Arsenal v Shakhtar Donetsk: Preview

After Arsène Wenger used his programme notes for Saturday’s clash with Birmingham City at the Emirates to – somewhat predictably – weigh into the heated debate about over-zealous tackling currently doing the rounds , the Frenchman perhaps shouldn’t have been too surprised to then watch Samir Nasri and Emmanuel Eboué kick lumps out of City’s Liam Ridgewell, before 5ft. 8ins Jack Wilshere toppled 6ft. 7½ ins Nikola Žigi? with what could only be politely described as a clumsy lunge. Perhaps he should have picked on someone his own size.

Wenger – to his credit – admitted that Wilshere’s red card was warranted, but after heading into a game where they would have been the ones expected to be on the end of the tasty challenges, the Arsenal players have been experiencing life on the other side of the coin this week as they prepare for the Champions League visit of Shakhtar Donetsk.

“When I tackled him I didn’t want to kill him,” said Eboué of the forceful challenge on Ridgewell that earned him a yellow card. “When I did that tackle I didn’t go through the back. I just wanted to touch the ball.

“The referee (Martin Atkinson) spoke to me after the game and said, ‘Emmanuel, I know you touched the ball but the tackle was very dangerous’. I just said, ‘OK, no problem’. Next time I will be more careful.

“We are not a dirty team. Everyone knows we like to play football and make everyone happy when we play and we like to score. What happened on Saturday is finished. Now when we play we just have to play football and be careful on the pitch.”

Their efforts to ‘play football’ could be helped tonight with the possible return of captain Cesc Fàbregas, who returns after injuring a hamstring at Sunderland a month ago. The skipper may have to be patient though.

“Cesc has prepared well,” said Wenger, whose side take on the only other side in Group H with two wins from two matches tonight. “He had a little setback, but got over the hurdle and is ready to play at full fitness, but whether I start him or not, I do not know yet.

“It will be whether I take a gamble or not, because he has been out for a long time. But physically he is ready and fit – and wanting to play.

“You know his influence on our team, he is our leader, our passer, he has a good level of assists and a good goalscoring record. Ideally you want him in the team.”

Understatements about his captain aside, Wenger will know all about the threat that the Ukrainians of Shakhtar possess – or more specifically their Brazilians.

Samba stars Jádson, Luiz Adriano, Willian and Fernandinho were all key members of the Shakhtar side that won the Uefa Cup in 2009, and while the latter misses out here through injury, the quartet take their place in an impressive squad that also includes Croatian captain Darijo Srna and Ukrainian defender Dmytro Chygrynskiy – back home after a €25million move to Barcelona didn’t exactly work out.

Shakhtar were one of Fulham’s victims during their improbable run to the Europa League final last season, but supporters of the west Londoners claimed that they were the toughest opposition they faced en route, and the north Londoners from the Emirates may be about find out why tonight.

Arsenal should win, and move clear at the top of a group that – on paper – looks to be so simple that it’s not too fanciful to believe that Wenger picked it himself.

You can only beat what’s put in front of you though, and Arsenal do that better than most.

Another win here then, but perhaps with a few less tackles this time.

You will do well to Vouch and place bet for Arsenal to win. 1.38 home win at NaijaBet

Hercules v Villarreal Preview

Villarreal can go top of the Primera Liga if they can beat Hercules tonight. (kick-off 20.00 BST)

Villarreal can go a point clear of Real Madrid if they wrap up a sixth straight victory in Alicante, but midfielder Bruno Soriano has warned his side they must not take Hercules lightly.

The newly-promoted side have already claimed the scalps of Barcelona and Sevilla, and Soriano does not want him and his team-mates added to that list at the Estadio Jose Rico Perez.

He said: “It’s a very difficult game. Hercules, without running down the other sides who came up this year, are a very strong team.

“They’ve signed well and won at grounds and against teams that are very difficult. They’ve strengthened with important and experienced players like David Trezeguet and Royston Drenthe.

