Some thoughts on the weekend’s action.
Spurs 2-1 Arsenal
We’ll start with the main attraction.
Before the game Arsene Wenger said that they weren’t going to specifically plan for Gareth Bale. How did that go Arsene? If you were asked for 3 qualities that best describe, it’s fair to say that pace would be ones of those, if not the first one you’d think of. So, how do you combat pace? Is it by playing a high line and trying to play offside. That’s not necessarily the worst strategy in itself. Most of the focus is on the lack of pace in the Arsenal back 4 selected yesterday but that isn’t the problem.
Look at the great George Graham Arsenal defence; Dixon, Keown, Adams, Bould & Winterburn. None of those of quick,, in fact they were all slow. But they played offside, they played a high line. So what’s the difference? How about the fact that they played together for years and years so they understood the system faultlessly. They knew when to drop, they knew when to push up. Arsenal seemed to be wheeling out this defensive system for the first time yesterday and none of the back four seemed to know what they should be doing. Monreal didn’t talk to Vermaelen for the Lennon goal, but then Vermaelen was about 4 yards behind everyone else to start with. So who was at fault? Probably both. There’s no talker or leader of that back 4 so trying to play a difficult to master offside trap was always going to be risky and they got burned twice.
The thing is though, that aside from the two goals they conceded Arsenal more than held their own. They dominated possession but couldn’t quite create the chances they needed to. They came close to prizing Spurs open a few times but misplaced passes or misjudged runs meant various attacks fizzled out.
As for Spurs, this was a professional and mature performance. They couldn’t really get Bale in to the game, partly because he was well marshaled by the Arsenal midfield but he still nearly scored twice. Vertonghen was superb and Dawson excellent. Vermaelen seems to be regressing for Arsenal whilst his compatriot is starting to enforce himself on the league. And he never breaks sweat! Before the game whilst everyone else was fidgeting nervously and getting pumped up he just leaned against the wall looking like he could have a nap if necessary. Combining his elegance and game reading with Dawson’s tenacity and ruggedness has seen Spurs really tighten up. Yes Bale is rightly attracting the headlines for his sublime form, but the Spurs defence has been crucial in their 12 game unbeaten run. They’ve only conceded 2 once in that run and kept 5 clean sheets.
Jamie Redknapp made an excellent point (no, really). He said that the Spurs dressing room is much easier to manage than the Chelsea one. AVB has a core of young players and those senior players that there are haven’t ‘been there, done that’ like the high profile Chelsea players he inherited. The ambiance at Spurs is similar to that which he had at Porto. There he turned a talented but as yet unprolific attacker in to a goal machine. Any one heard of this Falcao fella? Yep, that’s AVB’s doing. How about Joao Moutinho? He joined AVB as an unfulfilled talent and last summer was one of the most in demand players in Europe. He also turned Hulk from a J-League striker to someone that the club sold for £50million. Not too shabby.
He didn’t have the opportunity to show any of this whilst working as John Terry’s assistant at Chelsea. Maybe he does know what he’s doing, this bloke that holds the record for the youngest manager to ever win a European trophy, has an unbeaten season on his CV and was so highly regarded by one Jose Mourinho that he was hot routed up to a senior position in his staff and then came highly recommended to Porto. Hmm…
Chelsea 1-0 West Brom
Meanwhile, back to the football. Oh wait, is it about the football at Chelsea? Do some fans really want to Chelsea to fail if it means getting Benitez out the door quicker? Really?! It’s hard to know what will satisfy the Chelsea fans. If they crash out of the Top 4, which they won’t by the way, then are they happy because it makes Benitez look a fool? If they get Top 4 are they unhappy because it validates him? What are they protesting against now? I’m confused.
Right, football. Chelsea won a drab game with a scruffy goal. But who cares about football at the Bridge when there’s drama to be enjoying.
Everton 3-1 Reading
This was one of the most enjoyable games of the weekend. Everton have missed their chance to get in the Top 4, barring double meltdown in London but the win keeps them ahead of a rejuvenated Liverpool. Back to back seasons of finishing above their city rivals is definitely something to aim for. I mentioned in my preview that Everton needed Mirallas and Pienaar to step up to help Fellaini. Well, thank you for reading gents, I’d appreciate a re-tweet. They obviously took my advice on board as they run rough shod over a Reading defence that has lost it’s confidence. Pienaar’s goal was spectacular, lacerating it in to the top corner after a mazy run.
