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Free transfer XI – Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand

Fancy Cole, Rio AND Lampard Meet the all-star XI your club could have for FREE

PUBLISHED:

10:53 GMT, 2 January 2013

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UPDATED:

11:40 GMT, 2 January 2013

The January transfer window has swung open once again as clubs clamour to bolster their squads for the second half of the Premier League season.

Whether it's Manchester City spending the millions in a bid to help them to a second successive title or Wigan scrambling around for a bargain to help stave off relegation, you can be sure of a busy month ahead.

But for clubs prepared to wait a little longer, there are some sumptuous signings to be made in the summer… for absolutely nothing.

With players now free to sign pre-contract deals with foreign clubs, Sportsmail guides you through who is available.

THE ULTIMATE FREEBIE XI (4-4-2)

Schwarzer (Fulham); A Cole
(Chelsea), Carragher (Liverpool), Ferdinand (Man United), Gallas
(Tottenham); Giggs (Man United), P Neville (Everton), Scholes (Man
United), Lampard (Chelsea); C Cole (West Ham), Walcott (Arsenal)

Theo Walcott
ARSENAL: Theo Walcott, Andrey Arshavin, Sebastien Squillaci, Emmanuel Frimpong, Lukasz Fabianski

Richard Dunne
ASTON VILLA: Richard Dunne, Andy Marshall, Eric Lichaj

Chelsea's Frank Lampard
CHELSEA: Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Florent Malouda, Paulo Ferreira, Hilario, Ross Turnbull

Phil Neville
EVERTON: Phil Neville, Sylvain Distin, Jan Mucha

Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer
FULHAM: Mladen Petric, Damien Duff, Mark Schwarzer, Chris Baird,
Philippe Senderos, Mahamadou Diarra, Giorgos Karagounis, Brede
Hangeland, Neil Etheridge

Jamie Carragher
LIVERPOOL: Jamie Carragher, Doni

Kolo Toure
MANCHESTER CITY: Kolo Toure, Richard Wright

Rio Ferdinand
MANCHESTER UNITED: Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs

Danny Simpson
NEWCASTLE: Steve Harper, Xisco, Danny Simpson

Simeon Jackson
NORWICH: Elliott Ward, Marc Tierney, Simeon Jackson

Ryan Nelson
QPR: Kieron Dyer, Brian Murphy, Clint Hill, Shaun Derry, Radek Cerny, Ryan Nelsen

Jay Tabb
READING: Stuart Taylor, Ian Harte, Brynjar Gunnarsson, Noel Hunt, Jay Tabb, Alex Pearce, Simon Church

Jason Puncheon
SOUTHAMPTON: Frazer Richardson, Richard Chaplow, Danny Butterfield, Artur Boruc, Jason Puncheon

Dean Whitehead
STOKE: Michael Owen, Matthew Upson, Carlo Nash, Rory Delap, Dean Whitehead, Ryan Shotton

Frazer Campbell
SUNDERLAND: Titus Bramble, Louis Saha, Matt Kilgallon, Fraizer Campbell

Luke Moore, Swansea City
SWANSEA: Gerhard Tremmel, Luke Moore, Dwight Tiendalli, Mark Gower

William Gallas
TOTTENHAM: William Gallas, Carlo Cudicini

Zoltan Gera, West Bromwich Albion
WEST BROM: Boaz Myhill, Marc-Antoine Fortune, Steven Reid, Zoltan Gera, Goran Popov, Chris Brunt, Gonzalo Jara, Luke Daniels, Yassine El Ghanassy

Carlton Cole
WEST HAM: Jussi Jaaskelainen, Gary O’Neil, Freddie Piquionne, Winston Reid, Joey O’Brien, Carlton Cole

Maynor Figueroa
WIGAN: Maynor Figueroa, Callum McManaman, Franco Di Santo, Albert
Crusat, Piscu, Mike Pollitt, Ronnie Stam, David Jones, Emmerson Boyce,
Antolin Alcaraz

Premier League half-term report 2012-13

Premier League half-term report: The good, the bad and the ugly from the season so far

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UPDATED:

23:30 GMT, 27 December 2012

With the halfway point of the Premier League season having been reached on Boxing Day, Sportsmail's team of football correspondents run the rule over the campaign so far and consider what lays in store over the coming months for each and every top flight club…

Top of the pile: Manchester United moved seven points clear with a Boxing Day win over Newcastle

Top of the pile: Manchester United moved seven points clear with a Boxing Day win over Newcastle

ARSENAL (Sami Mokbel)

SIMON JONES’ transfer verdict

Transfer budget: 70m

Want: Striker, winger, defensive midfield, right back, left back

Targets: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke), Demba Ba (Newcastle), Luiz
Adriano (Shakhtar), Nani (Man Utd), Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace), Momo
Diame (West Ham), Kieran Trippier (Burnley)

To go: Theo Walcott, Bacary Sagna, Andrey Arshavin, Andre Santos

The season so far in a tweet (140 characters or less)
It's been a struggle for #AFC – just when you think Arsene Wenger has turned it around, along comes a result like they had at Bradford

Thumbs up for
Santi Cazorla: Simply a brilliant footballer and surely one of the buys of the season. Makes Arsenal's midfield tick and has even chipped in with a few goals. Keeping him fit will be vital for the Gunners.

Thumbs down for
Gervinho: Started the season promisingly but has had an alarming dip in form. His confidence looks shot to pieces and looked out of his depth in THAT defeat at League Two Bradford. His trip to the Africa Cup of Nations could be a blessing.

Star man: Cazorla (centre) has been a revelation for Arsenal this season

Star man: Cazorla (centre) has been a revelation for Arsenal this season

How's the boss doing
Despite his seven seasons without a trophy, Arsene Wenger's job remains one of the safest in Europe. He is, however, starting to come under fire from the supporters that have been so staunch in his defence during the trophy drought. But write Wenger off at your peril. Qualification for next season's Champions League will be one of his greatest achievements yet.

Fans' verdict
Wenger's done a brilliant job at Arsenal but he is in danger of ruining his legacy. I don't think we should sack him, but one of my main reasons behind that is because I don't think there is anyone out there who could do a better job. He has got some excellent players: Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla – but the rest are mediocre and we have to remember these are all his signings.
Brian Chriss, Croydon

ASTON VILLA (Neil Moxley)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Budget: 6m (dependent on sales)

Want: Striker

Targets: Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Derek Boateng (Dnipro), Raoul Loe (Osasuna)

To go: Darren Bent, Richard Dunne

The season so far in a tweet
Poor start. Lambert stands by kids and results pick up. Glory beckons in League Cup then disaster at end of year

Thumbs up for
Nathan Baker: Benteke dominates the headlines and keeper Brad Guzan, defender Matthew Lowton and midfielder Ashley Westwood have caught the eye. But Baker’s emergence as the fulcrum of the back three tops the lot.

