Which top 4 club to be sacrificed to the Barbarians at the gate?

Tim the Barbarian, what's his main threat? That he'll eat fried chicken with his fingers? It's not like the name "Tim" is too terrifying is it? "Oh no, put away the fine china, here comes Tim, the Bar-barian!"

Hardly a day passes without someone, whether it be pundit, friend, colleague, or bitter rival, talking to me about how vulnerable Arsenal is and how they are the most likely to be booted out of the top four by the Barbarian Hordes at Man City and Tottenham. These fair minded prognosticators like to make their predictions before the season had even started, before a single face had even been stamped in anger! Who would stoop to such a level?

Wenger, in his wisdom, likes to wait until the 10th match of the season before declaring a trend in the league and with two of the top six clubs having played only seven matches most people would be inclined to agree with him. Still, with that caveat firmly in place I think that we can see some emerging trends in these first eight games and draw some conclusions about who, if any, of the top four teams are most likely to face relegation to the Europa League.

To be succinct, for once, I’m targeting Liverpool. Not out of some hatred for Liverpool, I think they have some of the most loyal fans and a team full of players who are very talented, hard working, and dedicated to the cause. Rather, I think the loss of Alonso combined with the frailties in defense are not nearly enough to support Fernando Torres’ amazing rescue act so far this season. Which doesn’t even get started on the turmoil in the board room and the subsequent possible turmoil in management.

Staring the season off with a loss, even to Tottenham, was not really that big of a deal, but losing to Villa 3-1 at Anfield was a huge blow to start their season. Anfield, fortress Anfield, was their rock last year and if they have any hope of holding off City for a top four spot they will need to regain a foothold in their fortress. That’s down to willpower more than anything and you should always count on Liverpool’s willpower.

That said, If the Tottenham match showed their weakness in midfield with Lucas Levia looking to be a poor man’s Denilson and getting the run around by Luca Modric, the Chelsea match showed a more disturbing side to the club. They played that match with a desperation that I haven’t seen from a top club in a long time. Chelsea do that to people, when they are clicking in midfield as they were on Sunday, and when Drogba is rampaging through defenses as he was, they are the toughest team to play and they make your team look desperate. But the fact remains that Carragher and Squirtle looked poor then, looked poor against Tottenham, and looked downright bad against Villa. You have to wonder just how important Alonso was in shielding those two last season and how much of the defensive load that they can handle.

But perhaps more problematic than the defense and their midfield is the problems that they have in the boardroom. I was driving around to doctor’s appointments with my daughter yesterday and thinking about who would be the first manager to get the axe this season. After my initial “LOL Phil Brown!” I settled on two others: Rafa and Ancelotti.

Ancelotti, simply because Roman Abramovich has already, incredibly, flown in to a practice session and basically made himself known after the loss to Wigan. I’m not saying it’s right, but you have to think that if Chelsea had lost to Liverpool on Sunday, his job was in serious danger. With Ancelotti secure until and if he loses again, my mind wandered to Rafa.

Under Benitez, Liverpool have spent a ton of money and have only an FA Cup and the incredible comeback against AC Milan to show for it. Moreover, I hear a lot of grumblings from Liverpool supporters every year about Benitez’ rotations and seeming lack of tactical nous. Throw in the three losses and the questionable summer transfers and I can actually see some Liverpool supporters tiring of the old Spaniard.

That is, until George Gillett opened his big, dumb gob last week. Maybe he sensed a moment and decided to strike, or maybe he felt super defensive. There’s been a lot of bad blood between Hicks, Gillett and Rafa Benitez since they tried to bring in Jurgen Klinsmann a few years ago. Then the fans rallied around Rafa and called for Gillett and Hicks to go rather than the boss. But Gillett’s latest “Blame Rafa” outburst, while containing some patently insane proclamations, could be indicative of where the owners plan to take this club. And far worse than Lucas Levia giving away a stupid free kicks in the area, Liverpool losing Rafa right now would certainly seal the deal on them dropping out of the top four.

It’s being widely reported today that in front of the Spirit of Shankly supporter’s group Gillett defended his and Hicks’ record at the club by saying this:

In the last 18 months, we have invested £128m on top of what has come in. That means it should be getting better. Now if it’s not getting better, it’s not Gillett and Hicks, it’s the manager, it’s the scouting. You have to make sure you balance out your analysis. There was plenty of money, so if you have any complaints, take a look at the ins and outs.

The thing is, what they are saying is true. Liverpool have spent an insane amount of money on transfers over the last few years and really haven’t gotten any better. In fact, Arsenal look the better bargain in the transfer market this summer than Liverpool, by a huge margin. But the problem is that Gillett and Hicks are so reviled by the Anfield faithful that I wonder if this outburst won’t drive them deeper into the arms of Benitez, rather than the other way around.

That the faithful would gather around Rafa might actually turn out for the best. It could end up “rallying the troops” and keep that team afloat. With the defense so susceptible at the back, with the rotations so crazy and tactical awareness so, well, indecipherable, Liverpool they need something to hang their hat on.  Because after the first 8 games, from what I’ve seen, it’s Liverpool who look most vulnerable to the barbarian horde and not Arsenal.

