Sunday, 31 January 2010

Men v Boys II

May 2009, Champions League Semi-final and Arsenal get blown way by Manchester United 3-1. Basking in their glory, United defender Patrice Evra mentioned that it was 'men against boys'. Like an improved version of an old model, Sunday's clash of the titans was mark II. Both teams started very well: the usual high intensity that comes with Arsenal and Man United. The best chances came initially to Arsenal and Andre Arshavin - who on three occasions had opportunities to put the set up teams Fabregas and Nasri to score. With all his effort and endeavour it wasn't the Russian maestro's day.

The game was nicely balanced, with a sense that the first goal would be essential to who wins the match. It came from United and with skill from Nani that proved the faith Sir Alex showed in starting him, playing on a weakness of Gael Clichy being susceptible to the pace of Villa's Ashley Young.

Stepping in between Clichy and Nasri, then past Denilson and producing a shot come cross only to put tipped in by Almunia. The mood changed at the Emirates, as if they knew they where already beaten.  Four minutes later it was 2-0 a counter attacking move with Carrick, Nani and finally Rooney finishing beautifully for his 100th Premier League goal.

Game over when JS Park 3-0 with the freedom of The Emirates to score - another painful and frustrating day for Arsenal fans who are facing the realisation the league is slipping away.

Vermaelen got a consolation goal but no more than that. It's back to the drawing board for Arsene Wenger whose team need to get back to winning ways quickly before the knives come out about their in-ability to make the next step and last the pace of the title race. As good as Arsenal have been without a leading striker, the match was evidence that they require a target man to offer a plan B then playing to feet and through the middle of defences!

Arsenal fans need to keep the faith, 'In Wenger We Trust' still must resonate, they are still in the race for the title, it has become tougher but not impossible - next Chelsea a true test of their character.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Can the defence please call for Ferdinand and Vidic

Throughout Sir Alex's illustrious managerial career at Man United, he has owed much of his success to his central defensive partnerships: from Bruce and Pallister in the early to mid 90s, then Johnsen and Stam and now more recently Ferdinand and Vidic. The performances in recent games against Burnley and Manchester City suggest that they are there to be shot at with a Kalashnikov and not a Magnum!! Burnley where presented with at least three glorious chances to score last Saturday week, all made possible by schoolboy defending from Evans and the very experienced and internationally capped Wes Brown.

Manchester City - and more notably Carlos Tevez - took full advantage of this in the league cup semi-final 1st leg at Eastlands, showing Fergie that United should have paid the money and kept him, to give support to Rooney up-front.

This is a Man United team that is in transition and clearly playing below par, dogged by injuries to key players - none more notable than Vidic and Ferdinand. They are the cornerstone of the Man United defence and provide Van De Sar with the protection that led them to a third consecutive league title and a Champions League Final.  In reserve Wes Brown can provide cover but becomes a better centre-half when he plays the number two position, and not lead. He has also been hit with injuries over the last few seasons.  Johnny Evans is definitely a player for the future, played wonderfully well in the Carling Cup ’09 campaign including the final itself, but again he is still raw and needs to be nurtured around a more established defender.

This is why getting Ferdinand and Vidic back is so crucial to United winning silverware: without them they’re vulnerable to being hurt by top quality opposition, especially in Europe.   Question marks are being asked about whether United are strong enough to win trophies this season or if the cracks starting to show in their once formidable stature.  Yes, they won 4-0 on Saturday against a struggling side Hull, relying on Rooney to score the goals, but they have lost the ‘fear factor’ they are there for the taking, that would be music to the ears of their rivals, waiting to pull the trigger. 

Yes, they won 4-0 on Saturday against a struggling side Hull, relying on Rooney to score the goals, but they have lost the ‘fear factor’ they are there for the taking. That would be music to the ears of their rivals, waiting to pull the trigger.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Sol Gamble? Not really

July 2001 a beautiful summer’s afternoon was transformed the sensational news I received from a text saying that ‘Arsenal have just signed Sol Campbell’.  To my amazement as in 2001 to be experiencing the same surprise that he’s back, and this could be Arsene Wenger’s shrewd bit of business ever!