Thumbs down for
Darren Bent: Villa boss Paul Lambert has called the striker’s bluff. The club prospers without him. What next for the England international and Villa’s 24m club record signing

Frozen out: Bent lost his starting place before injury struck

Frozen out: Bent lost his starting place before injury struck

How’s the boss doing
Was given a huge mandate by Villa supporters desperate to see the back of Alex McLeish. At first, it failed to deliver but the youngsters – the average age of Villa’s team is just 23 – did provide a spark of vitality. The fans have given them time but the last two results raise big questions. Villa are in trouble.

Fans’ verdict
Made an excellent start with the resources, backed up with some good buys. He’s rooted out the ones who don’t want to play for us, regardless of who they are and what they cost. We might need some experience in midfield – or someone to link defence and attack. I think top ten beckons.
Mark Hateley, Warwickshire

CHELSEA (Matt Barlow)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 40m

Want: Striker, left back, defensive midfield

Targets: Andre Schurrle (Bayer Leverkusen), Radamel Falcao (Atletico
Madrid), Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid), Lucas (Liverpool), Benat (Real
Betis), Paulinho (Corinthians), Nacho Monreal (Malaga)

To go: Daniel Sturridge, Florent Malouda

The season so far in a tweet
#CFC’s usual blend of all-conquering, early-season swagger followed by utter disarray. Crises ensue: record breaking CL crash, managerial change. Yet still in touch at the PL summit. Just

Thumbs up for
Juan Mata: the briefest flash of Mata can brighten the soul but he delivers so much more in terms of vital goals and assists. The creative heartbeat, and he could do with more help.

Thumbs down for
Eden Hazard: promised so much in the opening weeks with explosive pace and power but has been quickly neutralised by PL defences and must work hard to find new ways to make his undoubted talent a effective again in an attacking sense because he offers very little to the team defensively.

Mercurial talent: Mata has made Chelsea tick this season

Mercurial talent: Mata has made Chelsea tick this season

How’s the boss doing
Well, the first one seemed to be doing OK, all things considered, but it all unravelled quickly and they sacked him, because they never really liked him. Then the new one came in on a short-term deal, didn’t win for three games but has tightened them up again at the back and may have unlocked the goals for Fernando Torres.

Fans’ verdict
We became a farce sacking the man who won us the Champions League but things have calmed down under Benitez, even though we still don’t like him. Oscar is great, Mata is brilliant and we can hopefully win a trophy or two.
James Gardiner, Surrey

EVERTON (Dominic King)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 2m

Want: Centre back, midfield, striker

Targets: Vegard Forren (Molde), Lewis Holtby (Schalke), John Stones (Barnsley), Vadis Odjida-Ofoe (Bruges)

To go: John Heitinga

The season so far in a tweet
Having shaken off their tag as perennial slow starters, @Everton have given themselves a real chance to end a three-year hiatus from Europe.

Thumbs up for
Leighton Baines: Can justifiably claim to be the best left back in the Premier League at present. It’s not often someone in his position is the first name on the team-sheet but he defends superbly and is Everton’s main chance creator.

Thumbs down for
Marouane Fellaini: While his performances cannot be faulted, the Belgian blotted his copybook spectacularly when assaulting Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross. It was not the behaviour of an Everton player and his three-game absence from the team could yet prove costly.

Hero to villain: Fellaini had started the season in exceptional form for Everton

Hero to villain: Fellaini had started the season in exceptional form for Everton

How’s the boss doing
It is difficult to pick holes in the job David Moyes is doing at present. He has reinvented the style with which Everton play and they are now much more vibrant than pragmatic. He has again demonstrated his expertise in the transfer market and looks totally content in his work. Moyes knows there is a big opportunity in front of Everton.

Fans’ verdict
It's been a good but frustrating season so far. A couple of sloppy second half displays aside (Reading and Fulham), we have dominated games and only for some terrible refereeing decisions we would have more points to show for it. I'm genuinely optimistic going forward. Our home form has been great and top sides fear coming to Goodison plus we are now going away expecting to pick up points. It's imperative to keep Fellaini, Baines and Jelavic fit as squad our squad is still a bit thin. But we can push on and finish top four and above Liverpool for the second year running.
Mark Jackson, Liverpool

FULHAM (Laura Williamson)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 10m

Want: Goalkeeper, defender, midfielder

Targets: Paul Robinson (Blackburn), Vegard Forren (Molde), Derek Boateng
(Dnipro), Omar El Khaddouri (Napoli), Raul Garcia (Atletico Madrid),
Leo Baptistao (Rayo Vallecano)

To go: None

The season so far in a tweet
Started well but still hopeless away and struggling now. Goals aplenty (at both ends). Losing Dempsey & Dembele a blow but Berbatov so good. #FFC

Thumbs up for
Dimitar Berbatov: He has not scored enough goals but has brought a work-rate and style that could grace any team. Bryan Ruiz’s hamstring injury was disappointing as the pair seemed to be striking up quite a (long-sleeved, glove-wearing) creative partnership.

Thumbs down for
Mark Schwarzer: The Australian goalkeeper seems to have been such a consistently high performer for so long, but the errors have been creeping in ever more frequently. Just two clean sheets since he celebrated his 40th birthday on October 6.

Maverick: The signing of Berbatov has proved a shrewd piece of business

Maverick: The signing of Berbatov has proved a shrewd piece of business

How’s the boss doing
Injuries have not been kind to Martin Jol, but his team remain highly unpredictable and prone both to scoring and conceding high numbers of goals. A mid-table finish should not be a problem, which would be quite an achievement for the Dutchman, given he has slowly but steadily overseen the rebuilding of the team that was so successful under Roy Hodgson.

Fans’ verdict
I’m pleased to have Martin Jol. We needed his experience and guile to get through some major personnel changes, especially losing our entire midfield. We’re a high-scoring side, but that masks our real defensive fragility, which became so evident when Brede Hangeland was suspended for three games recently. I remain upbeat, but a mid-table finish will not be easy.
John Pearse, Bromley

Liverpool (Dominic King)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 20m

Want: Strikers, left back, goalkeeper

Targets: Thomas Ince (Blackpool), Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Danny Rose (Tottenham)

To go: Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, Jay Spearing

The season so far in a tweet
Signs of improvement from @LFC but, equally, must do better & little doubt squad needs strengthening before they can challenge for top four

Thumbs up for
Luis Suarez: The best striker in the Premier League and has, at times, single-handedly carried Liverpool through difficult spells. Also showing now that he can be a great goalscorer rather than a scorer of great goals; he is crucial to Liverpool’s ambitions.

