Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Weekend Observations 11th - 13th December 2010: Part Two

After the sacking of Chris Hughton last week you would have thought football would wait a few weeks before going completely mental again. No. Just a few days later ‘Big’ Sam Allardyce was relieved of his duties at Blackburn Rovers. A shocking decision on the face of it given the fact he was doing a fairly decent job of maintaining Rovers’ position of mid table mediocrity. Seeing as the Venky’s group – Blackburn’s new owners – recently claimed they were happy in that very position, their complete change of stance is baffling. The fact they don’t seem to even have a replacement lined up makes the whole situation even more nonsensical.

Mind you, having pumped a fortune into buying the club, they probably took one look at the Allardyce’s ‘style’ of football and understandably came to the conclusion they wanted to see something much better.

Allardyce was handed his pink slip off the back of a 2-1 defeat in the Lancashire/Greater Manchester/Somewhere-in-the-north-east derby against his former club Bolton. Given the way Allardyce celebrated his current side’s equaliser in front of the fans who once worshiped the ground he walked upon, you have to say Karma gave him a double dose of whoop-ass. Stuart Holdon’s stunning quickfire response that ultimately proved to be the winning goal was just the starter before the main course of Monday’s dramatic dismissal.

The abovementioned Newcastle played their first game under Alan ‘5 and a half years’ Pardew and what do you know? They beat Liverpool 3-1 and looked quite good in the process. Andy Carroll was on the scoresheet yet again and is proving to be something of a revelation. Credit where it is undoubtedly due for him being able to make the transition from Championship to Premier League almost seamlessly – something many young players struggle to do.

The game also featured a now customary Torres one-on-one miss and Joey Barton... well, being Joey Barton. For the record, I don’t think his ‘gesture’ was that offensive but having just returned from a three match ban and everything that has happened to him IN HIS LIFE up until this point, you’d hope he would apply something like common sense and keep his nose clean. I’m not the first to say it and certainly won’t be the last but if Barton concentrated on his football and stopped behaving like a dickhead at every opportunity, he would actually be quite the player.

Dr. Jackal/Mr. Hyde also scored the key second goal in the game. The Premier League have apparently moved to ‘remind him of his responsibilities’ but it would help if Barton actually what the word responsibility actually meant.

Now, before Geordies start proclaiming Pardew to be their new Messiah, let’s not forget that this is still Hughton’s team.

In keeping with the theme of under fire managers, Roy Hodgson has once again had to come out fighting this week in face of more criticism and speculation over his future. Hodgson is in danger of doing irreparable damage both to his reputation and to this current Liverpool team. A good manager no doubt but as the season has worn on, it has become clear that Hodgson quite simply won’t be able to deliver what the club wants and needs: Champions League football and eventually a title push. His terrible personal away record doesn’t appear to show any sign of improving either.

Sharing their neighbours cause for concern are Everton whose traditional slow start to the season has dragged itself almost to the halfway stage after a 0-0 draw with Wigan. “Some” people might say that you insist on signing AND playing Jermaine Beckford instead of a real striker then you deserve to sit just two points off the relegation zone... some people!

With West Ham putting up about as much of a fight in the relegation battle as an anaemic schoolchild in the UFC, Wolves picked up a massive 1-0 win against midlands rivals Birmingham while across the region, Gerard Houllier’s Aston Villa scored a much needed 2-1 win over rivals West Brom. All four of these sides have some sort of dislike or resentment towards one another. Can’t imagine the West Midlands was a fun place to be over the weekend.

Stephen Hunt
’s decisive goal and Wolves’ subsequent win opened up a three point gap on the hapless hammers as well as inching themselves closer to safety. The bottom of the table remains congested as ever and Villa’s welcome victory gives Gerrard Houllier some much needed breathing space after a poor recent run. Those same people who say those unkind words about Jermaine Beckford may also suggest that it is no coincidence that Villa finally won a game after dropping Richard Dunne.



Aston Villa 2-1 West Brom
Everton 0-0 Wigan
Fulham 0-0 Sunderland
Newcastle 3-1 Liverpool
Stoke 0-1 Blackpool
West Ham 1-3 Manchester City


Bolton 2-1 Blackburn
Tottenham 1-1 Chelsea
Wolves 1-0 Birmingham


Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal

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Weekend Observations 11th - 13th December 2010: Part One

Big Story of the weekend comes from Eastlands where Man City’s Carlos Tevez has handed in a written transfer request. Aside from despairing billboard manufacturers in the city, the club’s fans can’t be too pleased either. As recently as last month they were lording it over their neighbours from Old Trafford when Wayne Rooney did something similar before changing his mind. Rooney stayed and now it is City’s talismanic striker who wants to leave Manchester. You have to wonder what is wrong with the place...

This situation however, differs in a number of ways from that of the potato-headed Scouser. Tevez, currently pocketing a reported 280 grand every 7 days, has never been backward in coming forward to express his feelings of disillusionment about the game. The Argentine has even been vocal on the subject of quitting football altogether. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that he is one unhappy bunny at the minute. Last week’s touchline spat with Roberto Mancini was just an indicator of his current state of mind.

Tevez, despite claiming repeatedly that money is not his primary concern, has cited a breakdown of a relationship between himself and ‘some executives’ indicating a potential contract dispute with those at board level. The City hierarchy have intimated that this is indeed the case but my suspicions are that they are simply looking to besmirch the striker’s character by painting him as just another money-grabbing mercenary.

Whether this is true or not, remains to be seen. I expect a lot more name calling from both sides before the saga draws to a close. From what I understand, homesickness rather than money is the main reason for this dramatic decision. Tevez and his babymother have split up and she has taken their children back to Argentina. Tevez is understandably unhappy at being so far away from his family so maybe his request to leave is not that unreasonable. Putting two and two together, I’m thinking that the club has maybe reneged on certain promises to allow him time off to go home every so often. The likelihood of any Argentinean team being able to afford to rescue him is another issue completely though.

In stark contrast, Tevez’ continued impressive performances give off no impression of any external problems. You won’t find many people arguing that the captain hasn’t been City’s best and most consistent player over the last year or so. Whatever you think of this whole mess, his professionalism on the pitch has to be commended. Unlike wantaway players of days gone by, Tevez says he will still play for the club. Despite his obvious displeasure, he still puts the effort into every game as if it is his last – which of course, it may well be.

If he does leave, it would do serious damage to any potential City assault on the title although, in his absence, Saturday saw the blues stroll past Abject Avram’s West Ham with Yaya Toure taking centre stage. Then again, this is West Ham we’re talking about. They are to football what Sepp Blatter is to gay rights.

City’s win momentarily put them joint top of the league alongside Arsenal until the gunners were replaced by Manchester United who beat them 1-0 on Monday night.