Good News, Everyone! Walcott, Cesc, Fergie, Allardyce, and Citeh, oh my!

Good morning, quick trip through the “News of the League” reveals that after Arsenal’s 6-2 stomping of Blackburn on Sunday, it’s more good news for the Arsenal. Let’s get stuck in.

Walcott Won’t Get Injured This Week

After Sunday, I was praying to the gods that I would be gifted the opportunity to watch some crappy internet stream of Theo Walcott getting injured against perennial footballing powerhouses Belarus and Ukraine. Unfortunately, my prayers went unanswered as the current God of English Football — Fabio Capello — has chosen instead to go with the in form, and much more eyebrow stripey, Aaron Lennon over Theo Walcott.

I guess Theo will have to just work harder and score loads of goals in the league to get in the National team. Either that or go on loan to AC Milan like David Beckham does!

Cesc Kisses-off Barcelona

He may have “Barcelona genes” but for the time being he certainly has an Arsenal shirt, erm, in his mouth.

Yesterday’s badge kissing was a public display of affection for the club, and a not too subtle “fuck you” to the press who continue to speculate that Cesc is leaving. There is no doubt that completely unlike Adebayor’s badge kiss, which he did in a meaningless match, after scoring a penalty, and after a summer where he vacillated between interviews saying he had no plans of leaving Arsenal and that he was happy to be moving on (sometimes in a span of minutes, LITERALLY), Cesc’s badge kiss was a genuine display of affection, nay loyalty, to this club. Still, the press have to twist it! My favorite twist is over at the Telegraph where they compare Sunday’s display to John Terry, Thierry Henry, and Adebayor in order to claim that Cesc is certainly leaving.

When I saw their headline, I literally LOLed.

The FA to Grow a Pair?

This morning it has been announced that the FA are going to think about maybe looking into having a discussion about forming a committee to look into whether they should look into Fergie’s outrageous comments that Alan Wiley was “unfit” to be a referee and (comically) that he didn’t add enough time on to the already comical 4 minutes of Old Trafford time. This blogger expects at most a strongly worded letter along the lines of:

“Dear Lord High Ferguson The Most Exalted,

We hope that this epistle finds you adequately healthy and are sorry for the inconvenience of straining your eyes with our words. Please, in the future, could you possibly refrain from speaking ill of our referees in public and instead just send a messenger to our London office? It would save us all a spot of bother when we do your bidding and fire the referee.

For the record, we are happy to report that we did find Alan Wiley guilty of both of your charges A) not adding the correct amount of time to the end of the game (the correct amount being “enough for you to win”) and B) being fat and slovenly.

His head has been dispatched from his neck, your Worship, and he will bother you no longer.

Sorry, sorry, sorry, Love and Kisses, The FA.”

Meanwhile Sam Allardyce, who called for a referee to be fired, will actually be shot to death by a firing squad of 21 blind cripples.

Justice will not be stopped!

Citeh to play Aston Villa today, how many times will Ade kiss the City badge?

The dreadfully pompous Moneybags City take their sideshow circus of miscreants and criminals down the road to last year’s top four challengers Aston Villa. It should prove to be a fiery match with Villa and City having exchanged captains in the off season, and what with City having an entire team of utter cunts (except you Kolo, we still love you!).

7amkickoff’s odds for this match are as follows:

1-1 Adebayor offside 3X or more
1-4 Craig Bellamy gets angry about something
1-100 Gareth Barry is booed and after the match goes out and buys a City Blue Bentley to soothe his conscience

Honestly, I’ll be rooting for Aston Villa, they are a nice enough team, ably managed as they are by that Irish guy, ole what’s his name. And besides which they aren’t Man City which is enough reason to root for them — it’s like rooting against the Yankees, the Patriots, and SerenaVenus Williams all at the same time!

Epilogue

That’s it for today, why are you still here? Oh, you want my prediction of who is going to win the league, who will be relegated, and who will comprise the top four? You’ll have to check back in tomorrow for those bits.

Arsenal 6-2 Blackburn; Sam Allardyce Comes Up Craps

Hey Sam, got any gum?

Preamble

Lovely start to the morning. Sure, I had to drive 70 miles round trip, at 4:30am, and brave the gauntlet of cops who have lined up along the freeway to catch speeders and keep Washington state from going bankrupt, but it was well worth it.

I can’t say enough nice things about Fado. Lovely little pub, with all the nooks and crannies you’d expect from a traditional English or Irish pub, including more than one room for more than one sports fan to watch their own game in relative silence. To give you an idea of what it was like, three Arsenal supporters were in one room, while 15 or so Celtic and Rangers supporters watched the Old Firm match in the other room and aside from the occasionally comical scream of “THAT WAS A FOOKEN’ PEEANALTIE!” we were rarely bothered by each other. Lovely pub, lovely details, lovely staff, and they even had blood pudding on the menu for their “Full Irish” breakfast — which at $20 after tax and tip was a bit steep and my only complaint.