Thumbs down for
Fabio Borini: Brought in from Roma at a cost of 10million, the Italian has looked ill-equipped to cope with the demands of English football. He hasn’t scored in the Premier League and has been out for three months with injury.

King Luis: Suarez has netted 11 times already this season

King Luis: Suarez has netted 11 times already this season

How’s the boss doing
It has not been easy for Brendan Rodgers in the six months he has been at the helm. Though there have been some encouraging performances to go alongside qualification for the Europa League knockout phase, he has made some mistakes and there are still elements of Liverpool’s support who are reserving judgement on him. His enthusiasm, however, cannot be faulted.

Fans’ verdict
The imminent arrival of Daniel Sturridge worries me. On one hand, I'm not sure he is the player we need. But on the other I know how badly the club is run and wonder if this is just another output of poor ownership / leadership. Also the system we are playing doesn't get the best out of Stevie Gerrard. We don't have enough good players to not maximise his abilities.
Mike Fitzharris, Liverpool

MANCHESTER CITY (Ian Ladyman)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 30m (dependent on sales)

Want: Striker, midfielder

Targets: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke), Radamel Falcao (Atletico
Madrid), Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid), Fernando Llorente (Athletic
Bilbao), Paulinho (Corinthians), Benat (Real Betis)

To go: Joleon Lescott, Edin Dzeko, Mario Balotelli, John Guidetti

The season so far in a tweet
Hardly recognise this team from the one that made season 2011/12 so special. Where is the excitement The passion The goals Mancini needs to sort it. #disappointed

Thumbs up for
Pablo Zabaleta: If everyone had his desire to give his all and wring every ounce from every performance then City wouldn’t have a problem. The perfect pro.

Thumbs down for
Mario Balotelli: What else is there left to say So much promise during Euro 2012 and so little end-product at City. Last chance saloon time now.

Warrior: Zabaleta has been a rare bright spark for Man City

Warrior: Zabaleta has been a rare bright spark for Man City

How’s the boss doing
Mancini is a Barclays Premier League title and FA Cup winner so he deserves time. There have been chinks in the armour this season, though. Doesn’t always look to be in control.

Fans’ verdict
I will never forget what this team did for me last year. Unbelievable. But the bar has been raised in terms of expectations now and I have to say that I am not that happy with the way we have gone about things this season.
Steve Ryan, Manchester

MANCHESTER UNITED (Chris Wheeler)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 30m

Want: Goalkeeper, left back, centre midfield, winger

Targets: Asmir Begovic (Stoke), Nacho Monreal (Malaga), Angelo Ogbonna
(Torino), Alen Halilovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Sime Vrsaljko (Dinamo Zagreb)

To go: Nani, Anders Lindegaard

The season so far in a tweet
Erratic. Top of the table and through in Europe, but United know they can’t afford to go behind as often as they have been doing

Thumbs up for
Robin van Persie: The Dutchman was brought in from Arsenal for 24million in the summer to make a difference and he’s certainly done that. Where would United be without Van Persie’s goals so far this season

Thumbs down for
Nani: Booked in the third minute of the opening defeat to Everton and it’s gone downhill from there. On the rare occasion he plays, the Portugal winger looks like a man who knows his future lies away from Old Trafford.

Dutch of class: Van Persie goals have helped fire United to the top of the table

Dutch of class: Van Persie goals have helped fire United to the top of the table

How’s the boss doing
As well as ever and, thanks to Harvard University, we now know how he’s doing it. There is little doubt that Sir Alex Ferguson is coming to the end of a wonderful career, but the challenge of Manchester City has given him a new lease of life and the ambition is still burning to go out in style.

Fans’ verdict
It’s been a great start to the season without playing to the best of our ability. Van Persie has been a brilliant signing and he’ll be a massive player if we’re going to take the title off City. The Premier League’s already looking promising, and if we can get past Real who’s to say we can’t go all the way in the Champions League as well.
Chris Lloyd, South Manchester

NEWCASTLE (Colin Young)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 15m

Want: Striker, midfield, centre back, right back

Targets: Loic Remy (Marseille), Mathieu Debuchy (Lille), Momo Diame (West Ham), Andy Carroll (Liverpool)

To go: Demba Ba, Danny Simpson

The season so far in a tweet
Europa League, the dubious reward for last season’s heroics has taken its toll but #nufc are a good performance away from getting their season back on track

Thumbs up for
Hatem Ben Arfa: The injury to Newcastle’s outstanding playmaker comes at the worst possible time for Alan Pardew. The French midfielder has been brilliant throughout the season while others have struggled and his match-winning abilities will be sorely missed.

Thumbs down for
Papiss Cisse: He could not stop scoring when he arrived a year ago, netting 13 in 14. The form, the confidence and the prowess has deserted him in front of goal, and on the wings and he doesn’t look happy.

Jekyll and Hyde: Cisse (right) has struggled with form since August

Jekyll and Hyde: Cisse (right) has struggled with form since August

How’s the boss doing
Alan Pardew has been unable to exert his influence on his players on the training ground because of the European campaign, which has been a success so far. But it has hit the league campaign and, unlike last season, Newcastle have leaked messy goals which have cost them games.

Fans’ verdict
It has been a poor and disappointing first half of the season. We should have invested in the summer, they knew we were in the Europa League would struggle to cope, not sold Danny Guthrie and bought more quality so we didn’t have to rely on kids like Bigirimana who looks a good prospect, but not ready yet. Saying that, I am confident we will get better with injured players back. I hope Ba stays, but I have my doubts.
Reuben Horner, Newcastle

NORWICH CITY (Laurie Whitwell)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 4m

Want: Striker

Targets: Leigh Griffiths (Wolves), Raoul Loe (Osasuna)

To go: None

Season in a tweet
Jekyll and Hyde from last season but producing similarly good results. Defensive stability has replaced goals to keep club on the up

Thumbs up for
Sebastien Bassong: Secured from Tottenham for a bargain fee in the summer, the Cameroonian has brought strength and calm to central defence. Only once have Norwich conceded more than a single goal when he has played. Chipped in with two valuable strikes too.

Thumbs down for
Grant Holt: He brings invaluable link up play and presence to the Norwich team, but is finding goals harder to come by in his second top-flight season. He netted 15 times in the Premier League last year but, as we approach halfway, only four this.

Floored: Holt has not lived up to the high standards he set last season

Floored: Holt has not lived up to the high standards he set last season

How’s the boss doing
Chris Hughton had a tough task to follow in the footsteps of Paul Lambert, but the 53-year-old has managed it with aplomb. Finally given (a little) money to spend after having to sell players at Newcastle and Birmingham, he has picked wisely. The first-choice back four is all his own and can shut out the best attacks. A little sparkle up front might be welcome.

