Tag Archives: Premier league


Arsenal v. Newcastle: St. Totteringham’s Day?

Football took a break from the drollery of talking about what next year is going to be like and actually played a little football this weekend. The results put Arsenal in charge of their own destiny, and blew the title race open a bit.

Everton kicked off the weekend with a 2-0 loss away to Southampton. The Saints scored twice off Everton own goals, which makes the scoreline look a bit flattering but it was actually deserved win for Southampton as they dominated an Everton side that looked tired and out of ideas. Southampton won the possession battle 54-46, took more shots (though Everton had the two best chances of the game, right in front of goal), made more tackles, more dribbles, and recovered the ball 21 times more than Everton. In short, they outworked Everton and while the two goals were off errors, that’s what happens when you work hard.

Soton are the media darlings of the Premier League this year and it’s easy to see why. They have a gang of young players, brought up through their academy, who have great technique, pace and power. Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, and Calum Chambers are all tipped to be tapped up by big teams this summer with Manchester United basically announcing the signing of Luke Shaw for £30m already.

Arsenal are being linked with Calum Chambers as the replacement for Bacary Sagna and I am unconvinced. He has a great cross percentage (21%) but is not very accurate with his long passes, he isn’t great dribbling, and he turns the ball over a lot. He’s a talented player, but he’s young, and raw and I’m not convinced he’s ready to make the leap.

Later on Saturday, Tottenham eeked a 1-0 win over 10 man Stoke and Spurs were lucky not to lose that game, frankly. Mark Hughes has Stoke playing football a bit and after they went down to 10 men they were passing around Spurs at will. What I don’t understand is how Mark Hughes is allowed to manage a football team. I mean I get that he teaches his players how to play football, Stoke looked impressive in possession, but he also gees his teams up to commit acts of violence. When he was manager of Man City, surrounded by billions of dollars worth of players, his teams were still overly violent. Remember Adebayor’s stamp on van Persie?

And once again, a Mark Hughes led side was out targeting a player for “special treatment”, this time it was Danny Rose. Shawcross saw red for a terrible tackle on Rose and from then on the Stoke fans and players targeted Rose physically and emotionally. It was horribly unedifying and I say that knowing the Stoke City fans very well. I just don’t think Hughes should be allowed to manage a football team if all he’s going to keep sending his men out to kick people off the pitch and try to get into fights.

And speaking of horribly unedifying, Jose Mourinho! It’s almost as if England had a collective bit of amnesia over what Jose Mourinho is like. From the way he set himself up as the savior of English football at the start of the season with his crusade against “foreign divers” to the latest thanking of the match officials and head of PGMOL Mike Riley for the officiating in a game which should have seen his player sent off, it’s all classic Mourinho.

What I don’t have a problem with were the tactics he used to beat Liverpool on Sunday. Yes, he barked the pus. Yep, Chelsea played anti-football (or what Mourinho called “football from the 19th century” when West Ham did it to him). Yep, they wasted time. And yep, they won. I called for Arsenal to do the same against Chelsea and Liverpool this season. Don’t play free wheeling football, sit back and defend — it is what got Arsenal to the top of the table in the first place, defense. And yet we didn’t, we attack, attack, attack.

To be fair, the Liverpool defeat was down to an early mistake and them piling on the pressure after that but the result against Chelsea, on Wenger’s 1000th game, will leave a scar for a long time. I understand that we have our own style. I like Arsenal’s style when it’s on its game, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with playing a different style when needed. And there is this weird notion among Arsenal fans that if we park the bus once then we are bus parking team for all of eternity. It’s not one or the other, just because we play negative football once it doesn’t negate all the beautiful football we play on the other days.

Sometimes you just have to be pragmatic, Arsenal played pragmatic football in 2005 when they won the FA Cup and I would have no problem at all if Arsenal were to play pragmatic football in any of our final four remaining matches. Yes, even against Hull in the FA Cup final. So what if it’s an ugly game? We need a trophy. These young players need to taste glory so that they can have that pride and hunger fired up in them. If that means parking to bus, give me the keys I’ll drive.

But that’s in a few weeks. Today we need to take care of Newcastle. Don’t be fooled by their recent form, form that coincides with Alan Pardew’s absurd headbutt, Newcastle can be a dangerous team and Pardew loves to get in Arsenal’s face. By all accounts, Arsenal should be able to beat this team: Newcastle have won just 3 of their last 12 matches — nine of which were losses! And Arsenal are finally getting over the injury bug, with both Özil and Ramsey available. Meanwhile Newcastle’s injury list is growing every day: Sissoko, Ben Arfa, De Jong, Cisse, Santon, Obertan, Taylor, and Sami Ameobi.

