Monday
Aug312015

Premier League is boring/Walcott is a joke

Now that all my passion for Arsenal has been beaten out of me, I’ve turned my attention to watching other Premier League clubs and matches. That started last season, but when quality football is your remit there’s very little worth watching in the PL. Maybe I should switch to Spanish football.

Last week I stuck up for Brendan Rodgers, citing his improvement and Liverpool’s improvement, only for him to embarrass me by losing 3-0 at home to West Ham, who’d put in one of the most pathetic performances I’ve ever seen in the PL against Bournemouth the week before.

Phillipe Coutinho’s sending off was ridiculous, but it will be hard to defend Rodgers if this type of performance occurs again. Liverpool have been loyal to him – and rightly so, but with Jurgen Klopp waiting in the wings the Welshman must know that unless he secures Champions League football his days are numbered.

Arsenal created virtually nothing against Newcastle. Despite their opponents going down to 10 men in the 16th minute, the Gunners needed another jammy own goal to win. Theo Walcott started the game up front, demonstrating that Wenger does not trust Olivier Giroud.

But Walcott is a laughable striker who doesn’t have a clue how to lead the line. When teams play deep he’s practically useless. Walcott lacks belief in his own ability, and rightly so - as Chris Waddle once said, he has no footballing brain. If challenging for major trophies is the expectation, then both strikers are sadly inadequate - and that's not the only problem, but we won't go into it.

Man Utd and Swansea was the best game of the weekend - the only one I saw where both teams played pretty good football with high levels of possession. But United collapsed in the space of five minutes because the players could not adapt after Garry Monk made a simple tactical change. It proves that Louis Van Gaal still has a lot to educate his players about. They’re gelling, but the ‘team mind’ is absent.

Chelsea lost at home to Crystal Palace. No complaints from Mourinho this time, as he rounded on his players. The manager acted last week with the signing of Pedro, and he’s going to have to act in some way again. Someone needs to be made an example of – take your pick. The defence has collapsed without the ageing John Terry’s leadership, and too many players have downed tools, just like Man City did after they’d won the league.

Last season, Chelsea had the title won by October, this season it looks like Man City have the title won after four games. That may seem crazy to suggest, but if you can provide me with a sane reason to believe otherwise I’ll be glad to hear it.

The transfer window closes tomorrow evening at 6pm. This ‘event’ is the only hope left for numerous clubs to prove how serious they are about addressing their weaknesses and challenging Manchester City for the title, but it will be a big struggle for all involved.

Arsenal will be on the market, circling like a vulture for some superstar that’s become surplus to requirements. That’s Wenger’s big vision for the future.

—oo— 

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Tuesday
Aug252015

Cech 0 Mignolet 0

This weekend, only one home team picked up all three points in the Premier League. At first glance, it appears as though there is a dearth of quality strikers, and defences are improving.

Man Utd, whose defensive shape was hapless last season, have kept three clean sheets and might have had three 1-0 wins had Wayne Rooney’s goal not been ruled out at home to Newcastle – but it was ruled out, and they didn’t do enough to win.

I always say, if you need a marginal call to help you win a football match, don’t complain if it goes the wrong way – it means you weren’t good enough to earn the three points.

Liverpool have also kept three clean sheets, and might have had three 1-0 wins themselves, although last night’s game against Arsenal was more about two goalkeepers performing admirably. Man City have not conceded a goal yet either, and after beating Everton 2-0 at Goodison Park are looking back to their best after last season’s abject defence of their title.

However, there is also some farcical football to be found in the Premier League, none more so than West Ham’s 4-3 defeat at home to Bournemouth. English football fans love watching a 4-3 scrap on MOTD, but good football impresses me, not watching two teams defend like donkeys, hoofing the ball around and making idiotic schoolboy errors. Quite frankly, the match was an embarrassment to the English game – if I worked for the FA I’d burn the tapes.  