Fans’ verdict
It was a summer of turmoil but most fans thought Hughton was the right appointment. Worries emerged after a very shaky start but he has turned it around and we look settled. There were only three clean sheets all last season but five already this. Finding goals hard to come by, though, and maybe that could be addressed. Everyone would settle for just staying up.
Tom Goodywn, Norwich

QPR (Sami Mokbel)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 15m (dependent on sales)

Want: Left back, centre back, striker

Targets: Nicolas Anelka (Shanghai), Darren Bent (Aston Villa), Michael
Dawson (Tottenham), Andros Townsend (Tottenham), Sylvain Distin
(Everton), Richard Dunne (Aston Villa)

To go: Clint Hill

Season in a tweet
Simply put: a disaster. Tony Fernandes and his allies are facing financial oblivion with QPR's relegation fight. Can Harry Redknapp save them

Thumbs up for
Jamie Mackie: Put his heart and soul into every performance and has become an important part of Harry Redknapp's new regime. QPR players have been accused of only being at the club for money – that's not something you could level at Mackie.

Thumbs down for
Jose Bosingwa: Coming off the back of Chelsea's Champions League triumph, the Portuguese should have been full of vigour going into the new chapter of his career. Wrong. He's been poor, underlined by his refusal to sit on the bench for QPR's win against Fulham.

Disaster: Tony Fernandes' millions have failed to bring QPR success

Disaster: Tony Fernandes' millions have failed to bring QPR success

How's the boss doing
After a promising start of four games unbeaten – including their first Premier League win of the campaign – Harry Redknapp is starting to see the size of the task in front of him after two consecutive defeats against Newcastle and West Brom. But if anyone can save QPR then surely it's Redknapp.

Fans' verdict
We believed Mark Hughes when he said we would not be in another
relegation scrap under his watch. How wrong we were to trust him. The
season truly has been one to forget and the problem is that if we do get
relegated, which is looking increasingly likely, then I fear it will
take years for us to come back up.
Colin Barber, Banstead

READING (Sam Cunningham)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 15m

Want: Goalkeeper, central defenders, midfielder, strikers

Targets: Paul Robinson (Blackburn), Andrey Arshavin (Arsenal), Carlos Sanchez (Rangers de Talca), Raoul Loe (Osasuna)

To go: None

The season so far in a tweet
Not good enough. Already cut adrift of safety & if they’re not careful their season will be over soon. Can score goals, dreadful at the back

Thumbs up for
Garath McCleary: Almost quit football six years ago with a nasty leg break. But a summer move to Reading provided the 25-year-old with his first experience of Premier League football and he’s featured regularly this season.

Thumbs down for
Danny Guthrie: Joined the club in June on big wages and was the kind of player with Premier League experience McDermott has highlighted that will keep them in the league. But he’s had three separate spats with his boss in just six months. That and a thigh injury have meant he’s had little impact.

Feeling the heat: Brian McDermott's Reading are six points adrift of safety

Feeling the heat: Brian McDermott's Reading are six points adrift of safety

How’s the boss doing
Struggling. Has the full backing of the owner but two crucial summer signings – Pavel Pogrebnyak and Danny Guthrie – have not paid off. The Russian striker has not found the goalscoring form he had at the end of last season at Fulham and Reading’s other forwards don’t look like scoring consistently. Guthrie was supposed to bring Premier League experience in the centre of the park but has been more of a disruption. Injuries have not helped.

Fans’ verdict
When we lost the 2011 play-off final, Sir John Madejski said we were better off in the Championship than struggling higher up; after five months back in the top flight I find myself agreeing. Despite Brian McDermott’s assurances that it’s a good time to be a Royal, abject performances at Southampton and Sunderland leave things looking bleak. I wasn’t expecting too much, but now I’m just desperately hoping McDermott remains the man to turn things around.
Dave Ivermee, 24, Reading

STOKE (John Edwards)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 8m

Want: Left back, winger, striker

Targets: Martin Olsson (Blackburn), Michael Dawson (Tottenham)

To go: Cameron Jerome, Kenwyne Jones, Jermaine Pennant, Wilson Palacios

Season in a tweet
Not difficult to see where the main problem lies. Goals have not been flowing but defence is good. Eighth place is a more telling stat, though. Pulis still working his magic

Thumbs up for
Steven Nzonzi: The summer signing could have been custom built for Stoke, but he’s a big player in terms of technique, as well as physique. Keeps the ball well and has hardly wasted a single pass. A real bargain from Blackburn.

Thumbs down for
Charlie Adam: It may be harsh to single out Adam, but there is a feeling he has yet to show Stoke fans his true capabilities and that there is surely more to come. Only glimpses from the former Liverpool midfielder so far.

Class act: Nzonzi arrived in the summer from Blackburn

Class act: Nzonzi arrived in the summer from Blackburn

How’s the boss doing
Pulis has had to contend with a few whispers that he may have taken Stoke as far as he can. Oh no he hasn’t. Stoke are still no-one’s favourite opponents but are starting to show they have more to their armoury than a succession of long balls and long throws. They can play, as well, and full credit to Pulis for that.

Fans’ verdict
I’m old enough to remember trawling round places like Exeter, Hartlepool and Darlington, so anyone criticising Tony Pulis has a short memory. I doubted whether I would ever see us back in the top flight, but here we are, holding our own and steadily improving with signings like Peter Crouch and Charlie Adam. That’s down to Pulis and chairman Peter Coates.
Allan Smith, Stoke

SOUTHAMPTON (Sam Cunningham)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 10m

Want: Goalkeeper, central defender, midfielder, striker

Targets: Paul Robinson, Scott Dann (Blackburn), Carlos Sanchez (Rangers de Talca), Gary Hooper (Celtic)

To go: Artur Boruc

The season so far in a tweet
What a turnaround. Looked lost in the Premier League, bottom after 10 games. But Adkins has managed to get them competing at this level.

Thumbs up for
Jason Puncheon: Back in January his relatively short Southampton career looked over. He played barely any part in their successive promotions but is now a regular in the first team and is their top-scoring midfielder with four goals in 14 matches.

Thumbs down for
Artur Boruc: The summer signing has played only two games at the club, and they might be his last. The goalkeeper threw a bottle at his own fans following defeat to Tottenham, on his home debut, and hasn’t played since.