Reading seem to be in a downward spiral at the moment. They don’t give themselves a chance for late game heroics when already 3 goals behind. Unlike last week, at least they were conceding to quality play but it is a worrying trend. Having scrambled out of trouble they’ve slipped back to 19th. I’m afraid that’s where they look like staying.
Man United 4-0 Norwich
Not much to see here. This was always going to happen. United don’t mess about at home and Norwich keep taking heavy beatings from the top teams on the road. It’s good to see artisan’s choice Shinji Kagawa flower in to life. Don’t however, let this have any baring on your thinking ahead of the Real Madrid game. This was a coast in the park against an inferior team. Real 2nd string beat Barcelona at the weekend. Tuesday will be fascinating.
Southampton 1-2 QPR
Huh? Where did this come from? I thought QPR were awful and Saints were going well under Pochettino?
The worry for Saints is that their much celebrated win over City is their only win in the 6 games under the Argentine. More concerning is that the defence is still leaking goals. Only that Everton clean sheet to show for a different defensive style and at 16th they are right in it. So how did they manage to lose to QPR?
Well, Redknapp heeded the criticisms of Adel Taarabt and dropped him. Lo and behold, they weren’t shooting from 40 yards and scored 2 for the first time in nearly 2 months. The team looked united and energised after their break, and far be it from me to suspect that some mainstream media would look to do ‘Arry a favour but this whole Dubai debacle does seem conveniently timed. ‘Look at this garbage lads, go and show them what you’re all about, prove them all wrong’. Maybe?
Anyway, they weren’t that good. Southampton conceded two abysmal goals and even then only a wonder save by comedy keeper Rob Green preserved the win. Incidentally, on the point of comedy play. Re-watch Remy’s goal. What is Danny Fox doing? He ran away from Remy to try and cover the goal line for some reason. You don’t want to try and close the shooter down?
Yeah but that’s because Pochettino can’t speak English Eurgh. Yeah? Firstly, he can, but he clearly doesn’t want to have his words twisted. Secondly, do Premier League defenders need to be told not to run away from a striker baring down on goal?
Still, I predicted this exact score.
Stoke 0-1 West Ham
Sunderland 2-2 Fulham
This was played as if it was the last game of the season and the players had carte blanche to enjoy themselves. Here’s a game for you. Go to a Premier League table and try and find Fulham. If you’re reaction isn’t ‘they’re 10th?!’ then you must be a Fulham fan. They seem to bumble along well enough though. As for Sunderland, the briefly unbreachable defence of a few weeks ago has faded away. In Match of the Day terms, both teams ‘should be all right’ by a combination of having some decent players and more importantly, the number of poor team hovering around the bottom of the table.
Swansea 1-0 Newcastle
The scoreline and MOTD billing don’t really do this justice. It was an enjoyable and quite open game. Some of the usual Vorm heroics and the cross bar prevented various Newcastle players scoring and Swansea brought their usual slick and enterprising football to the party and could have scored a few more.
This was a 3-3 in all but scoreline and was a good advert for the fact that even the middling and lower end Premier League teams can aspire to play nice modern football and expect high standards. Newcastle are still in trouble but they more than enough quality to dig themselves out if they get their act together.
Wigan 0-4 Liverpool
Liverpool continue their relentless steam rolling of bottom half sides. They may still struggle against the really good teams but they have been merciless against the cannon fodder. Rodgers has the makings of a very good team but the big question is whether they can keep Suarez out of Bayern’s clutches. He has always looked spectacular but this year he is matching goal scoring consistency to his general menace. That’s a pretty potent cocktail and Wigan had no answer. The really exciting player on this showing for me though was Philippe Coutinho. His pass to Suarez for the second goal was beyond sublime. The pace and precision of it was something to behold and he seems to have plugged straight in with worry. They’ve got some friendly games on the horizon too so if they can keep this sort of form going they could be a dark horse for a late top 4 charge. They have Spurs and Chelsea at home and then near enough the entire bottom half of the league. If they can get 4 or even 6 points from the London clubs then they really will be in the mix, particularly considering they only have the Premier League to focus on now.