Arsenal fans worry, while the Hammers gear up for a fire-sale

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “Obviously, all the top brass from Fifa were there [in Japan], everyone was there, including a couple of our representatives from the FA in England. They don’t miss their trips do they? On the back of Manchester United, of course.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.

Runner-up: “Look, you have AC Milan in the Uefa Cup this season, not in the Champions League. Last season, Bayern Munich played in the Uefa Cup. They are not less prestigious clubs than any of the teams who play in the top four. In sport, you have to accept that nothing is guaranteed. Only because we achieve it [qualification] every year do people think it is guaranteed. It is not guaranteed, it is down to your performances. Yes, if you look in Europe, not many teams have been in it every year in the past ten years. We will keep in it. Don’t worry.” – Arsene Wenger.

Today’s overview: Christmas is over, bring on Boxing Day. With thousands heading to football matches all round the country this Friday, the papers fuel the football chatter with a host of transfer rumours just six days before the transfer window opens. But we begin with Arsenal.

Despite Arsene Wenger’s best effort to reassure Gunners’ fans that everything will be fine, Arsenal fans do worry. The Emirates Stadium has resembled the set of a soap opera this season, the latest doom-laden episode featuring the loss of Cesc Fàbregas, the captain and influential midfield player, with a knee injury for up to four months. It is, perhaps, one setback too far for Wenger.” In a separate article Russell Kempson looks at the Gunner’s opponent’s today, Aston Villa, focusing on the rise of Gabriel Agbonlahor (“he was blessed [at birth] in jetpropelled proportions”), Ashley Young (“another of Martin O’Neill’s tearaway tyros at Villa”) and Gareth Barry.

Harry Redknapp is gearing up for an eventful transfer window according to James Ducker, as the Tottenham boss looks to recruit “two attacking players and possibly a centre back, with Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate troubled by injuries.” The Telegraph throw down some names Tottenham may be chasing, linking the North Londoners with moves Steve Finnan, Bordeaux striker Fernando Cavenaghi and Jimmy Bullard. However the recruitment drive has kicked off with a knock-back, Jason Burt claiming “West Ham United have rejected a £6m bid from Tottenham Hotspur for their striker Craig Bellamy. The offer was received on Christmas Eve and dismissed out-of-hand.”

The Hammers though are gearing up for a fire-sale according to Chris Wheeler, after “Matthew Upson has been put up for sale by West Ham… [while] Robert Green, Scott Parker and Valon Behrami are also expected to attract interest.”

The Sun splash with Phil Thomas’ rumour that “Liverpool will make a £4million bid to bring Wigan striker Emile Heskey back to Anfield.” The Mirror’s David Maddock also picks up on the same thread, adding “Liverpool will face competition from Aston Villa for the striker’s services, but Heskey has already indicated that he wants to go back to Anfield to rejoin the club he supported as a boy.”

Trouble is brewing at Ewood Park, Chris Wheeler claiming that “Benni McCarthy is ready to add to Sam Allardyce’s problems at Blackburn by demanding to follow Roque Santa Cruz out of Ewood Park in January.”

Gareth Southgate is making preparations for the transfer window, John Edwards reporting “after reluctantly sanctioning Gary O’Neil’s request for a return to Portsmouth in the New Year, Southgate began the search for a suitable replacement and quickly set his sights on England under-21 midfielder [Ben] Watson.”

On Manchester United, Ian Herbert explains why their trip to Japan was a success pointing out “it was not so much the winning of the World Club Cup as the sense of togetherness it bred which has filled Ferguson with optimism.”

Fratton Park will be a showroom for the January sales today when Portsmouth face West Ham United, with not only players but also both clubs on the market.”

Lastly, two articles review the year that was in football. Recalling May 21st, Patrick Barclay wonders John Terry’s slip rather than Nicolas Anelka’s subsequent failure to beat Edwin van der Sar is the lasting memory of the 2008 Champions League final. And looking back at 2008 in Scotland, Roddy Forsyth recalls when the “most emotive event of the year occurred with the death of Tommy Burns. A moratorium was declared in the fixtures debate, thousands of supporters from both sides of the Old Firm divide left their tributes outside Celtic Park and the country witnessed the spectacle of Walter Smith and Ally McCoist acting as pall bearers for a much loved friend and greatly respected rival.”