ARSENAL: We must make it harder for visitors to park the bus
Saturday’s game lacked the high-octane intensity expected of even the friendliest of London derbies, with both sides far too content to spectate when not in possession. It wasn’t long before I was crying out for someone to stoke up proceedings by kicking an opponent up in the air (in fact I would’ve gladly settled for any sort of bodily contact!).
In contrast to the sort of “no respect” attitude that’s made for such an enthrallingly unpredictable Premiership competition thus far, it seemed as if the Cottagers were expecting little from this encounter. Although, once again, I couldn’t help but feel the likes of Manchester City would’ve made much lighter work of securing all three points, whereas at present, the Gunners are making matters far too easy for teams who turn up, merely intent on shutting shop.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not complaining. I’m sure like many other Gooners, a massive grin materialises on my face every morning as I realise I’m not dreaming and that the Gunners really are still “top of the league”.
It’s great we’re now blessed with a myriad of marvellously talented midfield options. But when you contrast the overall depth of those squads with serious competition for places all over the park, it’s hard to avoid this sense that we’ve somehow sneaked under the nose of the burly bouncer, guarding the entrance to the top of the table party, or perhaps we slipped in after Paddy Vieira left the door to the emergency exit ajar and that at some point we’re going to get a tap on the shoulder and be unceremoniously booted out.
Nevertheless, with Mertesacher beginning to acquire the mantle of a genuine Tony Adams type leader and the unsung Koscielny setting such an impressively stalwart example all over the park, as much as I might try to limit any tendency to get carried away, with each passing week that we can continue to retain our lofty perch , there must eventually come a time when the title challenge illusion becomes an inescapable reality. However, as evidenced by more frustrating “eye of the needle” efforts to pick an intricate path through Fulham’s not insubstantial wall of bodies on Saturday, the Gunners badly need to make it harder for visitors to park the bus. With everyone instinctively cutting in, to try and dance their way through the heart of opposition defences (and with Monreal’s apparent aversion to playing a forward pass!), Theo’s demise has only exaggerated our desperate need to be able to pose a more varied threat, by stretching opponents with the sort of width that’s patently lacking at present. I tend to ignore all the transfer gossip, believing it’s all hot air until players are actually witnessed putting pen to paper. Obviously we’re crying out for a striker capable of offering Giroud some respite. Yet momentum is everything and with the burgeoning spirit in the Arsenal camp, it’s not so much the “who” as far as transfer targets are concerned, but the signal Arsène needs to send out of our intent, to reassure players and fans alike, with a couple of timely additions, which might instil the belief that our challenge is not about to flounder the moment injuries and suspensions begin to take their toll.>
LIVERPOOL: Chink of light we saw was just the oncoming train
Let the eulogies begin. “Liverpool FC, Season 2013/14; at least we had a go…”
A slight exaggeration perhaps, but you’ll witness much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the next few days. A lot will depend on whether you genuinely thought there was a chance of the title in the first place. For those who kept their guard up there is now the small matter of waiting to see how the rest of a promising season pans out.
Not that we weren’t poor for far too much of Saturday evening. Not that Rodgers didn’t select a side designed to use its own foot for target practice, not for the first time since he’s been here.
Villa, a barely twitching mess against everyone else, may well have supplied others with a handy blueprint for overcoming a promising but still utterly naive side by simply doing the basic things well.
All of these claims have weight. We’ve not even gone into those fixtures that were spoken of in hushed, menacing tones after skulking out of Goodison, the Emirates, the Etihad or the Bridge; “you might have got the better of us today but wait till we get you back at our place”.
A rather idle threat if we can’t beat Aston Villa. It was a hellish first half, in which we were dominated by a team getting less than a goal a game and averaging one point in each.
Cissokho bore the brunt of the criticism. God knows if we ever stood a chance of borrowing Bertrand or bothered to ask anyway, though it smacked a little of Special One spite to let him leave just in time to face us. Who needs a vaguely competent left back anyway with the embarrassment of riches currently at our disposal? Not us that’s for sure, especially when we can also depend on Toure and Johnson. Maybe bringing Sturridge straight back was an exciting ploy, but to take the only defence-minded midfielder out to accommodate him smacked of Brendan’s perpetual problem; arrogance.
He’d clearly learned nothing from this fixture last season when they also lorded it over us without significant hindrance. With the atmosphere dismal from a set of fans that becomes accustomed to luxury too quickly, nerves were soon on edge. The manager’s selection didn’t help and was swiftly, ruthlessly exposed.
You couldn’t blame us for making so little noise; it’s hard to sing with your jaw banging on the floor at frustratingly regular intervals. Two nil did not flatter them at all. They missed a sitter after 50 seconds; post-Stoke there wasn’t the slightest hint that tightening up was even contemplated.
Of course for that you’ll need full-backs that are occasionally where they’re supposed to be, or think blocking the odd cross helps, or a keeper who seems to have a pain in his neck which paralyses his thought process whenever he has to look up.
All talk of Gerrard emulating Pirlo was the managerial equivalent of sticking your chin out and begging for it to be powdered. It’s too late for that particular leopard to wear stripes. Coutinho was pointedly hauled off but it could have been anybody.
The neat move which gave us a chink of light before half-time showed what we’re always capable of and the nation dries its eyes over Suarez. Again. A national TV poll about whether he dived or not? Did you ever see this for any player? As the yellow cards for simulation pile up elsewhere the handy scapegoat is continually milked.