You have to wonder though, what is the point of Arsenal? Yes, great football, financially stability and a commitment to the development of young talent is all very commendable and certainly a model you’d hope many others will follow before the inevitable day in the not too distant future when the completely unsustainable nature of football finances sees top clubs start toppling like dominoes.

But what good is any of that if it can’t be converted into success on the pitch? Nobody supports a club because they have a good bank balance. Arsenal fans have not seen their side win a trophy for over five years and based on Monday’s predictable surrender the drought, as far as the league is concerned, sees no sign of abating.

Admittedly, they are going good guns (no pun intended) in the Carling Cup but you have to ask if winning the football’s second least prestigious competition (behind the SPL) is good enough for one of England’s so called biggest clubs.

It looks like they’ve balls’d up their Champions League campaign this season and defeat at Old Trafford has left them trailing their old rivals who now also have a game in hand. More than that, having lost against Chelsea already this season, Arsenal’s continued failure in these big Championship six pointers looks once again to derail any rumoured title challenge. Arsenal have now lost 10 and drawn one of their last 11 games in all competitions against United and Chelsea – a recent record worse than the likes of Birmingham and Fulham respectively.

Arsenal barely showed up at Old Trafford and spent a lot of the second half passing the ball from side to side in what could only be described as an attempt to bore the United defence into conceding somehow. Of course, this didn’t work. Having conceded to a fortuitous Park Ji Sung header just before half time, a little more urgency would have been welcome in the second 45. It didn’t come and Arsene Wenger’s side got exactly what they deserved from the game: nothing!

The one positive they will take from the game was the performance of debutant Wojciech Szczesny (15 minutes to verify the spelling!) in goal who pulled off some decent saves and showed a safe pair of hands on a number of other occasions. A competent Arsenal goalkeeper? Who would have thunk it?

The scoreline could have been more emphatic when everyone’s favourite referee awarded United their Annual undeserved penalty at Old Trafford (The fifth they have ‘won’ in eight seasons against Arsenal). Wayne Rooney summed up his mediocre season by ballooning the ball straight to the moon.

2-0 would have flattered United. For Arsenal, one of the most frustrating things about this defeat for the gunners was that fact that the home side weren’t actually any good. Thanks to the powder puff nature of any Arsenal attack, it’s not unfair to say that the Reds deserved their win but only by default on account of simply being ‘less worse’ than the visitors. United played the way that secured them the win and fair play to them for being smart enough to do so but I don’t think I’m out of order for suggesting that the tactics they employed after scoring were not dissimilar to a League One side protecting a lead against Premier League opposition in some sort of cup match. Yes, the mighty Manchester United were reduced to defensive long ball merchants, AT HOME! How they are top of the league and still unbeaten is anyone’s guess.

Whether they stay there or not is different story as they head to Stamford Bridge to face a Chelsea side they have failed to beat away from home in the league since 2002. Funnily enough, a year before The Blues were doped up to the shinpads by Roman Abramovich’s roubles.

Chelsea themselves are still going through a somewhat dodgy period and a 1-1 draw against Tottenham in Sunday’s big game could be seen as another stumble as they attempt retain their crown. Despite going behind, Chelsea will look at this as an opportunity lost given the circumstances at the end of the game when Didier Drogba’s ego cost his side two points.

Having been dropped, Drogba set out to prove a point to his manager by burying the equaliser right through the apparition of Heurelho Gomes. However, Drogba’s insistence on taking the last minute penalty ahead of the returning Frank Lampard that could have won the game bordered on selfish and by missing it, he could well have hindered Chelsea’s championship ambitions even further.

For the record, Gomes did not go from ‘villain to hero’. He gave away the first goal and conceded the penalty. Ultimately, it was his fault Spurs dropped the points all he did was prevent his team paying a further price for his ineptitude. Saving it did not vindicate him in the slightest and hopefully ‘arry gave him an earful at in the changing rooms afterwards.

Chelsea may have stuttered in recent weeks but are still very much in the race. Their ‘spine’ of Terry, Essien, Lampard and Drogba is just about complete once again and a win against Manchester United at the weekend should give them the momentum to kick on in the second half of the season. Their second half performance at White Hart Lane was ominously good and it seems only a matter of time before they are battering teams up and down the land as they were at the start of the season.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Weekend Observations 4th - 6th December 2010: Part Two

Part One Here

On Monday, Gerrard Houllier, former Liverpool manager of early noughties plastic treble winning fame returned to Anfield with his new club Aston Villa. The home side were missing their 'spine' of Jamie Carragher, Stevie Gerrard and Fernando Torres through a combination of injuries and impending childbirth but any hopes of a shock evaporated in less than 20 minutes as a makeshift forward line of David N'Gog and Ryan Babel gave the Scousers an early two goal lead.

Given their form this season, it wasn't really a surprise to see Villa concede two goals that any defence not consisting of James Collins and Richard Dunne may have prevented. Although, in fairness, there was a big shout for offside with Babel's goal.

The life had been sucked out of the game and for the next 25 minutes the most entertaining thing going on was the creative swearing coming from the dugout area where the TV crews seemed to have inadvertently placed one of their microphones. Unfortunately, this was moved in the second half so all us fans of needless profanity were left disappointed.

Instead, we got a great example of how to offer nothing to a football match by Villa before Maxi Rodriguez iced the Liverpool cake with a sublime third. Forgotten signing of the season Joe Cole came on as did random signing of the season Robert Pires who did nothing but still looked more accomplished than worst signing of the season Stephen Ireland.

The 3-0 win saw Liverpool shoot up the table to the dizzying heights of 8th place – Interestingly, 3 points closer to top spot than at the same stage last season. Villa stay just two points off the relegation zone.

Just when you thought that peace had broken out at St. James' Park, Newcastle United leaped out from the shadows and soared to the top of their own self-erected pedestal of incompetence as if to say to the rest of us, "Hey, you've forgotten what a massive joke we are. We could no longer allow this. Point and laugh til your belly's are sore for we are the laughing stock of all of football!". Yes, following Sunday's 3-1 reverse at West Brom, Chris Hughton was sent packing from the Magpies managerial hotseat by trigger happy Mike Ashley and his cronies.

At the time of writing, Martin Jol seems to have cast aside his Ajax shackles and is primed to take over on Tyneside. As a fairly decent manager with the 'experience' they seem to so desperately desire. IF he does get the job, this will look like a good appointment on the face of it but you have to ask if changing a manager who was popular among players and fans alike is going to cause at least some level of disruption? What Hughton seemed to provide was some much-needed stability; something more important than a big name.