Packing a punch: Pacy winger Puncheon (second left) has been making up for lost time

Packing a punch: Pacy winger Puncheon (second left) has been making up for lost time

How’s the boss doing
Nigel Adkins certainly knows how to learn fast. Two seasons ago he took over the club in League One. Only six years ago he was a physio at Scunthorpe. He looked out of his depth at the start of the season and was close to losing his job, but he responded with results on the pitch and knows how to get his players performing.

Fans’ verdict
Southampton have showed plenty of promise this season, especially going forward. The team have adapted to the ruthlessness of this league and we’re beginning to beat teams confidently now that our defence is more assured. Our attacking style of play has been exciting to watch, especially against the bigger teams that have been expecting us to defend for 90 minutes.
James Simmons, Southampton

SUNDERLAND (Colin Young)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 15m

Want: Striker, centre back, midfield

Targets: John Guidetti (Manchester City), Gary Hooper (Celtic), Leo
Baptistao (Rayo Vallecano), Michael Dawson (Tottenham), John Stones
(Barnsley)

To go: None

The season so far in a tweet
A struggle at first and #safc have missed opps to pick up wins against fellow strugglers. Thankfully Fletcher has been scoring and things better now

Thumbs up for
Danny Rose: Steven Fletcher has scored most of the goals and Simon Mignolet has kept them out but the real star has been on-loan Spurs defender Rose. No wonder Sunderland fans have been urging Martin O’Neill to sign him.

Thumbs down for
James McClean: He could do no wrong a year ago but defenders have wised up and doubled up on the Irish winger. To his credit he has persevered, and his manager has kept faith, but only McClean can get himself out of the rut.

Loan ranger: England Under 21 international Rose has impressed at left back

Loan ranger: England Under 21 international Rose has impressed at left back

How’s the boss doing
Martin O’Neill knew this season would be a struggle but even he must have been disappointed with the early return from a squad including 20million worth of new signings Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson. He took time to bed in at Villa and Leicester and needs more time, patience and money to deliver for Sunderland.

Fans’ verdict
It’s been underwhelming, especially after the signing of Adam Johnson and Steven Fletcher but I am convinced Martin O’Neill is the right man for the job. Fletcher has been an excellent signing and we just need more players to reach his level – Johnson has been a disappointment, but there are signs recently, as have Sessegnon and McClean. The one thing we do need is to keep hold of Martin O’Neill and I can’t understand the idiots who want him out after a year. He’s got the track record and he is a very good manager who builds good football teams.

SWANSEA (Riath Al-Samarrai)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 10m

Want: Striker, midfielder

Targets: Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Leo Baptistao (Rayo Vallecano), Mark Davies (Bolton), Matt Phillips (Blackpool)

To go: None

The season so far in a tweet
More excitement, more goals, more points. Life at the Liberty after Brendan Rodgers has not been so bleak after all.

Thumbs up for
Michu: Surely, at 2million, he is the signing of the season. His goals get all the attention – 13 so far and he isn’t a striker – but he is also a superb playmaker and a tireless worker when he hasn’t got possession.

Thumbs down for
Ashley Williams: One of the club’s most dependable players last season has been poor by his own standards this time round, typified by a string of calamities that led to goals early in the campaign. Illness and injury haven’t helped.

Prolific: Michu reached the halfway point in the season as the Premier League's joint-top scorer

Prolific: Michu reached the halfway point in the season as the Premier League's joint-top scorer

How’s the boss doing
Superbly. He had a few teething problems early on as some players grumbled about his methods, but he has taken the Swansea of Brendan Rodgers and improved it. The team is now more aggressive and also has a more effective Plan B, with Michu’s height enabling them to switch from the tiki-taka stuff when necessary.

Fans’ verdict
Michael Laudrup has kept the emphasis on possession but has also injected a greater sense of urgency into the way we play. The result is a team that is more dynamic, more exciting to watch, and, crucially, is scoring more goals. He’s also succeeded in adding depth to the squad. It can be hard to comprehend how far we’ve come.
Joseph Allen, Haverfordwest

TOTTENHAM (Laura Williamson)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 30m

Want: Left back, midfield, striker

Targets: Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao), Andy Carroll (Liverpool),
Wesley Sneijder (Inter), Yann M’Vila (Rennes), Zeki Fryers (Standard
Liege), Massadio Haidara (Nancy), Cristian Atsu (Porto), Carlos Andres
Sanchez (River Plate)

To go: Carlo Cudicini, Heurelho Gomes

The season so far in a tweet
We’re #THFC, we sing what we want, beat #MUFC at Old Trafford & would prefer to play games that only last 80 mins. Defoe & Bale on fire

Thumbs up for
Jermain Defoe: The highest English goal-scorer in the Premier League, Defoe has shouldered the burden for Spurs so far this season, playing up front alone or with Emmanuel Adebayor and averaging a goal every two games.

Thumbs down for
William Gallas: Time seems to be catching up with the 35-year-old central defender, although Andre Villas-Boas still prefers him over Michael Dawson. If matches ended after 80 minutes Spurs would be second in the table: is this down to concentration or fatigue

Goal-den patch: Defoe (right) has been prolific for Spurs this season

Goal-den patch: Defoe (right) has been prolific for Spurs this season

How’s the boss doing
A solid but unspectacular B+ for AVB so far. Spurs are fourth in the table, after all, but are just two points above Arsenal who are supposedly drowning in a crisis of their own making. Villas-Boas’ faith in Defoe has been repaid with goals, switching to 4-4-2 has worked well and Spurs have progressed in the Europa League, but the jury is still out.

Fans’ verdict
I still haven’t made my mind up about AVB, but we’re in a good position heading into Christmas – although it could have been even better if we ever played the full 90 minutes and stopped conceding late goals. If we add a couple of quality signings in January, improve our concentration and put a run together I’m confident we can achieve a top four place.
Paul Williams, Hove

WEST BROM (Neil Moxley)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 6m

Want: Goalkeeper, striker

Targets: Paul Robinson (Blackburn), Raoul Loe (Osasuna)

To go: Jerome Thomas, Chris Wood

The season so far in a tweet
Brill start for Clarke. Has built on what RH left behind. Industrious. Strong at home, dangerous away. Injuries an issue. #moretocome

Thumbs up for
James Morrison: Has finally found his rightful position, just behind the main striker, threading it all together. Baggies far less dangerous when he isn’t about.

Thumbs down for
Marcus Rosenberg: The Sweden international has not really shown anything to suggest he will be a hit in the Premier League.

New lease of life: Morrison (right) has revelled in a more advanced role

New lease of life: Morrison (right) has revelled in a more advanced role

How’s the boss doing
Most West Brom fans – and head coach Clarke – would recognise that the club was in a healthy state when he arrived. But so far has had the good sense not to mend that which doesn’t need fixing. Promising.