Considering their stature, Arsenal vs Liverpool was not a great advert for the PL either. The Gunners lost both centre backs prior to kick off, which led to the sort of panic and confusion typified by the club over the last decade every time a couple of key defenders are missing. But even if you could forgive the circumstances, it’s hard to forgive the amount of misplaced passes on view.

What is clear is that two of the biggest clubs in English football are both incapable of retaining possession for more than three or four passes, dictating play or setting the pace of a game. It was a good old-fashioned British scrap, and a clean game with honest, hardworking performances, but technically it was a shambles. Philippe Coutinho was the only attacking player to come out of the game with any credit, the only beacon of quality.

An error from the linesman saw an early goal from Aaron Ramsey ruled out, but, as with Man Utd on Saturday, Arsenal’s one-dimensional set up meant they were too easy to negate and too blunt up top – they simply didn’t deserve to win.

Brendan Rodgers, meanwhile, appears to be learning and improving as a coach, mostly because he’s willing to be flexible.  I continue to admire him despite last season’s inevitable fall from grace, but whether he can turn Liverpool into Champions League competitors remains a question mark - and, as we know, only at Arsenal is patience inexhaustible.

Arsenal
Cech (7) Showed his quality with a world-class save from Coutinho
Bellerin (6) Infected by the inept performance of Chambers
Gabriel (7) Coped with the chaos around him and deserves to keep his place
Chambers (3) What’s he learned since joining Arsenal? Nothing
Monreal (6) Adequate
Coquelin (6) Bit rash at times but made some good interceptions
Cazorla (5) So sloppy, sometimes looks like it’s all a big joke to him
Ozil (6) Even more worrying that despite an increase in effort he cannot contribute more
Ramsey (6) Tried to make things happen but nothing came off, including the disallowed goal
Sanchez (6) Looks knackered. Refusal to rest him could ruin his season, and Arsenal’s
Giroud (5) Often isolated but lacks the sharpness of a top striker

-
Subs:  No one worth mentioning

Liverpool
Mignolet (7) Made a couple of very good saves
Clyne (7) Looks to be a good signing
Skrtel (7) Warrior at the back
Lovren (6) Slowly improving
Gomez (5) Nervous performance, should have been targeted
Lucas (6) Played OK
Milner (7) Helped his team defensively
Can (5) Poor first touch
Firmino (6) Baptism of fire for the new signing
Coutinho (8) Best outfield player on the pitch by a mile
Benteke (5) Strong but clumsy

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Subs:  No one worth mentioning

Even at this early stage of the season, Chelsea had to win at the Hawthorns, where the 3-2 victory was more comfortable than the scoreline suggested. You have to hand it to Mourinho, new signing Pedro was electric and just the spark they needed.

Once identified, Chelsea did not mess about in capturing him ahead of Man Utd.

—oo— 

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Tuesday
Aug182015

Arsenal edge open game/Man City show hunger

Desperate for a win, Arsenal were a bit lucky to take all three points against Crystal Palace on Sunday. Unlike Arsenal’s previous opponents, Palace did not have West Ham’s organisation. They didn't get close enough to Arsenal and were too attacking until Alan Pardew changed the formation from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 midway through the first half, but by then they were 1-0 down. Mesut Ozil was allowed too much room and his precise cross was finished superbly by Giroud with his back to goal.

But Palace equalised when full-back Joel Ward hit a sweet right-foot shot from the edge of the box that cruised past Petr Cech. “We are still getting used to Cech” noted Per Mertesacker; not as much as he’s getting used to you.

The fatal blow for Palace was the half-time departure of Yannick Bolasie who was causing Arsenal a lot of problems down the right flank. Still, the game was even after the break, and when Connor Wickham hit the post early in the second half, one might have felt Palace could edge the match.

However, on 55 Hector Bellerin lumped a ball to the far post and Alexis Sanchez showed more hunger than Ward to win it. His header wouldn’t have troubled the keeper had Damien Delaney’s stray leg not poked the ball into his own net. More good fortune was to follow after the impetuous Francis Coquelin got away with numerous reckless tackles while on a yellow card. But Palace were toothless, even if Coquelin had got sent off it’s hard to see where a goal would have come from without Bolasie on the pitch.

