st minute with a fine finish, after Ailton Almedia had hauled Copenhagen level. With Nedum Onuoha also finding the target, City have the benefit of two away goals when the return leg is played next Thursday. But Hughes’ focus is already on Liverpool, and he said: “I think we showed in this game that when teams open up against us we can cause anyone a problem. If you allow us space we can exploit it. Liverpool are making a real challenge for the Premier League and want to be in the shake-up at the end of the season. We would like to think that at times they would over-commit and we would be able to take advantage of that.”
Manchester United Dimitar Berbatov believes Manchester United have a unique talent in midfield maestro Paul Scholes. After suggesting last week the Red Devils hierarchy should consider erecting a statue of Ryan Giggs outside Old Trafford when the Welshman eventually calls time on his illustrious career, Berbatov was left thinking of more superlatives for another member of the old guard following the win over Fulham. With Giggs resting in the stands, Scholes took centre stage, scoring the opener in a 3-0 win, then illuminating the rest of United’s performance with a series of magnificent passes to which Fulham had no answer. For Berbatov it was poetry in motion. “Nobody else in the world can play the way Scholes does,” he said. “The passes he produces all over the field and the way he changes the game is brilliant. Every manager would like him. But luckily, he is here and playing with us.”
Middlesbrough Gareth Southgate has hit back at the critics who have dared to question owner Steve Gibson’s commitment to the club. With Boro in relegation trouble in the Barclays Premier League, some have become alarmed at the situation. That has led some to query the role of Gibson, the local man turned self-made millionaire who has bankrolled the club over recent years. “If he wasn’t here, we wouldn’t have a club – as simple as that,” said Southgate. “I’m amazed people could possibly question his role in anything because there would be no Middlesbrough Football Club but for his intervention in ’86, and since then. The success of the last 10 to 12 years is because he salvaged the club at the time, and he has been the one who has enabled us to have success in the cups and maintain Premier League status.”
Newcastle United Joe Kinnear is hoping to leave hospital on Sunday following a triple heart bypass operation. The 62-year-old was admitted to hospital on 7th February before Newcastle United’s 3-2 victory over West Bromwich Albion and subsequently underwent surgery last Friday. “The doctors have told me everything has gone well, I feel okay and I hope to be able to go home on Sunday,” he said.
Portsmouth Paul Hart has confirmed he and Brian Kidd are still only in caretaker charge of Portsmouth’s survival fight on a “game-to-game” basis – but that could change. A meeting between him and his self-appointed temporary first-team assistant with owner Alexandre Gaydamak could be the clearest sign yet that the pair will be given an extended run at the helm. Hart said: “The situation is pretty much the same as it was. Mr Gaydamak came down because I haven’t met him since taking this (caretaker manager) role. So he came to say hello – and also to Brian whom he hadn’t met before. Peter (Storrie) just said ‘carry on as you’ve been doing’ and that is about as far as we’ve got.”
Tony Pulis still has “great belief” that Stoke City will save themselves from relegation. He said: “I still have a great belief that we will avoid relegation. Very much so. We need our injured players back and we don’t need any other injury problems in this situation. We have 13 games to stay up and everything has to go for us now.”
Sunderland Ricky Sbragia is to take his players to Seville next week to escape the “boring” training ground. Sbragia feels some warm weather will aid the club in their battle to beat the drop from the Barclays Premier League. “We’re going to go away to Seville for a few days and do a bit of training there, and hopefully get on track,” said Sbragia. “We need to get away from the training ground. I think it’s a bit boring coming to the same place all the time. You keep coming in and the weather is not great, sometimes you can’t train because the conditions are poor. It was like that a couple of weeks ago when the snow was on the ground, so we thought we’d go away and give them a little break. We’ll do a little bit of team bonding, which I feel is important.” Sbragia feels the time is right with no game next weekend as the Black Cats were due to face Tottenham who are now otherwise engaged in the Carling Cup final with Manchester United.
Tottenham Hotspur Defender Michael Dawson acknowledges that Tottenham Hotspur face an uphill task if they are to continue their European adventure this season. Manager Harry Redknapp sent out a weakened side for the last-32 tie against Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk – and they held on until the closing stages. But goals inside the last 11 minutes from Yevgen Seleznov and Jadson means Tottenham have plenty to do in the second leg after a 2-0 defeat. And Dawson said: “I thought we did well in the first half and for the first half-hour of the second half – but what happened at the end has cost us. We knew coming to a place like this they would have a lot of the ball but we’re disappointed. It’s going to be an uphill task – but we still believe we can do it.”
West Bromwich Albion
West Bromwich Albion James Morrison insists his side are raring to go ahead of their crucial encounter with Fulham this weekend. Albion remain rooted to the foot of the Barclays Premier League table after slipping to a 3-2 defeat against fellow strugglers Newcastle in their last outing. However, following a four-day break in Spain where they undertook a spell of warm weather training, Morrison has revealed morale in the Baggies squad is high as they seek to secure their second away league win of the campaign. “It (the trip to Spain) has helped to bond the lads together ahead of the run-in to the end of the season,” he said. “The Fulham game can’t come quickly enough and after the Newcastle match we could have done with another game straight away to put things right. That game has been on our minds for a long time. We can’t wait until kick-off time on Sunday and we are desperately trying to improve on our away record.”
West Ham United
West Ham United Gianfranco Zola believes Dean Ashton will provide the “perfect” spearhead for his improving team next season. The Hammers manager will have to do without his England striker for the rest of the current campaign as he continues to recover from ankle surgery. But speaking ahead of Saturday’s Barclays Premier League match at Bolton, Zola outlined his desire to have the former Norwich frontman back to lead the line. “For me it is unfortunate because I have not had him in my side before,” he said. “It’s a big blow because I know how important he can be for us. I’m sorry especially for him though, being out so long is not an easy thing. He is one of those player whose qualities would be perfect for this team. I’m sure he would like to be involved but when he comes back he will make up for it I’m sure.”
Wigan Athletic Steve Bruce is keeping his fingers crossed red tape will not scupper his bid to sign South Korea midfielder Cho Won-hee. The 25-year-old has impressed during a trial with the Latics this week after his contract with Korean side Suwon Bluewings expired. Wigan have now submitted a work permit application but it is not certain of going through as Cho has not featured in the required 75 per cent of international matches due to injury. “We have known all about him because he has played in the Korean team, which is a very decent team, and he is typically Korean in terms of his athleticism and his work-rate,” said Bruce. “The problem we have got is the work permit criteria because, unfortunately, he missed a big chunk of the international games. About 10 months ago they had six qualifying games in the space of a month and he missed the lot of them because of injury. We have weighed that up and will put our case to them on Monday and hope we can get him in them.”