“We will be careful, although it’s clear that neither are we going to make it easy for them.”

3.60 home win at NaijaBet

Arsenal v West Brom: Preview

Midfielder Alex Song is available again after being suspended for the midweek Carling Cup win at Tottenham.

Captain Cesc Fabregas (hamstring) and centre-half Thomas Vermaelen (Achilles) will both miss out, but, along with left-back Kieran Gibbs (foot), could return against Chelsea next weekend.

Theo Walcott, Robin van Persie (both ankle), Nicklas Bendtner (groin) and Aaron Ramsey (leg) remain sidelined.

Fabregas will undoubtedly be a big loss, but manager Arsene Wenger is hoping he will return in time for next week’s crunch clash with Chelsea.

“I hope that he will be ready for the Chelsea match and that he will be fine,” said Wenger. “But at the moment we don’t know, it’s too early.”

West Brom defender Gabriel Tamas and winger Jerome Thomas are fitness doubts.

Tamas is struggling to overcome a calf problem and, if he is ruled out, is likely to be replaced by Pablo Ibanez.

Ibanez’s only previous league start was in the 6-0 reversal at Chelsea. Thomas is suffering from a groin injury and Cameroon international Somen Tchoyi is on standby.

Roberto Di Matteo has told Wenger that West Brom will adopt a physical but fair approach.

Albion head coach Di Matteo has sympathy for Wenger’s demands that referees adopt a strong stance in protecting players from reckless challenges.

But the former Chelsea star also insists that proper tackling is part of the English game.

Di Matteo said: “My opinion is that football is a contact sport. Part of it is physicality – but it needs to be fair.

“Referees have to be strong and make sure the game is conducted in a fair manner where no players get injured. They need to protect the players.

“Sometimes it is just an unfortunate challenge, sometimes it is challenges that can be avoided when a player gets injured.

“It has got to be fair. No one wants to see players getting injured or breaking legs.

“I don’t know what category we find ourselves in at the moment. We want to be competitive but we are not the bad boys of the Premier League at the moment.”

Chelsea v Arsenal-Tips

All the key facts and stats ahead of the Premier League clash at Stamford Bridge.

Didier Drogba has scored 12 goals in his last 10 appearances in all competitions against Arsenal.

The Gunners have only been able to win two of their last 17 matches against Chelsea.

Arsenal have won more times away at Chelsea (6) than any other team in the Premier League era.

Nicolas Anelka has scored seven goals in his last 11 Premier League starts against Arsenal.

Arsenal’s recent record against Chelsea and Manchester United since their win at Stamford Bridge in November 2008: P9 W0 D1 L8 F5 A20.

Chelsea have fired in more shots on target than any other team (47), ahead of Arsenal with the second-highest tally of 41.

Both goals Chelsea have conceded have been from shots from outside the box.

Mike Dean has awarded five penalties in the last seven games that he has taken charge of a Chelsea match in the Premier League.

Andrey Arshavin has created 3.33 goalscoring chances per game in the Premier League this season, more than any other player in the league.

Michael Essien has averaged 95 touches per game this season, more than any other top-flight player.

I am sure you can decide who to place your bet on at Naijabet.com

Tips: Liverpool v Arsenal

Liverpool (2.5) Draw (3.3) Arsenal (3)
Liverpool have started their competitive season already with 2 games in the Europa League. They are looking a lot better this season and with the new signings I expect them to do a better. Arsenal have been tipped again by many to run close to winning the league. I am not too sure. They are over rated in my eyes and they showed it at the end of last season. I am looking at the odds here for a Liverpool win and I can’t believe they are 2.5. Arsenal did the double over Liverpool last year so maybe that explains it but this year they have a new mananger and some great new signings. Liverpool win for me, its 2.5 at VC Bet. Another bet worth considering is both teams to score. Thats 2.0 at bluesquare. Looking at the stats, in the last 10 games, it would have come in 9 times.