Improvement from Arsenal? Not really. The balance is all wrong. Going forward they will create chances against disorganised teams and win plenty of matches, but the Gunners are incapable of controlling the tempo of a game. Bar Sanchez, all their forward players show little appetite to win the ball back and there is a gulf somewhere in the middle of the pitch that means one loose pass and the opposition are overloading the defence. Sunday’s game could have just as easily gone to Palace, but Arsenal edged it in the end and the Eagles only have themselves to blame.

Cech (4) I can think of a few goalkeepers that might have saved Ward’s shot/flapping at crosses
Bellerin (6) Decent performance
Mertesacker (6) Competent
Koscielny (6) Rarely unduly troubled
Monreal (6) Struggled to cope with Bolasi, but he’s a handful
Coquelin (5) Is needed but shows immaturity in his game that will eventually cost Arsenal
 
Cazorla (5) Average
Ozil (7) Left to his own devices, which was a mistake
Sanchez (6) Not up-to-speed yet but his threat alone helped tipped the scales
Ramsey (6) Movement caused Palace problems, but no end product
Giroud (6) Scored an excellent goal, but can he do it against the big clubs?

Man City trounced Chelsea 3-0 at the Etihad. At the start of the season I predicted trouble for the title winners if they could not maintain their motivation, and that’s already starting to look like a big problem for Jose Mourinho. Normally so reliable, Branislav Ivanovic was a joke against City and even John Terry is showing lapses in concentration. City, on the other hand, look rehabilitated and are showing no little class. Like last season, one might fear that the Premier League could be all over by the end of October - especially if Chelsea fall too far behind.

Man Utd and Liverpool both flattered to deceive with narrow 1-0 victories. Both teams have numerous new players to bed in and it shows. On the positive side, they both appear to have improved defensively – right back Matteo Darmian was hugely impressive for United. There seems to be a chronic lack of flair for some of England’s top clubs; Liverpool, Utd and Chelsea all need forwards capable of getting bums off seats – cash needs to be splashed before the transfer window closes, those that don’t will falter.

Elsewhere Southampton took a hiding at home to Everton, with a slightly slimmer Romelu Lukaku putting in a monster display. And although I’ve punted on Stoke, Swansea might also replace the Saints as this year’s dark horse.

Tottenham’s defending is laughable, and if it doesn’t improve the crowd will soon start to get on Mauricio Pochetino’s back. I felt sorry for him, cruising 2-0 against Stoke new signing Toby Alderweireld gave away an idiotic penalty, then the Spuds predictably crumbled.

—oo— 

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Tuesday
Aug112015

Arsenal defeat was no “accident”

At home to West Ham, Arsenal looked consumed by the pressure of expectation, losing 2-0 against a side battling odds of 7/1.

Despite a critical error leading to West Ham’s second goal, Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain justified starting the game but could not ignite a similar performance from his team mates. West Ham were very good, but then it’s hard to tell whether their ability to stifle Arsenal was down to the tactical expertise of new manager Slavan Bilic or the fact that this Arsenal side is too easily nullified by teams that are well organised.

Peter Cech had a debut to forget. He was slow off his line to meet Cheikhou Kouyate’s 43rd minute header, although the entire defence was badly organised at the set piece and several players had switched off. Mauro Zayate doubled West Ham’s lead on 57 after the forward robbed Oxlade-Chamberlain on the edge of the box, turned and shot past a flat-footed Cech.

What you have to understand about Cech is that he is used to playing in a defence marshalled by John Terry, and teams managed by Jose Mourinho. Now he is playing in a side that lacks defensive leadership and is vulnerable on counter-attacks and set pieces. Cech's going to be exposed in a way that he hasn’t been for 11 years, and it's up to him and Arsenal's coaching staff to respond.

Arsenal threatened in parts, but by and large West Ham were disciplined, comfortable even, and although selfish at times, Diafra Sakho’s tireless energy was a constant thorn in the side of Arsenal’s centre-back pairing.