The West Brom defeat coupled with the recent humiliation at Bolton may well have contributed to the sacking but given the fact Hughton not only masterminded last years successful promotion campaign, but also this season's a 6-0 battering of Aston Villa, the emphatic Tyne-Wear derby win, wins at Everton and Arsenal and most recently a draw at home to the current league Champions (who they also beat in the Carling Cup), one would think he'd done enough to deserve a little more respect and his much sought after contract extension. Sadly, only in football do these kind of achievements get 'rewarded' in such a way. Needless to say, the reaction has initially been one of anger and disbelief. As a result, many 'neutrals' wouldn't be too disappointed to see the Loony Toon Army plummet down the table once more and find themselves back in the Championship where they were when Hughton was originally appointed caretaker manager.

If Newcastle are to be drawn into a relegation battle, they will have to go some way do wrestle the wooden spoon away from either West Ham or Wolves. You have to wonder if these sides are actually trying to finish last following a bizarre weekend when West Ham moved off the bottom of the table on goal difference despite not playing on Saturday thanks to Wolves' 3-0 defeat at Blackburn. However, the Hammers returned to the foot of the table following their 1-0 defeat at Sunderland 24 hours later.

Wolves can feel hard done by given the fact they were by far and away better than their Lancashire conquerers but due to a fetish for pinging the ball off the goal frame and making Paul Robinson look like a competent goalkeeper (a crime worthy of relegation in itself) they instead came away on the wrong end of a hiding. Another good performance from Mick McCarthy's men but no result to match. The annual hard luck story of at least one side doomed to the dreaded drop.

West Ham haven't won away from Upton Park in the league since the first day of last season and this most recent bout of travel sickness has piled yet more pressure on Avram Grant. The winning goal from Jordan Henderson capped off a fine team move and was worthy of winning any game although in truth, I'm not sure many people realistically expected West Ham to get anything against a Sunderland side who are quite formidable on home soil. Any 'extra' pressure on the diminutive Isreali is not really justified in my eyes.

That said, the Irons are looking something of a shambles in the league and you imagine that if it wasn't for last week's hugely unexpected victory over Manchester United in the Carling Cup, Sir Avram would be standing alongside Chris Hughton in the dole queue right about now.

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Arsenal 2-1 Fulham
Birmingham 1-1 Tottenham
Blackburn 3-0 Wolves
Blackpool P-P Manchester United
Chelsea 1-1 Everton
Man City 1-0 Bolton
Wigan 2-2 Stoke


Sunderland 1-0 West Ham
West Brom 3-1 Newcastle


Liverpool 3-0 Aston Villa

Weekend Observations 4th - 6th December 2010: Part One

There is a terrible epidemic amongst football fans, pundits and commentators alike to label any new, young, exciting talent as some sort of modern day incarnation of great player from days of yore. Any half-baked tabloid, broadcaster or blog that dares to indulge in often fruitless transfer speculation will almost certainly refer to a player as the 'new' version of someone else. When a young French player of Algerian heritage signed for Arsenal a couple of summers back, there was a laughable suggestion that he was going to be, like Bruno Cheyrou before him, a 'new Zidane'. This particular comparison is just an example of laziness due to ethnicity rather than footballing ability. ZiZou was one of the finest players to ever play the game and to heap that sort of pressure on an unproven Samir Nasri was both unfair and unwarranted.

Of course, it remains to be seen if he can actually live up to these expectations but certainly this season Samir has sparkled in Arsenal colours playing in a way that the great man who he is said to have succeed would be proud of. Nasri's fine form culminated in a fantastic performance in the 2-1 win over Fulham on Saturday when his two jaw-droppingly brilliant goals fired the Gunners to the top of the Premier League table.

This past summer saw the mind-numbingly boring transfer tug of war between Arsenal and Barcelona over the Gunners' talismanic Captain Cesc Fabregas. Such is his importance to Arsenal, the typically hyperbolic reactions from many suggested that if the North Londoners did lose their man then the team would falter, the Emirates would be sucked into some kind of a vortex and the club would cease to exist or something.

While quite obviously the team's most influential player over the last 5 trophy-less seasons, Fabregas' recent ongoing injury problems have meant that the team have had to cope without him for much of this campaign and given their lofty league position this morning, you have to say they have coped quite well.

It is of course, foolish to suggest that Arsenal don't need Fabregas but even if he was to leave to warm the bench of the world's best club side, it wouldn't quite be the disaster some would hope.

Whether Arsenal can stay top is another matter. Defensively, problems still remain and reached something of a nadir in the Fulham game when centre backs Sebastian Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny actually ran into each other and smashed heads in some kind of hilarious footballing Keystone Cops moment during the build up to Diomansy Kamara's equaliser.

For most teams this kind of thing would be written off as a freak occurrence but the regularity in which stupid/clumsy individual errors and acts of incompetence lead to the concession of goals by Arsene Wenger's team, you just know this won't be the last time we see something like this happen this season. At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, defensive frailties will undermine any title ambitions the team may have.

That said, they may well win the title by default as Chelsea stuttered once again this week drawing 1-1 at home to Everton. There's not really much else to say that I haven't said already in weeks gone by. Yes, their form is dodgy but they are still just two points off the lead and you cannot imagine they won't find that magical winning formula again.

It baffles me that so few people are questioning that decision to award the Blues the penalty in this game which was nothing short of farcical in my opinion. For Tim Howard to be penalised for simply standing his ground and having Anelka clatter into him defies all logic. Howard had no way of avoiding contact without actually disappearing into thin air - an attribute I very much doubt he has in his arsenal. Even after Lee Probert awarded the penalty, shouldn't he have produced a red card for the keeper? Admittedly, Nicolas Anelka hasn't scored a lot recently but had he made it past Howard, there's no denying that it would have been a 'clear goal-scoring opportunity'.

's equaliser was scored by Jermaine Beckford who doubled his tally for the season as he tries in vain to convince me that he isn't ought of his depth playing Premier League football. I would be kinder to the former Leeds man if he didn't follow up his goal by attempting a shot from outside the area that is still traveling down the King's Road as we speak.

Chelsea hope to stop the rot next week with a trip to a Tottenham side down in fifth could only manage a 1-1 draw at St. Andrew's with Carling Cup semi-finalists Birmingham City. Obviously, the only logical conclusion to draw is that Spurs had taken the lead and didn't have to come from behind so hence were unable to implement their newly discovered "playing possum" tactic. An interesting stat courtesy of the must follow OptaJoe on Twitter, for all their heroics this season, Spurs have only won one game outside of London.

Tottenham's draw meant that Man City's 1-0 win over Bolton helped The Citizens consolidate their place in the top four. Every week there seems to be another story of unrest within the City dressing room. Following Vincent Kompany and Emmanuel Adebayor getting into an on-pitch spat and the reported tunnel trouble with James Milner and Yaya Toure, Friday saw training ground fisticuffs between Jerome Boateng and Super Mario Balotelli before match winner Carlos Tevez blew the proverbial gasket after being subbed by Roberto Mancini on Saturday. Apparently, I'm told, this kind of thing happens at every club and while that may be true, I wonder why it seems to happen so frequently at Eastlands. It certainly doesn't seem like a happy camp and we can only be thankful that Craig Bellamy is currently out on loan. If any title challenge is to be maintained, the big egos will need to put in check.

