Archive for the ‘The Six Pointer’ Category

The Six Pointer – Wounded Challenges, Slippery Slides & more…

07/03/2011

1. Liverpool convincingly dealt with Man Utd yesterday and Dirk Kuyt will never, ever score an easier hat-trick. It was very surprising to see Fergie start with Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick in central midfield – recent history has normally seen him go with three in the middle in big matches in an attempt to gain control and stop the opposition playing.

Neither Scholes nor Carrick are particularly energetic or mobile in the way Darren Fletcher is, but with the Scotsman left on the bench after his shift against Chelsea (he can only do one big game a week)  it meant United were unable to gain a foothold on the game.

As you can see in the Chalkboards below, between them they won only one tackle and the likes of Meireles would consistently run or pass around them.

Only one interception between them too.

The decision to give Carrick a new contract during the week was greeted with some derision but at the same time I don’t think Ferguson considers him a first choice player. He’s not bad against weaker sides and he has long been found out against the best – playing him yesterday was more out of necessity than want.

Still, with his continued mediocrity, Scholes’ potential retirement, Fletcher’s one game a week effectiveness and Hargreaves and Anderson’s consistent injury problems, Man Utd’s midfield will certainly need some work in the summer.

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2. Yesterday’s match could have easily seen two red cards, and probably should have. Carragher went in high on Nani and created quite the wound (see below) while Rafael was similarly lucky to stay on the pitch following his wild lunge on Lucas. There is something to be said for a referee to take into account the situation and the context, but really Phil Dowd made errors in giving both players just a yellow.

Red drawn, yellow given.

Interestingly, Rafael is developing quite a reputation as someone who may not have the temperament (or indeed the positional sense) to go with his natural talent.

A red card would have meant his third in under a year, while he was nowhere near where he should have been when Suarez tip-toed through the United defence for the opener.

Recently Ferguson has seemed to prefer someone more dependable in tough matches, with Rafael being omitted against Man City, Chelsea and Marseilles. It will intriguing to see when the Brazilian next plays again, I imagine he might find himself out of the team for a few weeks.

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3. In the context of yesterday’s result, it is difficult to say whether Arsenal’s draw against Sunderland is a point gained or more likely two points dropped.

Wenger’s team have struggled in recent seasons against Sunderland having won only one of the last six games, so it was always going to be tricky without out several players and against one of the best defences outside the top five.

Wenger had a similar problem to Fergie in that first choice midfielders weren’t available so he was forced to play Denilson and Diaby alongside Wilshere. They can usually get away with one of those in the team but having to play both meant it was one of those days where the team struggled to get going, Wilshere unable to do all the tempo setting himself.

The weight of the other two on his shoulders...

Sunderland were lucky to get away with Bramble clearly fouling Arshavin in the box and a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside but having said that they also had their moments and drew a couple of very smart stops out of Szczesny.

I would think that once Aaron Ramsey has a bit more fitness under his belt, he will swiftly move ahead of Denilson and Diaby in the pecking order. He might not have the same experience but he makes things happen, and in a game like Saturday’s and indeed for the run in, that could be priceless.

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4. Momentum at this stage of the season is key so it’s fascinating to see who is making a move at the bottom end of the table.

Just nine points separate ninth place Newcastle from bottom placed Wigan but realistically it’s looking like everyone from Blackburn downwards are the ones who should be worried.

Things are swiftly grouping together for a climatic last few games and as the old cliché goes, a couple of wins and “you’re right back in the mix” (© every pundit going).

I’m willing to condemn Wigan already to be honest, they’re tough to beat but they don’t win many either. As I’ve written here many times before, draws can be rather useless at times and a team like Blackpool who either win or lose has a far better shot and getting the points needed to stay up.

Almost good enough, but not quite.

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5. Of the teams not in that bottom group, Stoke are looking a little vulnerable. They’ve won just one of their last seven and still have to play four of the top five. They seem to have a slightly resigned air about them at the moment – certainly away from home where they’ve lost their last six (and not even scored in the last five).