Question marks need to be asked about Arsenal’s setup. Cazorla, so successful in a deep-lying midfield role last season, looked anonymous on the left wing and Arsenal lacked quality from wide positions generally with very little support for Olivier Giroud who fluffed his litany of half-chances.

Arsenal will now travel to a revitalised Crystal Palace next weekend under heightened pressure to get a result. A draw would be worrying, defeat unthinkable - these are the stakes when you're expected to compete for the title and not fourth place.

Arsenal
Cech (3) Nightmare debut
Debuchy (5) Played a bit too safe
Mertesacker (5) Lacked leadership
Koscielny (5) Ball-watched opening goal. Got bullied by Sakho on occasion
Monreal (5) Should have picked up Kouyate at the set piece, lacked penetration going forward
Coquelin (4) Long-range passing way off. Limitations are apparent
Ramsey (4) Accommodating the Welshman affects the team’s balance
Ozil (4) Dismal display
Cazorla (4) Played like a man lost on the wing
Oxlade-Chamberlain (6) Played very well in an attacking sense but was partially responsible for Zarate’s goal
Giroud (4) Clumsy/lacked sharpness
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Subs: No one worth mentioning

West Ham
Adrian (7) Made a couple of decent stops
Tomkins (6) A rash defender, but coped despite his booking
Reid (7) Marshalled the defence well
Ogbonna (7) Didn’t panic
Cresswell (6) Struggled with Oxlade-Chamberlain at times
Oxford (7) Fine debut for the 16-year-old
Kouyate (7) Headed the opener
Noble (6) Stifled a bit by early booking
Payet (8) Bright and inventive debut
Sakho (7) Selfish at times but worked his socks off
Zarate (6) Scored an opportunistic goal

-
Subs: No one worth mentioning

To round up the weekend, Liverpool travelled to Stoke on Sunday and picked up a valuable win thanks to a superb 25-yard strike by Philippe Coutinho. The match was drab, but I was surprised at how well Liverpool coped with Stoke’s physicality.

Man City brushed aside West Brom with ease. The silky David Silva often tortured The Baggies’ defence and YaYa Toure displayed a renewed hunger and the quality we know he's capable of.

—oo— 

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Monday
Aug102015

Benzema to Arsenal is ridiculous

One thing I’ve learned in recent years is not to pay any attention to transfer rumours because 99% of stories are deliberately falsified or fabricated out of thin air. Every year the stories seem to become more and more ludicrous as expectant fans are used as click bait in a highly competitive media landscape where everyone is brawling to reach the top of the transfer dungheap.

This year’s bunch of crap is led by rumours of Karim Benzema joining Arsenal, despite the fact that no one involved with the player has said anything remotely encouraging. Apart from that, there is simply no logic to the story.

There are 13 days until Primera League kicks off, and Benzema is the only out-and-out striker Real Madrid has. At this point, selling the Frenchman would be pure suicide.

Three years ago, Real’s summer spend equalled £142m. They sold Higuain to Napoli for £34.5m and still had a £100m+ black hole. That’s why Mesut Ozil was allowed to leave, but don’t make the mistake of thinking Real Madrid is a selling club. The Spanish giants have only spent £27m on transfers this season - they don’t need the money.

Even if Real coughed up £40m for David De Gea (unlikely when they can get him for nothing in 12 months), there would still be no point selling Benzema as they would only have to go out and spend the same amount of money to replace him. Where are they going to find a striker that practically guarantees a goal every other game? They’d sooner sell Gareth Bale.

With Benzema’s agent telling us the striker will be staying “1,000%”, reliable Spanish pundit Guillem Balague insisting there is “no chance whatsoever” of a deal and manager Rafael Benitez giving the player a vote of confidence only last week, it’s really about time fans started using their common sense and forget this drivel.

Even if I’m completely wrong, Man Utd also need a striker and would probably steal in ahead of dithering Arsenal in a nanosecond. 

—oo— 

Comments should be intelligent and well-written. All others will be binned.