The blues were unfortunate that the scoreline was not more emphatic but will be happy for the three points that allows them keep pace at the top of the table. December sees Arsenal, Chelsea and cross town rivals Manchester United all play one other in what some might call old fashioned championship six pointers. City will be hoping to capitalise on the inevitable points dropped by at least two of the teams above them and strengthen their own title-chasing ambitions.

Part Two to follow...

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Weekend Observations 27th - 28th November 2010

So, Dimitar Berbatov ended something of a goal scoring drought by hitting FIVE as Manchester United publicly violated Blackburn Rovers in an encounter that proved to be about as evenly matched as a pack of hungry mountain wolves in a classroom full of anemic schoolchildren.

'Berba' has divided opinion amongst the Old Trafford faithful for a long time now with many deeming him a waste of money given the £30million transfer fee it took to bring him from White Hart Lane way back when. However, his form at the start of this season, culminating in a spectacular hat-trick against Liverpool, had some crazy people comparing him to a United legend of years gone by.

Since that day over two months ago, karma being what is would dictate that the Bulgarian would fail to find the net again until his deluge of goals on Saturday. These non-scoring matches meant of course that fans would do an about turn and once again suggest that Berbatov doesn't perform well enough, is clearly not good enough for United etc etc. This has ultimately led to possibly the most underwhelming reaction to a 5-goal haul and a 7-1 win ever.

Not much in the way of sycophantic praise this time around but rather the simple realisation that players have good days and bad days. Of course, sublime overhead kicks and hat tricks cannot be expected every week but as these strikes currently see Berba at the top of the Premier League scoring charts, United fans and commentators need to realise how good they've got it particularly when Wayne Rooney continues to perform worse than a deaf mute trying to win some kind of popular televised signing contest.

Amusingly, the team on the receiving end of the humping were Blackburn, managed by Big Sam Allardyce. Yes, the very same Sam Allardyce who recently suggested he would be better suited to managing Inter Milan or Real Madrid (although, given their own pasting in Monday's El Clasico, maybe Big Sam may not be so out of place!). I would say something about him eating humble pie right now but it probably wouldn't be the only pastry based snack he'd be stuffing down his large, insufferable throat.

United reached the Premier League summit at the expense of Chelsea who continue to stutter, this week only managing a 1-all draw at Newcastle. Like last week against Birmingham, the blues were unable to fully recover from conceding a sloppy early goal and capitalise on their possession and chances.

The one talking point of an otherwise unremarkable match however was the fact that Chelsea's often lethal strike force failed to get the better of the evergreen Sol Campbell who once again, refuses to be written off and continues to perform at the top level. Yes, the game was that uneventful.

In contrast, the later game on Sunday provided tons of incident as Tottenham come from behind once again to beat Liverpool 2-1 at White Hart Lane. Once again, comeback specialists Spurs showed they don't know when they are beaten as Aaron Lennon secured the three points in stoppage time, despite missing their fourth penalty of the season and the visitors missing a hat-full of chances to put the game out of sight when leading. This wasn't like limp Liverpool performances of earlier in the season as they took the game to the hosts. But for some 'charitable' Paul Konchesky defending and if Fernando Torres and Maxi Rodriguez had invested in some shooting boots, we may well be sitting here talking about Liverpool being back on track and laughing heartily when people suggest Tottenham could challenge for the title.

Speaking of getting back on track, after a week to forget, Arsenal beat Aston Villa 4-2 at Villa Park in a game that only differed from last weekend's North London Derby in terms of the final scoreline. Like last weekend, Arsenal bossed the first half. Like Last weekend the gunners were 2-0 up and half time. Like last weekend they allowed the opposition a way back into the game early in the second half but unlike last weekend they were able to kick on and make the game safe but not without a scare or two. The most interesting assessment of Arsenal I read (somehwere) this week was the conclusion that the only way Arsene Wenger's team can ever be sure of winning a given game is by scoring at least 4 goals. Anything less and the opposition will back themselves to find a way back into it.

Controversy and the confusion over offsides reared their respective heads when Villa scored their first and ultimately fruitless goal as Big John Carew was gingerly meandering about the penalty area while injured and quite obviously blocked the view of Arsenal “goalkeeper” Luckaz Fabianski as Ciaran Clark struck to reduce the deficit. Whether Carew was 'interfering' or not was the debate but alas, given that this isn't the first incident of this type this season alone, it's safe to say that the officials are going to almost always give the benefit of doubt to the attacking team. More goals, fun game, right? Difficult to see how defending teams can combat it.

The weekend saw a record number of goals scored. 41 in total as all 20 teams managed to find the back of the net somehow. And that my friends, is the most goals scored in any weekend of a league season since the Sky-Sponsored, money-driven, commercial entity that is the Premier League was reduced to 20 teams in 1995.

's hit and miss seson continued as they totally capitulated in a 4-1 defeat at home against West Brom. This shock scoreline was partly down to Mikael Arteta being controversially sent off. However, the outcome was rarely in doubt thanks mostly to tormentor in chief, the vastly underrated Chris Brunt whose free kick to score the Baggies' second on the day was as good you are ever likely to see anywhere in football.

That said, even Brunt's amazing strike was nothing compared to the simply stupendous team effort from Bolton when Mark Davies finished off an incredible passing move to score the equaliser against Blackpool. Honestly, the result may have dented what small aspirations Wanderers have of playing in Europe next season, but Davies' goal and the passage of play that preceded it would not look out of place in the Champions League such was it's quality.

Finally, down at the bottom of the league, Wolves dramatic late winner against the ever unpredictable Sunderland will have taken a bit of pressure off of Mick McCarthy as his side closed in on the teams above them. Credit to the big dopey Yorkshireman for keeping the spirits up and continuing to get the best out of what is, let's be honest, a team of slightly above average Championship players. They have played well enough in recent games and it was only a matter of time before these performances were rewarded with results.

This would have wound up those cheeky cockneys from Upton Park. Ebanks-Blake's last gasp winner means that West Ham remain bottom of the table despite their first league win since forever against their direct rivals for the league's wooden spoon Wigan who themselves look nothing short of hopeless.



Aston Villa 2-4 Arsenal
Bolton 2-2 Blackpool
Everton 1-4 West brom
Fulham 1-1 Birmingham
Man Utd 7-1 Blackburn
Stoke 1-1 Man City
West Ham 3-1 Wigan
Wolves 3-2 Sunderland


Newcastle 1-1 Chelsea
Tottenham 2-1 Liverpool

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Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Weekend Observations 20th - 22nd November 2010

Game of the weekend was quite obviously the thriller at the Emirates which saw Arsenal and Tottenham swap their traditional roles in these games. Usually, it is Spurs who start brightly before self-destructing in comical fashion however this time it was the gunners who decided to piss away their 2 goal half time advantage giving Harry Redknapp's side a famous win. Their first in this corresponding fixture since 1993.