The facts speak for themselves - Arsenal’s central defensive pairing of Gallas and Vermaelen is first choice, but beyond that Arsenal have major league problems. The defensive frailties are in the replacements Silvestre  (if he was so good why would Ferguson let me go for nothing??) and Senderos (only ever played one good game for Arsenal - 2005 FA Cup Final) replacement cover was very much needed.

Arsenal are attacking on three major fronts and if any level of success is to be achieved then another central defender as cover was needed.  That is what Campbell will be, cover - not a starting 11 player but someone when called upon can do the job. Campbell may be 35-years old but he has proved his fitness over the past 3 months to Wenger and the very demanding first team fitness coach Tony Colbert. But most importantly he can provide much needed leadership to younger players who still are yet to hold aloft silverware at The Emirates.

Campbell was part of the successful team that won 2 league titles (2002, 2004) and 3 FA Cups (2002, 2003 (despite not playing in the final) and 2005), he knows what it takes to win trophies and more recently captained Portsmouth to Cup success in 2008, a time which Arsenal haven’t one anything.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Mid Season Review

With the Premier League season now past the halfway point, let’s review via the good old school grading system just who deserves a thumbs up and who needs detention.


Vast improvement and looking like this year can mount a title bid, but need to kept first team members fit such as Fabregas, Arshavin, Gallas and Vermaelen.   Van Persie is a huge loss to The Gunners who really need to buy another striker in January.  If they’re going to win the league it will be by a low points total courtesy of teams beating each other

Grade: B

Aston Villa

Carrying on from how they started last season. A team who prefer to play counter-attacking football then breaking and wearing teams down.  In the hunt for a top four spot and in a semi-final of the Carling Cup. Comparisons will be drawn to their form in the second half of last season and judging by The Late Late show with Fernando Torres in their last home game, it could be a valid point.

Grade: B

Birmingham City

Tipped to go down at the start of the season and now currently the form team in the Premier League, winning 6 of their last 8 games only conceding 4 goals in the process, with currently the best centre-half pairing in the country (Scott Dann and Liam Ridgewell).  8 more points from safety - should be thinking about a top 10 finish.

Grade: A

Blackburn Rovers

Survival is the key for Big Sam’s boys; they struggle to score goals and missed the creative flair of -David Dunn over the last month or so.  Up-front Di Santo, McCarthy and Roberts aren’t getting the supply from midfield, not the type of strikers that create something from nothing - still in with a shout of winning a trophy.

Grade: D


This is a team in real trouble this season; seem to have lost the fear factor that was around playing Bolton under Big Sam.  Subsequently Gary Megson was given the ‘elbow’ on recently.  Defensively Bolton are shocking, leaking more goals than a burst water mains! Up-front other than Klasnic (who has only recently been showing some decent form) they're not offering much else.  Bottom three this season!!

Grade: E


Great start to the season and very much the league’s surprise package.  However, poor away form (only 1 point all season) has a sniff of Hull 2008-09 - relying on their home form will put more then pressure on them then a Dyson vacuum.  Make no mistake; these boys are in real trouble unless they start picking up points on the road.

Grade: C


New manager, top of the Premier League, but not all’s happy at The Bridge. On their day the Cheese Rolls are the best in the business, they really are, but defensively even with JT they have problems.  Cech is at Checkmate in goal, they are susceptible to the high ball and in midfield they have less width than Kate Moss’s waist! Still favourites to win the title but January will be an acid test with Drogba, Kolou and Essein due to African Nations.

Grade: A


Sticky season so far for The Toffees, been hampered by injuries in key positions - Jagielka, Arteta, Yakubu and Osman to name a few - and a poor start to the season, especially at home.  Forget about last season’s dizzy heights, with little money to spend Moyes and Co. need to tough it out and allow key squad members to return.  Got more than enough to stay in the league, and could get a run together in the Europa League, to give their fans a few exotic away days.

Grade: D


Playing out of their skin at the moment, good free flowing football, very attack minded and in Bobby Zamora a striker who is showing the form that got him the move to Tottenham from Brighton.  Damien Duff is looking like his old self, top 7 finish on the cards, maybe time for a cup run, and in Roy Hodgson a worthy contender for manager of the season.

Grade: A-

Hull City

The plea for Tigers' fans would be ‘save our Jimmy Bullard’. It’s that simple, with him in their team they will stay up, without him Hull struggle.  A plucky result against Bolton, but Hull struggle to score goals and lack a creative flair, that only Bullard gives them.  If they stay up it will be by the skin of their teeth…..again!

