Tuesday, 7 December 2010

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...

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