Naturally, the red half of North London were spitting bile at this result with many fans even calling for Arsene Wenger's head. Given the opposition and manner of the defeat the reaction, although not necessarily the right one, is understandable. Without taking anything away from Tottenham, nobody can deny this was more of a case of Arsenal losing the game than Spurs winning it. They threw away a game against their most bitter rivals from a commanding position. Simply unacceptable.

The match seemed to represent a microcosm of the recent fortunes of both sides. The unrest amongst Arsenal fans comes from the fact they are seeing their side spunk away leads far, far too often while Tottenham once again found themselves having to battle back from the dead as it were in a game that looked beyond them. While this new-found resilience is commendable, they wont always be able to recover from regularly giving the opposition a head start. Crazy talk of winning the league need to be put to one side until they learn to start football matches as well as they finish them.

After all the dust settled, Arsenal still remained just two points off the league summit but if they are to retain anything even resembling title aspirations, they need to show far more by way of cojones in big games against the better sides in the league and make no mistake, Tottenham are most definitely one of the league's better sides these days. Their improvement has coincided with their rivals obvious decline over the last five years and on the evidence of Saturday, would suggest that the gap between the two sides – if any remains – has narrowed. The oft regurgitated "let's all laugh at Tottenham" chant is now strictly ironic as they are certainly a side to be taken very seriously.

Arsenal's defeat proved not to be as much of a catastrophic blow to their supposed title challenge as it first appeared thanks very much to 'unstoppable' Chelsea's third defeat in four league games, this week, at Birmingham. Each week, I keep saying that the west Londoners will still be strong enough to win the title but with rumours of unrest behind the scenes and the whole Ray Wilkins nonsense, all may not be well at The Bridge.

Despite dominating at St. Andrews, Chelsea came away with nothing. Bad performances such as last week can be written off as a bad day at the office but playing well and losing is a cause for concern and sows those proverbial seeds of doubt into their minds.

The last month has seen Chelsea's poor form allow Manchester United to creep up alongside them like some pervert at 3am at any South London bus stop atop the league table. Bafflingly, United are STILL unbeaten this season despite looking barely adequate in most of their performances so far. Even Saturday's win over Wigan was laboured at best. The away side had to be reduced to nine men before the reds looked anywhere near comfortable. But as they say, a win is a win, and if they lift the big trophy come May following a string of 'meh' wins, I doubt the Old Trafford faithful will have much to complain about.

One thing the fans did get vocal about was the return of Wayne Rooney following all the shenanigans of a few weeks back. After pretty much spitting on Sir Matt Busby's grave with his disrespectful actions in hankering for a move only to be rewarded with an exorbitant new contract, many wondered if the fans who dedicate so much of their lives to the great club would be fickle enough to simply support him once more despite his treachery. All it takes is one goal and a contrived kiss of the club badge usually. In a bizarre turn of events, United fans actually showed a sense of indignation that didn't involve a nonsensical, misguided scarf protest as the 'White Pele' was actually booed by some supporters as he was brought on late in the game. If and when Rooney hits the goal trail once again, it will be interesting to see if this resentment towards him continues.

Across town, Manchester City fans had reason to smile once again after a convincing win at Fulham. Interestingly, Roberto Mancini sent his team out to attack rather than with the usual 'just try not to lose' philosophy. Seeing his team 3 goals to the good in little over half an hour tells it's own story as City showed more adventure in that short time than in all their preceding games this campaign combined. I maintain that this side has all the tools to win the title this season and if they play like this more often, I can't see any reason why they can't usurp the teams above them over the coming months.

An interesting side note from the game was fact that City were facing a Fulham side managed by the very man that was so spectacularly dismissed to make way for Mancini 11 months ago. Given that Mark Hughes bought most of the players he faced on Sunday, you have to wonder how he managed to get his tactics so badly wrong. Fulham are now only outside the drop zone on goal difference and if Hughes doesn't soon improve on his sides mediocre total of just two wins so far, he may well find himself out of work once again.

The topsy-turvey world of the Premier League also saw Bolton consolidate 5th place this weekend with an emphatic 5-1 win over the predictably inconsistent Newcastle. At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, to echo my thoughts from last week, credit to Owen Coyle for turning a team of uninspiring cloggers that were about as appealing as a battery acid enema into a team that actually aspires to play decent football. I'm still scratching my head at how good that man Johan Elmander is looking too. Two more goals this week sees him joint second in the scoring charts this season above the likes of Drogba, Torres and Berbatov. With their precarious financial position leading to rumours of player sales, the Swede's fine form could see a battle for his signature and a pretty decent wedge of cash come in from any potential buying party.

Finally, the quality of Elmander's goals have also been worthy of high praise. Unfortunately, he was upstaged in the goal of the week stakes by Blackpool's Luke Varney who hit an absolute stunner against Wolves which helped the seasiders to a 2-1 win.



Arsenal 2-3 Tottenham
Birmingham 1-0 Chelsea
Blackpool 2-1 Wolves
Bolton 5-1 Newcastle
Liverpool 3-0 West Ham
Manchester United 2-1 Wigan
West Brom 0-3 Stoke


Blackburn 2-0 Aston Villa
Fulham 1-4 Manchester City


Sunderland 2-2 Everton

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Monday, 15 November 2010

Weekend Observations 14th - 15th November 2010

Only really one place to start and that's West London with one of the shock results of this or any season. Sunderland marched into Stamford Bridge acting like they own the joint and inflicted Chelsea's biggest home defeat since 2002. Funnily enough, not long before they were being bank-rolled by a Russian Billionaire. I wonder if the two facts are connected in some way... Anyway, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn't think Chelsea are one their way to winning their fourth Abraomvich sponsored league title this season having started the campaign like a house on fire. A paper house doused in kerosene.

However, the current champions' league performances in recent weeks have been quite far removed from the thrashings they were routinely handing out back when the sun was shining in late August. Sunday's massacre at the hands of the Black Cats, while unexpected, maybe shouldn't be considered the massive shock we perceive it to be. Of course Sunderland would fancy their chances after looking at the team sheet and seeing that the Blues were missing Lampard, Terry, Alex and Essien. Credit to Steve Bruce’s side for taking advantage. This wasn't a smash and grab counter-attack inspired, shut up shop effort either. The Mackems went out with a positive attacking mentality with two up front and subsequently bossed the game.