The earlier point about momentum is key – they face Newcastle, Spurs and Chelsea next. Fail to win the first one and you could be looking at mid-April before they are favourites in a match, by which time they could be in a much more serious position.

I do think they should be ok, given the cushion they have, but it wouldn’t at all be surprising to see them need something against Wigan on the last day.

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6. Jermain Defoe has only just scored his first league goals in a year. If he fulfils Harry Redknapp’s wish and gets to ten by the end of the season, then it will go a long way to ensuring Spurs finish in the top four again. As it is, the lack of a striker in double figures for 2010/11 may be what costs them. Van der Vaart’s ten goals should complement not lead.

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T.

The Six Pointer – Expensive Toys, Retro Formations & more…

07/02/2011

That was the weekend that was. Newcastle vs Arsenal deserves a post in itself!

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1. Fernando Torres certainly had a Chelsea debut to forget and it will be interesting to see how Carlo Ancelotti fits him in for the rest of the season. The switch to a diamond midfield with Torres and Drogba playing as a pair up front wasn’t a surprise but it was strange to see Nicolas Anelka given the nod in the hole behind them.

I assume the theory was that Lampard’s strength is arriving from deep, something which would be negated if he played at the head of diamond. Chelsea’s success over the past few season has come through playing 4-3-3 and you can’t fit Torres and Drogba in that system and get the best of both.

Torres of course needs time to adapt; despite his price tag you can’t just expect him to instantly understand his new team-mates way of playing. But, given how Chelsea are quickly becoming involved in a battle to maintain a top four position as well as trying to engineer another attempt at the holy grail of the Champions League, Carlo Ancelotti will have his work cut out to solve this conundrum quickly.

An inauspicious start.

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2. In contrast, Torres’ old team are on quite the run of form at the moment. After overseeing a defeat to Blackpool, Kenny Dalglish has quickly turned things around with some innovative, or should that be retro, tactical moves.

Three at the back has long been out of vogue but Liverpool have used it successfully to stifle the aerial bombardment of Stoke, and now the technical probing of Chelsea. Contrasting attacks but the same result – a convincing clean sheet. The beauty of playing 3-5-2 with wing-backs is that in theory it can work so well – they offer solidity in defence by forming a five but options in attack when pushing forward.

I don’t see Glen Johnson working well long-term on the left but it seems to be successful for the time being.  Of course Dalglish has the same problem as Ancelotti in trying to fit £50m worth of strike force into his team but you feel it will be a little easier with the players at his disposal.

Close enough. Though if this was Stoke they'd play all four.

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3. Niko Kranjcar’s winner for Spurs against Bolton should give Harry Redknapp some reminder of the talents at his disposal. Notoriously poor at rotating, Redknapp is very much one to stick to the same players until the they get injured or he just doesn’t fancy them anymore. Kranjcar has been one of the unlucky ones this season with just six appearances to his name, totalling a measly 235 minutes.

So much so that ‘Arry bought a similar player in Pienaar in the transfer window, simply because he was available rather than any great need for him. The whole point of a 25 man squad is to use it, not least when you’re competing at the top end of the table and the Champions League. Perhaps he’d find that when he does have to turn to them, they might perform better if they’ve had a few games under their belts.

Niko Kranjcar, Spurs player. Sometimes.

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4. Following Chelsea and now Man Utd losing to Wolves this season, Arsenal’s 2-0 victory at Molineux is looking better and better. It must be frustrating that Mick McCarthy can get fantastic performances against the big sides but then lose to those around him. As with last season, it will be a close run thing whether Wolves go down but there are certainly worse teams in the league this season. They have yet to play either match against West Brom and those two games look like being crucial in determining which of the two sides will be relegated. I certainly don’t think both will stay up.

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5. Bolton have now lost six straight away games. What was looking like a promising Europa League push is turning into a mid-table season. Part of the reason must be that the previously red-hot partnership of Elmander and Davies have one goal each since late November and Chung-Yong Lee, who had six assists has been away at the Asian Cup. With that in mind the loan signing of Sturridge looks to be a good move both for player and club. Already he’s taken on some of the attacking responsibility with two goals in two games.

