Friday, 7 January 2011

Midweek Observations 4th-5th January - Part Two: Tough at the Top

At the top of the league it was business as usual as Manchester United, for the umpteenth time this season, managed to win a game whilst being far from their best. The 2-1 victory over Stoke City at Old Trafford was exactly what was expected and provided literally nothing of note worth talking about so I will give it no more attention beyond this very sentence.

United remain unbeaten and are favourites for the league title. Two bizarre facts given the fact they've barely looked anything above average this campaign. From their point of view this is surely a good thing. The reds famously have a reputation for performing better in the second half of the season and seeing as they have been pretty crap up until now yet still sit comfortably at the top of the table the situation looks ominous for the rest. Imagine if Wayne Rooney remembers how to play football as well!

... Although they might not need him to if this guy carries on as he has been recently

That said, an improvement in their performances will be vital as their remaining fixtures see them having to face Chelsea both home and away, cross-town rivals City at Old Trafford as well as trips to White Hart Lane, the Emirates and Anfield. Sir Alex Ferguson will know that there is no way his side will come away from such a daunting set of fixtures unscathed playing the way they are at the minute.

Of course, this could all be academic and the Reds could win the title by default if all their so-called rivals insist on continuously taking a sawn-off shotgun, pointing it towards their collective feet and pulling the trigger. This midweek round of games has proven to be quite fruitful.

I touched on Chelsea's defeat and many problems in part one. While I'm wary of writing them out of the title race (because like herpes, they will never quite go away completely...), I imagine that after 6 league defeats and a poor run that sees no sign of abating, Carlo's blues have a challenge on their hands to simply finish in the coveted top four let alone win the league.

Naturally, this is the cue for them to go on a 10 game winning streak making me look stupid.

Across London in the beautiful north, both Arsenal AND Spurs are harbouring realistic title aspirations for the first time since flares, afros and LSD were in fashion. Arsenal's kids appear to have finally 'matured' and Tottenham are playing as well as anyone the league. Victory against Fulham last weekend was their ninth league game without defeat since the start of November. Champions? Maybe a stretch too far but the year does end in a 1...

Wednesday night however saw both sides stutter. Spurs faced a tricky match on paper away at Everton and so it proved as Louis Saha inspired the Toffees to a 2-1 victory despite the best efforts of Rafael van Der Vaart who wasn't far off winning the game by himself for the away side.

If Spurs are to maintain their challenge for top honours, the mercurial Dutchman will certainly be central to this. Having had problems with injuries in the first half of the season, 'Arry will be 'oping to 'igh 'eaven that one of the most important players in his team can stay relatively fit from now until May.

You'd probably play as well as Rafael van der Vaart if you knew you had the lovely Sylvie waiting for you at home as a reward

Meanwhile at The Emirates, United's two closest challengers faced off with second place Manchester City frustrating third place Arsenal in a 0-0 stalemate. Recently, I lamented the state of play with the Gunners questioning the purpose of a side that can at times look head and shoulders above anyone else in terms of ability with some mesmerising football but ultimately fall short because they only know hoe to play one way. As soon as the opposition figure out a way of stifling this, Arsene Wenger's team seem to run out of ideas.

And so it proved when City came to town.

In case you missed it – for which you should be thankful to whichever deity it is you pray to – the game was the most one-sided encounter you could expect to see at this level (bestest mostest competitive league in the world ever. Blah, blah, blah, etc). Arsenal set out to attack, City didn't. Arsenal controlled possession, City didn't. Arsenal tried to win the game, City... well, you get the picture.

There were a couple of red cards for Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna that I guess I ought to mention but even in this situation it was the Arsenal man who showed more attacking intention.

In the end, City played for a point and achieved their goal while Arsenal will regretfully look at this as two points dropped. For all their posturing, the gunners were nothing short of flaccid in the final third. Van Persie, Walcott and Wilshire were all guilty of missing chances. If this were a fairy tale, it would be the Three Little Pigs. The big, bad wolf huffed and puffed but proved about as useful at blowing as a nun.

Much noise has been made about City's 'negativity' and game plan of simply avoiding defeat rather than actually contributing anything to the football match but the home side still had their chances and failed to take them. City's tactics can hardly be blamed for this. Yes, the blues were defended brilliantly in the second half but in the first 45 they were all over the place. Had Wenger's team been more clinical, they would have been home and dry by the interval and City's tactics would have been rendered irrelevant.

Besides, regardless of its aesthetic merit or lack thereof, someone ought to remind the so-called purists out there that defending is a part of football too and an art that warrants the same admiration as free-flowing passing, 30 yard volleys and any aspect of the attacking side of the game one would care to mention.

So, Arsenal play great football but still sometimes lack the cutting edge to make them truly great and Man City can be incredibly dull but effective.

This match taught us nothing.



Blackpool 1-2 Birmingham City
Fulham 3-0 West Brom
Manchester United 2-1 Stoke City


Arsenal 0-0 Manchester City
Aston Villa 0-1 Sunderland
Blackburn Rovers 3-1 Liverpool
Bolton 1-1 Wigan
Everton 2-1 Spurs
Newcastle 5-0 West Ham
Wolves 1-0 Chlesea

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