3-0 was not an unfair reflection of the match at all. Nedum Onuoha opened to scoring with a superb solo effort that will surely be in the running for goal of the month. Had that been scored by Gareth Bale or Theo Walcott or Wayne Rooney, the simultaneous orgasm from over-excited TV pundits would knock the globe from its axis. Unfortunately the second by Asamoah Gyan was tarnished by Bolo Zenden's tragic attempt at dancing during the celebration. Seriously, there's no place for that sort of thing in the game. I hope the FA look at that retrospectively and ban him from ever cutting shapes like that in a public place again. The icing on the cake came from Danny Welbeck came after an Ashley Cole mistake. That was really sad to see. I was so gutted for him but it seems that the only way I can truly express my sympathy is by laughing very loudly.

Whether this is just a blip or the first signs of decline for Chelsea remain to be seen. They will be slightly concerned seeing that they also lost to easily the worst Liverpool side I've seen in my lifetime. The reds followed up that almighty win at Anfield with a draw at Wigan and a feeble surrender on Saturday at Stoke. After all the talk of turning the corner, it seems like Roy Hodgson's men have switched into reverse gear and gone right back round said corner. Ten years ago Liverpool actually went to the Britannia and won 8-0 but were so bad on Saturday, it's not unfair to say that they made Stoke look like the offspring of the Brazil 1970 team and Superman! This naturally, led to the predictable bi-polar switch in attitude from the scousers who were just last week dancing a merry jig. This week, the conclusion of the match saw the traveling fans shouting themselves hoarse pleading for Kenny Dalglish to be handed the managerial reigns and Hodgson to be put out to pasture. I don't think 'King' Kenny, or any manager for that matter, will be able to do a great deal with the likes of Poulsen, Konchesky and Rodriguez constantly stinking up the place.

In 1995, people around scoffed when Sony entered the gaming market and released something called the 'Play station', U2 topped the charts with "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" (a song infinitely better than the terrible movie which it was the soundtrack for...) and I started getting hair and spots in weird places and as the huge crushing fist of puberty decided to do a number on me!

Also, 1995 was the last time Aston Villa beat Man Utd in the league prompting Alan Hansen's now famous "You'll never win anything with kids" proclamation. 15 years of hurt was that close to coming to an end for the Villains but for the Mancs increasingly annoying penchant for scoring late goals.

So, it turns out that Villa can be quite entertaining despite my previous suggestions to the contrary. The Villa park faithful have seen two goal-packed games with late drama in the space of just three days. What do I know about football anyway?

A few weeks back when Man City were winning football matches, very few people gave a monkeys as to how the results were achieved. Mind-numbingly unadventurous and uninspiring football to make one want to gouge out their own eyes and throw them under the wheels of a speeding bus was a small price to pay for results and there was genuine belief in some quarters that the Premier League trophy would be returning to Manchester this season, only this time to donning sky blue ribbons rather than red.

However, following a run of three home league games without a goal, the natives are understandably getting restless. And why not? Roberto Mancini is so cautious you imagine he wears two condoms and a rubber glove just to masturbate. City are playing by a different set of rules from most other teams right now and as such, will always be judged due to their substantial financial clout. If you're not winning games, performances come under more scrutiny. For the vast, unfathomable sums of money spent, we were expecting a new powerhouse in the game not a side that takes on Birmingham with the sole aim of avoiding defeat.

"I wonder if I can get away with playing TEN defensive midfielders..."

With all their supposed title rivals dropping points, Arsenal's win at Everton sees them within touching distance of the Premier League summit. It's early days but there are those on the red side of North London who feel that the club's six year 'drought' without a league title may well be coming to an end. We'll wait and see if the anticipated New Year collapse takes place yet again. It's been a long held belief that The Arsenal play some magical style of pure football from the heavens but the win at Goodison was not an example of Arsenal at their free-flowing best. Their much-praised style has been supplemented and on occasion even replaced with something us Brits like to refer to as 'grit'.

The contrast in their two goals epitomised this newfound ability to mix it up. The first was a result of a Bacary Sanga shot from a position where you usually expect to see Arsenal players still try a pass rather than pull the trigger while the second was a typically well worked passing move finished by Cesc Fabregas that the team has become famous for. Chuck in the awful disciplinary record this season and it looks like, maybe, just maybe, Arsene Wenger's kids have finally grown a pair and worked out how to grind out results and when even when not at their best.

Next Saturday, they face arch-rivals Spurs at the Emirates. What greater incentive going into the game knowing that a win will send them top of the league? Equally for Tottenham, who themselves remembered how to win a league game this weekend, what greater motivation for the match than to try and halt the gunners' continued ascent?

The liliwhites' first win in five was a Gareth Bale inspired 4-2 humping of Blackburn Rovers at White Hart Lane in a horribly one sided affair, although a late rally from the visitors restored something in the way of respectability to the final scoreline. Given that Big Sam named an ultra-defensive 5-man back line, it was natural that he would be quite pissed off about how much joy and freedom they allowed the Spurs attack. Although both teams would have come into the season with vastly different aspirations, they are currently both among number of teams bouncing around in a very congested looking table that is looking tighter than a gnat's rectum at present. A tiny gap is opening up between the top four and the rest while Wolves and the increasingly dire West Ham are at risk of being cut away at the bottom but between that, only two wins separate 18th placed Birmingham City and Bolton up in the dizzying, nose-bleed inducing heights of 5th.

Speaking of whom, credit to Owen Coyle who would have never imagined in his wildest dreams he would be leading his beloved Wanderers to such a lofty position. Even more credit is due for turning Johan Elmander into some kind of footballer! For two years, the Swede has looked about as useful as tap-dancing lessons for Stephen Hawking but has somehow discovered something resembling a goal-scoring touch. With six goals already this season, the pick of the bunch came in Saturday's win at Wolves. But like Nedum Onouha before him, had this goal been scored by a more high profile player you'd never hear the end of it.



Aston Villa 2-2 Manchester United
Manchester City 0-0 Birmingham City
Newcastle United 0-0 Fulham
Stoke City 2-0 Liverpool
Tottenham Hotspur 4-2 Blackburn Rovers
West Ham United 0-0 Blackpool
Wigan Athletic 1-0 West Bromwich Albion
Wolverhampton Wndrs 2-3 Bolton Wanderers

Chelsea 0-3 Sunderland
Everton 1-2 Arsenal

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Thursday, 11 November 2010

Midweek Observations - 9th-10th November 2010

There was an absurd but understandable amount of hype surrounding this week's Manchester derby at Eastlands. Sky were the main culprits with a number of flashy idents, various lives from the City and infinite interviews with any person who has ever seen Manchester on a map. Needless to say, I, like many others, were sucked in, and with good reason. This was supposed to be the biggest derby for years with the reds and the blues neck and neck in the league and more poignantly, both in the title race. United and City are both spilling over with talent and couple that with the extra incentive of wanting to beat your arch-rivals for bragging rights and such, I'm sure it wasn't too outrageous to expect a decent game packed full of goals, incident and talking points which would have sad little internet, homely looking bloggers yammering on for days.