We huffed and puffed but a winner never came. It happens. We gave ourselves too much to do, yet it should be noted that the disappointment stemmed largely from having seen this team pull off a few impressive feats of late. That shouldn’t be forgotten, but in our tumult of despondency it probably will be.
Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.
CHELSEA: Eto’o increases feelgood factor around SW6
I had a rather bad case of Tourette’s when I saw the team and a feeling of unease continued as I reached the ground and saw United start so brightly.
At approximately 16 minutes and 30 seconds into the game I exclaimed “E’to is so effing ineffectual” and then BAM! 1-0. E’to.
By the time he had his hat-rick I felt very silly. The last Chelsea hat-rick against United was scored by Seamus O’Connell in 1954, a cousin of Sean, one of the all-time great GAA footballers with Derry. So, despite the reds current malaise, this was quite an achievement.
Prior to the match I was surprised to see so many predicting Moyes and his team would put an end to Jose’s astonishing home record. Had they seen United play this season?
That said, I wasn’t particularly confident. I knew we were better than them but also knew we had been susceptible to a Hernandez goal in the past on more than one occasion and obviously referees often take an unique approach to officiating when they take to the field. Indeed, they can count themselves lucky Rafael didn’t get sent off for his needless, spiteful two-footed, off the ground lunge at Cahill.
There’s a feelgood factor going around SW6. The team is gaining momentum, Jose is happy and pledging his love from the rooftops and the fans are putting their full trust in him. It’s like a Mills & Boon novel apart from the lonely figure of Mata.
I know I seem to be obsessed with his plight but my heart goes out to him. He’s behaved impeccably up to now. Mourinho confirmed he is working hard and well in training yet he can’t seem to get any playing time.
When Matic was signalled to be the third substitution Mata stomped back to the seats, pulled off his gloves, threw them to the floor in obvious anger and stormed past the manager. Mourinho tells the press he wants to keep him and must be telling the player the same thing yet on the bench he remains.
However it’s the only fly in the ointment for me at the moment. He’s been in the media a lot this week giving it the big love in for Chelsea and debunking the myth he was turned down by United. I honestly don’t think he was ever asked. I also think had he been asked, he would have turned it down, especially with an offer of a return to Chelsea on the table. He has unfinished business here. He knows it.
As for United, I think they bottled it. They went for what they considered the safe option. Only time will tell but Ferguson was always going to be a hard act to follow. I was surprised they didn’t put in a fall guy just to see how the team initially reacted to Fergie’s departure and then went for their real target. Unless Moyes is the fall guy...
Anyway — next in line for the Mourinho treatment is West Ham after a cup game against Stoke and what a shambles they are. If they continue in this vein by the time they get to the Olympic Stadium they will be relegated and alienated their fans. Relegation is guaranteed for our East London rivals.
I am trying not to get too excited, I really am, but Mourinho just makes me believe the impossible as cheesy and as improbably as that sounds. Comparing our strike force with that of City’s is likening the sublime and the ridiculous but then Jose has never let anything like superior players get in the way of his teams’ success.
UNITED: Transfusion needed before City get their hands on us
In last week’s column, I doom-lorded: “You would fear for this United side if they concede early against a good, well-organised side like Chelsea.”
After 20 minutes yesterday, I was tempted to put on the tin hat and an execution blindfold too.
We’d started so well and Chelsea’s opening goal was the encapsulation of undeserved luck. But still we know how things go when you’re in the position we are at the moment.
Make no mistake, I have rarely known such pre-big match pessimism amongst Reds. It was almost comical, often accompanied by dark Taxi Driver mutterings about United’s ongoing mediocrity “washing away the scum” in reference to the glory-hunting plastic fans who have come to infest so much of Old Trafford. Without Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, against a manager who has so often outfoxed us, after a January such as we’ve had... I could barely find a colleague prepared to predict a United win. When we saw the team-sheet with Ashley Young’s name on it, even those last looney toon optimists bailed out. As did Young, after his sole second-minute contribution.
Strangely, the aftermath didn’t feel as bad as one might have expected. We’d done what stock markets do and already factored the predicted results into the share price.
We didn’t learn anything yesterday. Jose is a better manager than Moyes. Januzaj is wonderful. Rooney and RVP are two omissions we can never cope without. Young is an abomination... well, d’uh.
The need for new blood, preferably in this window, is a perennial given of course. How goes the search for that new blood, you rightly ask? Over on the Red Issue website, we’ve been tracking Moyes and Phil Neville’s movements all week, well in advance of the media, thanks to some well-placed aviation industry snouts.
Unfortunately, such sources only tell you where they are, not who they are specifically watching. That’s where the fun guessing game comes in, a game that is also enjoyed by the tabloid hacks. Our appetites were certainly whetted by spotting Moyes at the PSG game and if there’s any truth in two Sunday tabloids claiming it was to check out “number one target Cavani”, then we’d be very excited indeed.
But that’d be summer business and our concerns are rather more pressing. Such as not getting the hiding of all-time from City at Wembley if we manage to squeeze past the alarmingly rejuvenating Mackems on Wednesday.
Even with Rooney and RVP restored, this team does not look like it would be up to resisting City in full flight. City are now even better than they were in early autumn, which is the sort of thought that might have some secretly hoping Sunderland do us a favour and knock us out. Of course, those people are cowards and should probably be executed, perhaps whilst wearing my aforementioned Stamford Bridge blindfold.
But rest assured, if we do go out, we’ll be deploying an adapted version of the line as a consolation on Thursday morning...
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