In the end, fourth place is in Arsenal’s hands. All we have to do is beat Newcastle today and then West Brom on the fourth (in which I will write a “let the fourth be with you” headline) and that’s 4th all wrapped up neatly. Then we can rest some players against Norwich and be fresh for the FA Cup final.

That’s how it should go. But first, we have to wrap up St. Totteringham’s Day today.


P.S. I will be the guest tweeter on Arsenal.com today and will be providing statistical analysis of the game live. Please join me @7amkickoff.

special one

Jose Mourinho loses it all at the Bridge

Jose Mourinho lost his first ever Premier League match at home and in the process lost the League title, his best midfielder, his assistant, and his mind.

Chelsea looked rattled by Sunderland’s in your face approach to the game from the start and no player was more rattled than Ramires. Ramires was subject of a fairly hard aerial challenge which put him off scoring and that was followed minutes later by a nippy tackle, both from Sunderland midfielder Seb Larsson. But the Brazilian’s reaction to his treatment was simply outrageous, he punched Larsson in the face. Worse, replays show that the punch was intentional as Ramires looks back at Larsson before lashing out.

No one knows if Mike Dean saw the incident since he didn’t stop play and seemed to be waving play on for the earlier Larsson tackle. But we must assume that he didn’t see the punch because if he did see it, then there is a serious problem with his judgement as a referee. Assuming that he didn’t see the punch, it seems a clear case that Ramires will be punished very harshly by the FA for violent conduct. Three match ban would be the minimum in this case but the FA could impose harsher punishment given the nature of the attack.

It was a fiery match but Chelsea looked good money to pull out the win and Sunderland were lucky to escape the first half with the scoreline 1-1. Chelsea started the second half the way they had ended the first, attacking Sunderland’s goal almost at will. The stats bear out the fact that Chelsea were unlucky not to win the match.

The Blues took 31 shots, 15 on target, 8 of the on target shots were right in front of goal and a further three of the missed shots were taken in the same positions. That’s 11 shots right in front of goal, any of which you would normally expect a top team to score. Yet a combination of good keeping by former Arsenal player Vito Mannone and good luck kept Chelsea at bay.

Not finding the breakthrough, and with their title hopes in the balance, the pressure started to mount on Chelsea and the cracks started to show. Fullback Cesar Azpilicueta made several crucial errors and in the 80th minute compounded a slip with a horrible tackle that brought down Sunderland’s Jozy Altidore in the penalty box. The sideline official waved for the foul and Mike Dean pointed to the penalty spot with his usual dramatic flourish.

Up stepped Liverpool loanee Fabio Borini and after a stutter step walk up, sent Mark Schwarzer the wrong way to put Sunderland in the lead. It’s ironic that Chelsea would have their title hopes undone by a Liverpool player on loan since Chelsea have actively pursued the loan system as a means to stockpile players while keeping their payroll down and destabilizing the Premier League.

Before the net had stopped rippling Chelsea’s bench went apoplectic and fitness coach Rui Faria confronted Mike Dean burning with rage. Held back by Mourinho and others, Faria was screaming at Dean over something and Dean had no choice but to request he be removed.

Chelsea pressed and pressed for the tying goal but there was no getting through and as the clock wore down fans watching on television knew that the most exciting thing to happen next was probably going to be Jose Mourinho’s post-match interview. And the Special One didn’t let anyone down.

Asked for his opinion of the match, Jose, his voice dripping with sarcasm, congratulated his players, the Sunderland players, the referees, and head of the referee’s association Mike Riley for a great season. Thankfully the Oscar music started playing in his head and spared us suffering through him thanking his dog for licking his face with such “perfect breath”, his wife for a “great back rub”, Abramovich for the “huge warchest”, Torres for “scoring bags of goals”, the British media for “fair reporting”, America for the “moon landing”, scientists for “global warming” and “evolution”, and god for “creating the world.”

Mourinho ridiculed Arsene Wenger earlier in the season calling Arsenal’s most successful ever manager a “specialist in failure”. But given his own history of outrageous behavior when his team lose, once poking a man in the eye, perhaps Mourinho should be branded a “specialist in poor sportsmanship.”




Arsenal’s controversial threesome lift the Gunners over the Hammers

Arsenal came back from a 1-0 deficit to beat West Ham 3-1 yesterday. It was a match which featured a Podolski brace, a Giroud wondergoal, the return of Aaron Ramsey and Arsenal climbing back into 4th place. And after the match, the fans went into hyperbole overdrive.