Instead what we got was the football equivalent of this...

Actually, that's mightily unfair on tumbleweed.

Thanks to the negative approach of BOTH sides and a lack of desire to actually win the game, there was very little to actually 'observe' so I will move ever-so-quickly on. Let's hope Haye v Harrison is better, eh?
24 hours earlier, Sky Sports decided to televise the match between relegation fodder Stoke City and Birmingham City in a match that one couldn't get excited about beforehand even if Jessica Alba and Kelly Brook were to promise to wrestle naked in the centre circle at 15 minutes intervals. It was about as appealing as the bread before the starter before the main course.
As it turned out, this bread was the best part of the meal. The second half of said bread... er, match was one of the most entertaining 45 minute spells of the season, swinging back and fourth resulting in a 3-2 win for Tony Pulis' men. Interestingly enough, for all his pissing and moaning about referees this season, it was surprising (or not) to see Pulis noticeably less vocal about the possible handball by match winner Dean Whitehead before scoring the all important goal. People would be inclined to listen to his not altogether crazy suggestions to punish bad officiating if he wasn't such a hypocrite.
Earlier this week, much-maligned footballer Joey Barton actually surprised the world with something of a face turn by showing something resembling maturity. Well, about as much maturity Joey Barton can muster. The St. James' jailbird also seemingly offered advice to the apparent heir to his throne of thuggary Andy Carroll telling the striker to concentrate on his football. Barton feels that Carroll's recent on-pitch actions ought to be taken into consideration over his off field misdemeanours. Not 48 hours after these words of wisdom, Barton reverted to type by showing that his own on-pitch actions were just as reprehensible as what he does when he gets pissed off after receiving the wrong flavoured milkshake at a well known fast food establishment. After his unprovoked punch on Morton Gamst Pedersen, hopefully the authorities will throw the book at him. With any luck it will hit him in the eye because, you know, Karma is a bitch.
In the same game Jason Roberts scored the second winning goal for Blackburn Rovers in as many games. He must read this blog.

On a similar theme, Jermaine Beckford scored a stunner for Everton to salvage a draw against Bolton set out to prove that he is NOT as I previously suggested out of his depth in the Premier League and Aston Villa took my claim that they are boring and rammed them down my throat when they decided to participate in a rather exciting match with Blackpool. But like a petulant child with a spine made of reinforced steal, I am too stubborn to bend on these issues. Well done to both for their respective achievements but one swallow does not a summer make and all that. One goal wont convince me that Beckford isn't going to continue to maraud around Merseyside like a headless chicken with a broken Tom Tom while a 3-2 win against Blackpool reserves will not suddenly see Gerard Houllier's team starting to play expansive, high-tempo attacking football from now on.
Speaking of Blackpool, following his ludicrous threat to resign if he is punished over his team selection, is anyone else beginning to think that loveable Ian Holloway is fast becoming the miserable old giffer you encounter at bus stops and in grotty pubs that complains about everything but is completely oblivious to the fact that life couldn't actually be any better for him? Don't get me wrong, 'Ollie' is still what my Encyclopaedia of Great Football Clichés would refer to as a 'Breath of fresh air' and I would take his enthusiastic randomness over the monotonous generic nonsense spoken by most managers in the Premier League any day of the week but his threat to quit is childish, petty, vindictive and most importantly shows a lack of respect to his players who will be leaving in the lurch.
That said, he is right to be vexed at the authorities. The Premier League have already imposed the controversial home grown/25 man squad limit this season but if a manager isn't free to pick any first XI he chooses from that squad then what was the point? Farcical.
What would a discussion about Premier League football in modern times be without some sort of debate about tackling? Interestingly enough, for the second time in a matter of weeks it is perennial victims of leg-snap from seasons gone by Arsenal who are the perpetrators. In their 2-0 win at Wolves, Catalan Captain Cesc Fabregas found himself very lucky not to pick up what would have been his side’s FIFTH red card of the season after a late, reckless and totally unnecessary lunge on Stephen Ward. The Gunners' player and his boss were quick to say sorry afterwards but having been down this road already this season, you have to wonder if Arsenal players think it's ok to start tackling like animals so long as they say sorry afterwards? That's the kind of reasoning you'd expect from an infant thinking he has a justifiable reason to continuously whale on his little brother.
However, Fabregas wasn't the only guilty party in this game as 'Killer' Karl Henry was also lucky to escape punishment for an over the top challenge on Andrey Arshavin.

There was some naughtiness from many media outlets who have ignored this incident in their reporting of the game. Conspiracy theorists from the ever-paranoid but frightfully large gooner blogosphere would point to some kind of non-existent media bias against them, others particularly those from a certain area of the West Midlands would suggest that poor old Karl has had enough of a kicking (so to speak) from the media already this season so it is about time they chose to lay off him. The truth is, the Fabregas' apology and acceptance by Mick McCarthy made for a better 'story' so everyone just ran with that. Besides, the THUG FOOTBALLER COMMITS THUGGISH ACT headline has already been hogged by Joey Barton this week.


Stoke City 3-2 Birmingham City
Tottenham 1-1 Sunderland

Aston Villa 3-2 Blackpool
Chelsea 1-0 Fulham
Everton 1-1 Bolton
Manchester City 0-0 Manchester United
Newcastle 1-2 Blackburn
West Ham 2-2 West Brom
Wigan 1-1 Liverpool
Wolves 0-2 Arsenal

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Monday, 8 November 2010

How things Change. Weekend Observations - November 6th-7th 2010

Where else to start than at Anfield? With the poor performances, player unrest, takeover shenanigans and financial troubles, it's difficult to imagine a football club experiencing a more eventful opening three months to a season. Much of the drama is akin to works of fiction and would not have been out of place on the horrifically unrealistic but highly watchable Sky One series Dream Team from days gone by.

Liverpool have somehow gone from a humbling shock home defeat against newly promoted Blackpool to an incredible victory over champions Chelsea in the space of just a few weeks – a third league win on the bounce propelling them from the doldrums of the Premier League relegation zone to the dizzying heights of mid-table.

The victory over the league leaders was inspired by the eye-poppingly good Fernando Torres whose two first half goals were enough to see off the visitors. The second of which was a moment of genius that simply reminds all of us exactly why we love watching this thing we call football.

Last week, I suggested that the Spaniard looked disinterested in Liverpool's unconvincing victory at Bolton and while I stand by that claim, the contrast in his performance this week could not have been more stark. Torres was back to his unplayable self and sent out something of a reminder as well as a huge 'F*CK YOU!!' to all the critics who have dared to write him off this season.