Great start to the morning, and I didn’t even get stabbed by the Celtic supporters for wearing my Eduardo shirt. That and two other Arsenal fans showed up, one, a reader of the blog who knew me by name and the other some fellow I never met before. That’s not a bad turnout for 5:30 am!

Match Reports

ESPNSoccernet: Fabregas dismantles rovers.

Telegraph: Arsenal underlined their status as the Premier League’s great entertainers this afternoon by recovering from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to ultimately inflict a resounding 6-2 defeat on Blackburn Rovers.

Match Video

The Arsenalist gets stuck in early today and has all 8 goals, plus Wenger’s post match interview, all hot and ready for you to view. Remember, click one of his sponsors!

The Good

There’s so much good to say about a match in which we see Arsenal score 6 goals from 6 different goal scorers, each of which was special in its own way, we got to see the triumphant return of  Theo Walcott, no one was injured despite David Dunn’s best efforts, and even Thierry Henry returned to the club.

Vermaelen, van Persie, Arshavin, Fabregas, Walcott, and Bendtner; those are the 6 names who put goals past this supposedly defensive-minded Blackburn side. But it’s not just the incredible fact that Arsenal had 6 goals from 6 different players, because when you look at it, Arsenal have now had 15 different goal-scorers on the season. It’s the fact that Arsenal are top of the league in goals scored (24 in 7 matches) and top of the league in goal differential (+14). I know a lot of you will point out that we are middle of the table in goals allowed and that we have a tendency to leak goals and you’d be dead right to do so. But, clearly the philosophy of this third generation Arsene Wenger team is to attack from all parts of the pitch and love it or hate it, that’s what this team is going to serve up as entertainment this year. Personally, I don’t know how you could hate it, we just put 6 past a “park the bus team.” A team who had they taken an early 1-0 or 2-1 lead last year we would have really struggled to get even a single point, much less all three plus a 6 goal lashing.

From Vermaelen’s left-footed angry lash to bring us level to Walcott’s special finish just minutes after being re-introduced from a long injury layoff, each of these goals today were really special. I don’t want to talk too much about them, you really just need to go over to the Arsenalist and watch them. Cesc’s left footed, half-volley, perfectly placed finish was probably my favorite goal of the day, but I’ll let you all battle that one out, I’m sure you all have a fave.

And finally, it was really special to see Thierry Henry at the Emirates, with his daughter, enjoying the show. He said that one day he’d be back, little did we know that he meant this Sunday.

Man of the Match

With 4 assists, the best goal of the match, and a box-to-box solid performance, man of the match has to go to Cesc Fabregas.  It was just Friday when Wenger called on the team captain to lead this club to the promised land, and if this performance was his response, the league better beware because he was simply brilliant. Pulling the strings from all over the pitch, his passes were incisive, slicing apart Blackburn’s defense easily time and again.  More importantly, I never once failed to see him track back.

There are lots of honorable mentions here, van Persie was brilliant and Thomas Vermaelen was outstanding on both ends of the pitch, at one point making two headed saves over a few seconds time, but surely on the back of that performance today, Cesc has to win man of the match.

The Bad

I don’t like lazy play. A Sunday 5 a side pick up match, sure, have a breather, who cares, but when you are paid millions of dollars to play football you should pitch in at all times. Andrei Arshavin has publicly admitted that he is lazy and of course, I don’t want to get down on any player at all this season, much less after a 6-2 win but there were times when Arshavin wasn’t just lazy, he was downright quiescent. For all the brilliant things he does I’d hate to see his reputation tarnished by lazy plays like the pass he refused to move for and let David Dunn nip in and nearly get a goal. It’s a team sport and that’s even more true in the 4-3-3 which requires players like him to get back and defend. Get back, Andrei, and stop glowering at your teammates.

Similarly, I don’t think we’re a poor defensive squad. Certainly not as poor as our 10 goals against tally suggests. But I do think that we are a club who lose focus at times and that tendency was fully on display today. Even against a team like Blackburn where we are dominating them offensively, you cannot let your mind wander off to what you and the missus are going to have for dinner tonight or they will score on you. I think that happened more than once, and honestly, I think Blackburn had a legitimate penalty call when both Gallas and Vermaelen took leave of their senses and instead of playing defense gambled on a silly stab at the ball in the box.

We’re better than that. They’re better than that! These are experienced defenders for gods’ sake, lets not make silly mistakes!

The Ugly

David Dunn was a lucky boy he wasn’t sent off for his rash challenge on Mannone. He saw Mannone coming for the ball and instead of playing the ball, chose to leap up, leading with a knee and the only reason he wasn’t sent off was because Mannone came up a bit groggy but not too terribly injured.

Ugly bit of football, but no less than I’ve come to expect from David Dunn. The only surprise was that it wasn’t El Hadji Diouf pulling the ugly challenge.

Conclusions

Like I said, wonderful day, wonderful win and now we head into international week, and endure non-stop coverage of Cesc Fabregas’ supposedly impending move to Barcelona in January.

Oh joy.

See you tomorrow!