Aaron Ramsey limped off injured the last time these two teams met on Boxing Day and has been slowly working his way back to full fitness for three months. He played 112 minutes in the FA Cup win over Wigan and Wenger gave him a rest to start this game but when he did come on in the last 20 minutes Arsenal’s pace quickened, they controlled the midfield, and they created a number of good chances. In just a short 20 minute cameo, Ramsey created two shots for teammates, including a cushioned header assist for Podolski’s second goal, and took two shots himself. He also put in a tackle high up the pitch which resulted in a good chance missed and provided Arsenal’s front line with deadly service throughout. It says a lot about Ramsey that he can miss 3 months of football and still be in contention for our player of the season.

I say that knowing full well the dangers of post-match hyperbole. But Ramsey is simply a tireless worker who is constantly presenting himself for the pass, who demands the ball in pressure situations, who quickens the pace of Arsenal’s midfield, and whose vision for finding teammates and for getting himself into important positions upsets the opposition defenders. And when Arsenal lose the ball he works hard to get the ball back. It’s no coincidence that he leads Arsenal in a number of those stat categories, then, and that his reintroduction to this Arsenal team couldn’t have come at a better time.

Meanwhile, Lukas Podolski scored two goals yesterday and after the match slipped into the role of New Arshavin: the player everyone argues over whether he is being played out of position, whether he needs more playing time, whether he should bother defending, and whether he is not getting the respect he is due.

Podolski is actually a simple player to figure out. He is inconsistent away from home (scored in just 6 of 30 away appearances) and not terribly good against top clubs. He also requires excellent service to score but once he has that service he is deadly. He has a wicked cross on him and has hooked up with Giroud on numerous occasions to great effect. He’s not going to play defense and you almost don’t want him to because when he does it’s usually messy. He is almost certainly a better forward in a two striker system, but you can’t really play him as a number 10 because he’s not creative enough.

Fortunately, he is perfect for the final five game run in. First, Arsenal will be playing all little clubs for the remainder of the season. Second, Arsenal’s 4-3-3 is a fluid formation meaning that Podolski is basically playing as a second striker, albeit a wide striker. And third, while the defenders were yelling at Podolski to drop back against West Ham, Cazorla, Kallstrom, Arteta, and Vermaelen were all able to cover for him. So, Podolski’s good qualities should win out over the bad, I think, for these last 5 games.

Giroud also suffers from post match anti/pro hyperbole and he’s also not really much of a mystery. He’s a hard working player who, because Arsenal didn’t have a viable backup, has basically run himself into the ground — he had a combined 14 lost possessions yesterday (dispossessed, turnovers, offsides) which is high even for him. Even when fully fit he has a tendency to miss gilt edged chances and his record over the last two seasons as the player who has missed more of them than any other proves that. But if he just plays instinctively, he’s able to pull off moments of football so beautiful that you wonder if he’s even the same person! Yesterday was a perfect example of Giroud: playing little chips in to teammates, being harassed off the ball, missing a shot one-v-one with the keeper, and scoring a goal from a long pass which he plucked softly out of the air and simply powered past the keeper.

Every match is critical now in terms of earning a 4th place finish and the team knows it. Podolski was interviewed after the match and his assessment of the end of season run-in was perfect for its simplicity: “The FA Cup is after the season. We’ll leave that for the moment and focus on the Premier League… we must understand that we have hard matches to come – we play away at Hull City and Norwich. It’s not easy but if we win all of our matches we’ll qualify.”

For anyone who feels like finishing in the top four isn’t important you only need to take a look at how the media (ironically) play up the fight for fourth between Arsenal and Everton. These same reporters who guffawed at Arsene Wenger’s suggestion that 4th place is an achievement are snapping at the story that plucky upstarts Everton might nip Arsenal to the 4th Place Cup. Finishing 4th is worth 10s of millions of pounds, both in terms of prize money but also in terms of player recruitment in the off season. Everton want to convince Lukaku to stay and they will have a powerful hole card if they can offer Champions League football. Meanwhile, Arsenal need to recruit possibly 4 players this Summer and the cost of doing that kind of business will be doubled if we don’t have Champions League football to offer.

In the end, a good win for Arsenal and puts the Gunners back on track for 4th place. We still have to win every remaining fixture and hope that Everton drop points but given the opposition that they face I’d put the money on Arsenal to finish 4th again. I’d also put money that our three most talked about players from yesterday’s match, Podolski, Giroud, and Ramsey will have a big say in where we end up in the League table at the end of the season.