And it wasn't just Torres. The likes of Jamie Carragher, Maxi Rodriguez and Lucas all played unexpectedly well in this match making me think someone had spiked my coco pops with some kind of hallucinogenic drug such was my astonishment to what I was witnessing. Yes, Liverpool actually looked like a decent side for the first times in what seems like years. Maybe they finally have turned that fabled corner that everyone is so obsessed with.

As for their opponents, a strange thing occurred to me. The problem of subjective interpretations based on particular outcomes. Last week, Chelsea didn't play well but managed a result away at Blackburn. We all sat here saying it was the hallmark of champions to be able to do so and just assumed that the same would happen whoever they faced. I'm not saying that one defeat means Chelsea are in any sort of crisis but in truth, they haven't been at their best recently and perhaps are not deserving of the exaggerated hype surrounding them. They still undoubtedly remain the best side in the country and will more than likely end up as champions but maybe all the talk of them running away with the title ought to be set aside as of right now.

That very term, 'crisis' has been bandied about a great deal so far this season. As each week passes another club is on the brink of declaring some kind of state of emergency. Whereas Manchester United and Liverpool seem to have come through their periods of sensationalised disaster, last week it was the turn of Manchester City, with reports that Roberto Mancini was about to be taken out round the back of Eastlands by a large man armed with a handgun, duct tape and enough space in the back of his car to fit the body of a diminutive Italian wearing a scarf. However, the billionaires were back to winning ways thanks to two goals from marquee summer signing Super Mario Balotelli at West Brom.

If you believe what you read about Mancini being on borrowed time, this win would have surely bought him some breathing space. However, the pressure could well be right back on if City, minus their Hawthorns match winner following his sending off late in the game, lose this Wednesday in a little match taking place at Eastlands against their penny-pinching neighbours from around the way.

Speaking of whom, Ji-Sung Park's winning goal in the last minute of Fergie time... I mean, stoppage time at home against Wolves could well prove to have huge ramifications given the erratic results of the teams surrounding them this weekend. Manchester United, once again, looked far from convincing, but remain unbeaten and are slowly looking to build up something like momentum. They're turning those early season draws into wins and continue to put pressure on Chelsea above them. You have to believe that the performances will eventually come too and it will be just as important for them to avoid defeat on Wednesday as much as their cross-town rivals.

As I pointed out weeks ago following his hat-trick against Liverpool, the excessive praise dished out to Dimitar Berbatov that day proved to be somewhat premature with the Bulgarian having gone five league games without finding the net before being dropped... sorry, "rested" on Saturday. This doesn't make him shit either, it just means he's probably somewhere halfway between.

A major talking point from Manchester United's win this weekend was the aborted return to action for the lesser-spotted Owen Hargreaves, a player so unfortunate with injury an entire Salford-based hospital is set to be built and named in his honour*. For those that didn't see it, the former England international was withdrawn after just 5 minutes of the game with a hamstring injury. Yes, FIVE MINUTES!! Sir Alex has suggested 'anxiety' may be the cause of the latest set back suggesting that, understandably, there may be some psychological hump that Hargreaves will have to scale if he ever to get back to his best.

On the subject of perpetual injury problems, Arsenal found themselves in a rare position this week when what a good portion of what many believe to be their first team were available for selection. In the past five trophyless years, we've been constantly been led to believe that had Arsenal not been victims of a gypsy curse and hadn't had more players in hospital than available to play then these barren years would have been far more fruitful. The first chance to prove the validity of this claim came against Newcastle at the Emirates and it was a test they failed in spectacular fashion.

Andy Carroll
gave the visitors a shock 1-0 win in a game where the same old problems reared their ugly, ugly heads again. I'm tempted to copy/paste previous statements about goalkeeping problems, failure to perform when Cesc Fabregas isn't 100% and inability to break down any team that actually knows how to defend but these problems are so glaringly obvious they don't really bare repeating.

Arsene Wenger's team is at risk of becoming the most pointless entity in football. Every season it's the same. A top four finish without ever really looking like winning the title and a decent cup run until they come up against someone half decent. Same old tedious story every year. Repeat to fade.

Equally pointless are an Aston Villa team who this season are about as interesting as a three hour lecture on socks by Iain Duncan-Smith. Following a prolonged and patient rebuilding process, Villa were on the brink of reaching the holy grail known as the Champions League just a little over a season ago. Now, in the space of a little under six months, the whole plan seems to have unravelled and they have returned to the level of midtable obscurity that preceded Randy Learner’s takeover some years back. It's hard to lay blame at the feet of new manager Gerard Houllier but this current side are hardly one to get the juices flowing.

This weekend's 1-all draw at Fulham was just about par for the course for a team averaging less than 1 goal a game so far this season with just 10 in 11. Only West Ham (9) and Wigan (8) have scored fewer and both those sides are in the relegation zone. If Villa are not careful, they could easily join them over the coming weeks as they sit a mere three points about the bottom three.

Spurs, the team that eventually achieved what Villa couldn't by breaking into the elusive top four and subsequent Champions League qualification, did their reputation no harm last week after comfortably beating European champions Inter Milan at White Hart Lane. Now, unless you superglued your eyes shut and stuffed your ears with playdough, you wouldn't have failed to notice that the major talking point from the game was Gareth Bale whose the stupendous performance presumably had Inter's right back Maicon on the phone to a victim support helpline after the game, such was the brutality of the public violating he suffered.

Bale's performance had the 'experts' almost literally frothing at the mouth in excitement and declaring, in all seriousness, that the young Welshman is somehow up there with the likes of Ronaldo, Messi, Xavi and Drogba as the best in the world. Leaving aside the fact that in both games against Inter he was allowed the freedom of Europe to do his damage thanks to the absence of any attempt to try and stop him, I was interested to see how well Bale was performing back on home soil. His sum total of two goals (both in the same game) and one assist having played every minute of every Tottenham match this campaign would suggest that maybe he's not quite the new Maradona just yet. Talk about people getting ahead of themselves. Best in the world? Have a word with yourself!

Bale and his Tottenham team were on the receiving end of something of a hammering from Bolton which by some folks' twisted logic would mean that Owen Coyle's side are now the best team in Europe.

Final point this week would be to tread on already well trodden ground and talk about Stoke City. The staffordshire club are floundering somewhat in the league and are only outside the bottom three thanks the the abovementioned woeful scoring record of Wigan Athletic. Grandmaster Tony Pulis seems to think that this down to bad refereeing decisions going against them and Dean Whitehead has pointed to Danny Murphy's comments some weeks back, believing they have influenced officials. It's funny that Blackburn and Wolves, also criticised by Murphy, have not faced similar troubles but let's not let that get in the way of Pulis' deflection tactics to stop people noticing how piss poor his team actually are. I seem to remember him criticising other managers for 'moaning' in the past. Nothing like good old fashioned double-standards, eh Tone?

*This may not be true

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