Fans’ verdict
There was a slight air of uncertainty because Clarke had never been a No 1 before. But with the start he made, it has settled everyone’s anxieties. It’s a similar style to that used by Roy Hodgson but perhaps less rigid. He seems to have a good bunch of players. I’m still not sure whether we are punching above our weight or not.
Steve Fisher, Kingswinford

WEST HAM (Laurie Whitwell)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 8m

Want: Striker, right winger, right back

Targets: Miralem Sulejmani (Ajax), Sean Maguire (Waterford), John Brayford (Derby)

To go: Momo Diame

The season so far in a tweet
Bubbles blowing high at Upton Park. Steel and, yes, silk have been blended to climb safely into top half. Spirit makes Europe not impossible

Thumbs up for
Mark Noble: The original Eastender has been West Ham’s fulcrum, starting attacks from deep midfield and often dictating tempo. After years of promise the 25-year-old has even received England backing. Causes opposition panic with free-kicks and offers a cool head for penalties.

Thumbs down for
Matt Jarvis: Perhaps suffering from the pressure of being the club’s record purchase, the England winger has yet to hit heights he showed at Wolves. Not truly sparked or taken command of a game, an expected return form 10.75million of investment.

Midfield general: Noble has excelled for West Ham on their return to the top flight

Midfield general: Noble has excelled for West Ham on their return to the top flight

How’s the boss doing
Sam Allardyce has comprehensively won over the faithful by introducing his style: winning. The 58-year-old is never slow to reveal his dogma, that of getting points, and the alacrity with which he speaks only instils belief in the squad. Signings have been made wisely, although he would probably like to expand his trim squad for the second half of the season.

Fans’ verdict
We have enjoyed one of our best starts to a top flight season and much of that is down to the excellent home form. With eight matches played, Arsenal are the only away team to have left with all three points. We’ve been in the top half all season but the magic 40-point mark remains the main target. Hopefully we can reach that as soon as possible.
Graeme Howlett, KUMB.com editor

WIGAN (John Edwards)

SIMON JONES’ transfer watch:

Transfer budget: 5m

Want: Right wing back, midfielder, striker

Targets: Roger Espinoza (Sporting Kansas – agreed), Ferrie Bodde (free agent), Angelo Henriquez (Man Utd loan)

To go: Franco di Santo

The season so far in a tweet
Mixed fortunes, as ever, but keep the faith, Wigan fans. Roberto Martinez certainly will. The one constant about inconsistent, unpredictable Wigan is they will entertain

Thumbs up for
Ivan Ramis: After a shaky debut, the former Mallorca centre-back has adapted brilliantly to the demands of the Barclays Premier League and become a rock at the heart of Wigan’s defence. Already a firm favourite with Wigan fans.

Thumbs down for
Jean Beausejour: Made an immediate impact after signing from Birmingham last January but has done nothing but frustrate so far this season. Ability to go past defenders seems to have deserted him.

Defying the odds: Martinez faces yet another relegation battle

Defying the odds: Martinez faces yet another relegation battle

How’s the boss doing
Martinez has an unshakeable belief in his attacking principles, and ability to get the best out of players, and, by and large, it is proving well founded. Continues to defy the odds, given Wigan’s resources, and surely destined for greater things before too long. One of the most innovative, forward-thinking coaches around.

Fans’ verdict
The main problem so far has been refereeing decisions, rather than performances. Maynor Fugueroa’s early red card at Newcastle, for a challenge you see every week, was a prime example. Injuries have hindered us, but we have played some great stuff. There could be more to come, too, with one or two January signings and no-one leaving.
Jason Taylor, Wigan

Jack Wilshere to make Arsenal return

Wilshere lined up for Arsenal return in U21 clash with West Brom next week

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UPDATED:

22:02 GMT, 25 September 2012

Arsenal plan to give Jack Wilshere his first taste of competitive football in more than a year on Monday.

The midfielder has missed the last 14 months with foot, ankle and knee injuries.

But Wilshere is closing in on a first-team comeback, having returned to full training last Thursday.

Back in action: Jack Wilshere (right) in training for Arsenal

Back in action: Jack Wilshere (right) in training for Arsenal

And manager Arsene Wenger has pinpointed Monday’s Under 21 clash against West Brom for the England international to take his next step on the road to full recovery.

Wenger and his backroom team will keep a close eye on Wilshere during training and if they don’t feel he is ready for next week’s game, Wilshere will focus on playing in the U21 clash with Reading on October 8.

Further behind-closed-doors friendlies could also be arranged to give the midfielder more game time before his eagerly awaited first-team return.

Wenger has been pleasantly surprised by Wilshere’s fitness and performance levels since his return to full training.

Nevertheless, the Arsenal boss will resist any temptation to include Wilshere in his plans for Wednesday’s Capital One Cup clash against Coventry as he takes a cautious approach to his influential star’s return.

Wenger will make a host of changes from the side that started against Manchester City on Sunday, with Olivier Giroud, Andrey Arshavin and Andre Santos all set to feature. Long-term absentee Emmanuel Frimpong is set for a place on the bench.

Welcome: Wilshere has been out of action for 14 months

Welcome: Wilshere has been out of action for 14 months

Welcome: Wilshere has been out of action for 14 months

Talented youngsters including highly-rated Serge Gnabry are also likely to face the League One side.

‘We want to put out a talented side that has a good chance to win the game,’ said Wenger. ‘We will give a chance to players who have not played. The players that did not play on Sunday will get a chance and it’s an opportunity to show what they can do.’

Andrey Arshavin move from Arsenal to Zenit St Petersburg collapsed

Mystery surrounds collapse of Arshavin's Russian return with Zenit

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UPDATED:

11:42 GMT, 7 September 2012


Staying put: Andrey Arshavin remains at Arsenal

Staying put: Andrey Arshavin remains at Arsenal

Zenit St Petersburg insist they are perplexed as to why Andrey Arshavin's move back to his homeland collapsed on Russian transfer deadline day.

Arshavin is no longer part of Arsene Wenger's plans at Arsenal and spent the second half of last season back on loan at Zenit, his first club.

And with three clubs all seeking to sign Arshavin on Thursday it appeared his Emirates Stadium days were numbered, with Arsenal agreeing to let him go for nothing.

But Zenit general director Maxim Mitrofanov said that, although the free transfer was agreed between the clubs, Arshavin himself held the key to the deal falling through.

Up for a fight: Arshavin appears set to battle for his future at Arsenal

Up for a fight: Arshavin appears set to battle for his future at Arsenal

And Mitrofanov insisted he did not know why Arshavin had pulled the plug.

'We’d been talking about (a free transfer) with Arsenal for a long time. It was one of two absolute conditions for us,' Mitrofanov told RAI Novosti.