Grade: E


Underachieving again, as the team that flatters to deceive the most in the Premier League.  After a very good 08-09 season (which they should have won the league) Liverpool’s expectations were high and has proven unrealistic. Too much reliance on G&T - not the drink, but Gerrard and Torres.  Glen Johnson has been a good signing, Reina is very reliable but the depth isn’t strong enough. Kuyt on the right???? Lucas in midfield??? Clearly haven’t replaced Xavi Alonso, but with all the problems with G&T fit, they can still get fourth spot.

Grade: C

Manchester City

The Premier League big spenders, who are proving to be real contenders for a Champions League spot.  Quality throughout the squad – the question is what is City’s best line up and will Robinho go in the transfer window?  Still a bad smell in the air over the handling of the Mark Hughes dismal and Mancini will need time, something that he may not have.  Only guarantee is that they can and will spend in the transfer market.

Grade: B

Manchester United

Proving this year that they are beatable, suffering 5 defeats already this season, as always in the hunt for the title.  Injuries have hit United hard; especially defensively with Ferdinand, Vidic, Evans, Neville, Fabio and Raphael all have had spells in the treatment room. Defensively they are suspect – (just ask Leeds fans) Valencia is looking to be a good buy and Rooney is having his most productive season in goal scoring to date. More needed from Berbatov, and Owen simply needs more game time. Opportunities for silverware beckons.

Grade: A-


A team that are in real trouble both on and off the pitch, players haven’t been paid for three months and a recent fan protest to the ‘get the board out’ to boot. Bottom of the Premier League but only 4 points off safety and recent performances against Man United, Liverpool and Burnley suggest that progress is being made. But they are deep rooted in financial trouble and with four players away on African Nations duty (Dindane, Belhadj, Kanu and Utaka) Avram Grant will need to wave a magic wand.

Grade: F

Stoke City

Last season’s surprise package are showing that it wasn’t a fluke.  They are a serious Premier League outfit with a tactically astute manger in Tony Pulis. Strong defensively, being lead by Ryan Shawcross and Huth, the threat of dead ball situations from Rory Delap and an intimidating venue at Britannia Stadium gives them more than enough to pose threat to teams despite recent dip in form.

Grade: C


A solid team that have improved slowly under Steve Bruce, growing a tendency to throw away points in late stages of games, notable against Birmingham, Everton and Portsmouth. In Darren Bent, alongside Kenwin Jones Sunderland have real match winners - keeping Lee Cattermole fit will be the key as to whether they move up the table or get drawn into a relegation fight.

Grade: C

Tottenham Hotspur

Along with Manchester City and Aston Villa, the best equipped side to try and break the strangle hold of the ‘big four’.  They have real depth across the full squad and especially in midfield and upfront including Lennon, Kranjcar, Modric, Defoe, Crouch and Keane. Spurs have tightened up defensively as well! With four consecutive clean sheets – they will be well in the mix for the four spot, can they last the pace? The key will be keeping a centre back pairing fit as King, Woodgate and Bassong have suffered from key injuries this season.

Grade: B+

West Ham

Put simply West Ham are in a right 2 and 8! Struggling at the bottom of the league, no money to spend, looking likely to have to sell before they can buy, combined with a team that is hit by huge injuries (including top scorer Carlton Cole) and suspensions.  Main difficulties will be the small squad and inability to keep clean sheets - tough remainder of the season for the Claret and Blues.

Grade: E

Wigan Athletic

Another team who will be watching the trap-door this season, conceding on average nearly three goals a game, the highest in the Premier League and only one win in eight games. In Hugo Rodallega, Wigan do have a goal-getter but defensively The Latics need to improve at the back and get more for players such as Scharner, N’Zogbia and Koumas.

Grade: F


Similar situation to Wigan, survival is the number one priority, manager Mick McCarthy was heavily criticised for resting 10, starting on a recent visit to Old Trafford saving for a big ‘six pointer’. 3 wins in their last 6 games prior to the new year, is the kind of form that will keep them in the top flight but they have only scored 17 league goals this season, the lowest in the Premier League. May suffer the same fate as West Ham.

Grade: E

Happy New Year!