'Only Arshavin himself knows the second condition.'

Big-spending Zenit this week stunned football by splashing out over 70m on Porto striker Hulk and Benfica midfielder Axel Witsel.

But Arshavin, 31, appears to have rejected the move in favour of fighting for his place in the Arsenal lineup.

Zenit, Dynamo Moscow and CSKA Moscow were all interested in former Russia captain.

But on Thursday afternoon Dynamo Moscow manager Dan Petrescu revealed Arshavin had turned down a move to the Russian capital. He said: 'I wanted him, but he said no.'

Nicklas Bendtner too fat say Juventus

Bendtner too fat, say Juve as striker plays catch up with Serie A side

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 5 September 2012

Arsenal outcast Nicklas Bendtner has been branded too fat by Juventus coaching staff just days after signing up for a season-long loan.

The Denmark striker was given permission by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger to miss a large portion of summer training in order to find himself a new club following his year on loan at Sunderland.

But the lack of pre-season conditioning has caught up with Bendtner, 24, with Juve coaches saying he is carrying too much weight to play in Serie A.

Too fat Nicklas Bendtner has been accused of piling on the pounds

Too fat Nicklas Bendtner has been accused of piling on the pounds

In addition to worries over Bendtner’s waistline, former Juve midfielder Alessio Tacchinardi has questioned what impact the self-styled ‘best striker in the world’ would have in Turin.

‘I will not say Bendtner is a bad player,’ said Tacchinardi, one of the club’s 50 ‘legends’. ‘But he does not help improve Juventus, either.’

Selling Bendtner and fellow flop Andrey Arshavin were two key summer objectives for Arsenal, given their respective wages of 52,000 and 80,000 a week.

But, while the club offloaded the Dane on loan, they have struggled to find a buyer for Arshavin.

Zenit
St Petersburg, Dynamo Moscow and CSKA Moscow have made enquiries about
the attacking midfielder ahead of today’s Russian transfer deadline.

Italian job: Bendtner signed for Juventus last week

Italian job: Bendtner signed for Juventus last week

Arsenal wanted 5million for Arshavin at the start of the summer but now accept they will have to settle for a lot less.

Fabio Capello in dark over Russia post

Capello in dark over Russia job despite Arshavin's claim that he's already got it

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UPDATED:

20:56 GMT, 14 July 2012

Fabio Capello was still waiting to hear if he is to be Russia's new coach on Saturday night.

Contrary to claims made by Russia's captain Andrey Arshavin, no news has been received by Capello.

None the wiser: Fabio Capello is unaware whether he has the Russia job

None the wiser: Fabio Capello is unaware whether he has the Russia job

The former England manager's son, Pierfilippo, said: 'Perhaps Arshavin already knows something we don't, since he knows the Russia FA so well.

'But our position is that Fabio went to Moscow on Thursday and had his interview and we are expecting to hear something in the next few days.'

Andrey Arshavin could go back to Zenit St Petersburg

Zenit want Arshavin back AGAIN as Arsenal seek to offload Russian

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UPDATED:

22:31 GMT, 11 July 2012

Zenit St Petersburg boss Luciano Spalletti could make a move for Arsenal's Andrey Arshavin.

The Italian is also an admirer of Manchester United winger Nani and Chelsea target Hulk as he revealed Zenit were hoping to sign 'top-level' players.

Flop: Arsenal loaned Andrey Arshavin back to Zenit St Petersburg last season

Flop: Arsenal loaned Andrey Arshavin back to Zenit St Petersburg last season

Qatari side Al-Sadd are also keen on 31-year-old Arshavin.

Spalletti said: 'He is one of the players who can strengthen Zenit. When a team win the league by almost 15 points you need to look for players like that.'

Euro 2012: Andrey Arshavin argues with fans

It's your fault we were knocked out! Arshavin under fire after arguing with fans

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UPDATED:

23:01 GMT, 17 June 2012

Andrey Arshavin is facing widespread calls to be axed from the Russia team after reportedly arguing with fans after the country's Euro 2012 exit.

The Arsenal forward struggled to keep his cool when confronted in the lobby of Warsaw's luxury Bristol Hotel after the shock 1-0 defeat by Greece, according to Oleg Koshelev, a journalist with Russian media outlet Gazeta.

'The fact that we didn't meet your expectations is not our problem – it's your problem,' he reportedly told fans.

Exit: Andrey Arshavin makes for the team bus after Russia were knocked out

Exit: Andrey Arshavin makes for the team bus after Russia were knocked out

Euro 2012 email button

The honorary president of the Russian FA Vyacheslav Koloskov strongly condemned the 31-year-old.

'Such words are not worthy of the captain,' he said. 'Arshavin has never been in the position of traveling across the country to support the team at his own expense.

'The whole team should bow down to these guys. Fans come to see good football, total commitment from players and the willingness to stand up for their country.

'Instead, the captain says it's not the players' problem, but the fans' problem.

'I believe that such a captain should not be in the team.'

During the exchange, Arshavin was apparently made aware that he was talking to a member of the Russian parliament.

Arshavin is said to have replied: 'When I am at the Duma I will present a report in front of you.

'We lost because we didn't score and Greece scored. Nothing will change because of these discussions.' Fans, coaches and former players reacted with anger to the report, and former Spartak Moscow striker Valery Reingold said: 'Arshavin is impudent and a lout, a person who reached the limit of insolence.

Shock: Russia were stunned by Greece in the final group game

Shock: Russia were stunned by Greece in the final group game

'The team suffers for his antics. A coach like Viktor Ponedelnik would kick him you know where and send him back to Arsenal, or wherever he's playing now.
'This is a spoiled kid who can't plow a field.'

The Russian FA's former press spokesman called for current FA president Sergey Fursenko to quit and said Arshavin should be 'permanently deprived of the right to play for the national team'.

Arshavin has returned to Moscow with team-mates but is yet to respond. His usual post-match interview on his official website said simply: 'So far I have nothing to say.'

None of the players would speak to journalists and virtually all snubbed fans as they checked out of the Bristol Hotel on Sunday morning.

Alan Dzagoev was one of the few to be praised, receiving shouts of 'good lad' as he boarded the team bus, but he looked glum on what was his 22nd birthday.

All change: Russia had looked dangerous after their opening game but fell away

All change: Russia had looked dangerous after their opening game but fell away

Arshavin refused to speak to journalists on arrival at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport. Dzagoev was the only member of the squad who would answer questions. No fans arrived to greet the team.

Arshavin did however tell Sport-Express: 'Of course I wanted to play better in the tournament. 'People like to point fingers. Throughout my career, so much has been poured on both on me and my teams that another bucket doesn't make a lot of difference.

'Every man will find the explanation that he wants to find (for our failure).

'I definitely want to be in the fight to get to the World Cup.'

'I'm going to relax for a week. I have a valid contract (with Arsenal), so the question of my employment is not so acute. But it is possible there will be options.'

Dick Advocaat: Russia need to be sharper

Advocaat: Four-star Russia need to be sharper despite easy win in opener

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UPDATED:

00:44 GMT, 9 June 2012

Russia coach Dick Advocaat declared himself pleased with his side's impressive 4-1 victory over Group A rivals Czech Republic in Wroclaw, but warned their finishing must improve to have a chance of winning Euro 2012.

While the final scoreline was comprehensive courtesy of a double from midfielder Alan Dzagoev and further strikes from Roman Shirokov and substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko, Russia also missed a host of presentable chances.

On the mark: Roman Pavlyuchenko

Pointing out problems: Dick Advocaat

Pointing out problems: Dick Advocaat (right) says strikers need to be sharper, but Roman Pavlyuchenko (left) did all he could coming of the bench to score

Euro 2012

Striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov was the most notable offender, and when Vaclav Pilar made it 2-1 just after the interval it looked as though Russia's profligacy would prove costly.

Dzagoev's second and Pavlyuchenko's effort eventually sealed the win, which was inspired by a brilliant display from Arsenal's Andrey Arshavin.

But Advocaat knows his side cannot afford to pass up the sort of opportunities they created with regularity against Michal Bilek's side.

Double for the Dutchman: Alan Dzagoev scored twice to please Advocaat

Double for the Dutchman: Alan Dzagoev scored twice to please Advocaat

The Dutchman said: 'We are quite happy, we scored four goals and in any international game that is a very good result.

'We could have scored more goals, in fact we should have scored more as we had a lot of chances.

'At 2-1 we made it very difficult for ourselves so we have to get better at that because maybe a better team would have scored more against us.

'It could have been 2-2, there were moments where we need to be sharper, at certain points they had a lot of space and were very dangerous.

Guilty: Aleksandr Kerzhakov misses a host of chances

Guilty: Aleksandr Kerzhakov misses a host of chances

'But this was our first game and we are really happy with the result.'

Advocaat reserved particular praise for Arshavin, who is currently on loan at Zenit St Petersburg, after his superb display of midfield artistry.

He said: 'He worked very hard and he played very well. He is a very important player for us for the way we play and he was very, very good. I am very positive about him.'

For Czech coach Bilek the result made for a miserable start to their campaign, and he knows his team will have to regroup quickly ahead of their meeting with Greece on Tuesday.

Bleak for Bilek: Czech Republic's head coach knows win against Greece is vital

Bleak for Bilek: Czech Republic's head coach knows win against Greece is vital

He said: 'I think we started well, in the first 15 minutes we had plenty of possession, but there were some attacking situations we did not finish off.

'Then we lost the ball in our opponents' half, they broke quickly and it was a mistake that cost us.

'We tried to change it after half-time and we scored a goal, but then we lost the ball again and the opponent punished us and that is why the result is what it is.

'We had problems with the combinations in Russia's midfield and that is how they had so many chances.

Pilar of strength: Vaclav Pilar gave the Czech's hope

Pilar of strength: Vaclav Pilar gave the Czech's hope

'We are very disappointed but now we have to show our strength and our team spirit. We are still able to win and the players have a chance to perform in the following two matches so we are going to look forward now.'

Andrey Arshavin to weigh up future after Euro 2012

Arshavin to weigh up options after Euros as Russian edges closer to Arsenal exit

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UPDATED:

10:32 GMT, 2 May 2012

Andrey Arshavin says his future will be decided after Euro 2012.

The Russia captain has enjoyed his loan spell at Zenit St Petersburg and it is thought Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger would be prepared to sell him this summer.

Arshavin has often played down talk of a permanent move to his hometown club, but admits that that his performance at the European Championship could shape where he plays next season.

Home comforts: Andrey Arshavin (left) is on loan at Russians Zenit St Petersburg

Home comforts: Andrey Arshavin (left) is on loan at Russians Zenit St Petersburg

'Without a doubt, the decision to join Zenit was right,' he told Russian newspaper Sport-Express.

'There are many factors. First, I'm now playing, which is paramount for any player – no amount of training can be a substitute for matches.

'Second, I returned to my hometown. Third, Zenit have done everything to make me feel comfortable, for my thoughts to be focused only on football.

'I haven't yet though about (my future). Everything will be decided after the European Championship.

'Of course, the result and quality of play there could affect my destiny.'

Unsettled: Arshavin has struggled to hold down a place in Arsenal's first team

Unsettled: Arshavin has struggled to hold down a place in Arsenal's first team

Arshavin suffered a difficult season at Arsenal and was sometimes heavily criticised for the poor form he sometimes acknowledged.

After two goals in seven appearances for Zenit, and despite similarly intense scrutiny and mixed reviews in Russia, he says a positive environment at Zenit has been 'really important'.

While often being branded lazy, the 30-year-old revealed he had worked with a personal trainer in his free time in St Petersburg, to improve his physical shape.

Despite the positive words about his Zenit experience, Arshavin attacked the standard of Russian pitches, which have blighted the quality of matches in title run-in.

'Playing on these cabbage patches is unlikely to give pleasure to the players or the fans,' he said.

Decision time: Arsene Wenger could let Arshavin go

Decision time: Arsene Wenger could let Arshavin go

'The weather in England is also capricious. But in spring, the worst English pitch is comparable to the best Russian pitch.

'It's difficult to say if Arsenal would win the Russian championship, because the bad pitches negate the advantage of skill.'

Arshavin admitted both Manchester clubs had a firm advantage over the Gunners and warned that City winning the Barclays Premier league 'would mean that big investments pay off in football'.

'But you still need to know how to spend,' he added.

'If Anzhi Makhachkala maintain their current approach to business, they will be one of the top clubs in Russia. But it all takes time.'

Arsenal have started their transfer business early by announcing the signing of Lukas Podolski from Cologne, though it remains to be seen if Wenger will retain a frugal approach in the market.

Zenit president Alexander Dyukov, who is also the chief executive of the giant Gazprom Oil company, said his club should aim to become one of the top 10 sides in Europe after wrapping up the Russian league title last weekend.

Zenit showed their ambition by sounding out Wesley Sneijder for a move from Inter Milan in January, but tempting high-quality players to Russia can still be difficult.

'It is possible to be in the top 10 if Zenit buy top stars,' said Arshavin.

'It's hard to judge how much, but to reach the decisive stages of the Champions League there need to be additions.'