He’ll be sure to want prove that he’s good enough to be at Chelsea next season and that motivation can only benefit Bolton. After all, this time last season Jack Wilshere was embarking on a similar loan and is now a starter for Arsenal and in the England squad. If Sturridge can get the goals to fire Bolton to 7th, Bolton may even have a shot at keeping him permanently.

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6. Ten games produced 43 goals this weekend. As ever, Blackpool played a big part in that and their 25 games this season have seen 87 goals at just three and half a game. I wouldn’t want Ian Holloway to change his approach at all, but for the sake of Blackpool having another season in the top flight, I’d love them to get a 0-0 away from home once in a while!

They'll need an updated version after this season.

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T.

The Six Pointer – Complacency, Financial Burdens & more…

23/11/2010

That was the weekend that was.

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1. I don’t know where to start with the north London derby. Cruising at 2-0 going in to half-time, Arsenal had run rings around their neighbours in the first period. A smart tactical change by Redknapp at the break coupled with a complete mental collapse from the Arsenal players resulted in a famous Tottenham comeback.

You can’t even say this was a massive shock, as it’s happened too many times in recent years for it not to be a serious problem. A very good analysis can be found over at Arseblog while there was an interesting post on Arsenal Vision which documented every game where a lead had been lost and Arsenal had not won the match in the last five years.

Déjà vu.

I think it’s a touch unfair to include every instance where 1-0 ended 1-1 but what I found telling was in the last three seasons alone there have been 11 occasions where Arsenal have taken the lead and gone on to concede at least two goals. There in lies the crux, be it through complacency or the fact they haven’t held on against a top side when gaining the advantage.

The fact another game comes tomorrow will give the players an immediate opportunity to make partial amends but this side has a long way to go before it can be considered winners.

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2. Chelsea were pretty unlucky not to have beaten Birmingham with Ben Foster making at least five or six top saves while the defenders in front of him stood firm.

Like Ancelotti said, their problem at the moment is they’re not firing on all cylinders going forward which means they’re vulnerable when conceding (which in turn is currently more likely with their centre-back woes). Drogba has not scored since October 3rd (while admittedly recovering from malaria) while Malouda also has just one goal since late September.

I feel in part this is down to the midfield three they’re forced to regularly play at the moment – Mikel, Ramires & Zhirkov. There’s not much creativity there nor the control that is offered when Lampard and Essien are fit. Lampard’s absence has been perhaps a little easier to cope with but it’s no coincidence these three recent defeats have been without Essien in the side.

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3. Bolton were very impressive in beating Newcastle 5-1 and it will be interesting to see what happens in January if they are still riding high in the top half of the table.

Admiring glances are being aimed at the likes of Lee, Cahill, Holden and even Owen Coyle himself and with the club recently announcing a debt of £93million there may be some pressure to sell a star to ease the burden.

But for how long?

Another twist to this is the impending expiring contract of Johan Elmander, who is having by the far the best of his three seasons at the Reebok. He finally seems to have adapted to the Premier League but now Bolton risk losing their record £8m signing for nothing next summer.

Unless I’ve missed the Swede professing his undying love for the Trotters, I suspect we may see a gentleman’s agreement when a one year deal is signed but with him being sold in the summer.

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4. I don’t see Blackburn’s new owners pumping too much money into the Ewood Park coffers but it would be interesting to see what Sam Allardyce does with a bigger budget. He claims he’d win the double every year at a top club, but I seem to remember him being something of a flop the last time he had a bit of money to spend when managing Newcastle.

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5. Roberto Mancini has been saying for a while that a big part of  his tactical plan was to have full backs who bomb forward and support Tevez/the notional front three. We saw a glimpse of that in the victory over Fulham with both Kolarov and Zabaleta consistently getting into the Fulham half and attempting several crosses and four of their 11 shots on goal.

Shoot!

I think while Mancini is at heart a cautious manager, we will eventually see a relatively attacking side with Milner and Toure in the central midfield trio and Silva and Balotelli properly supporting Tevez. Reasonable upcoming fixtures should provide opportunity to experiment.

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6. Fulham have lost just four times but are 17th. Chelsea have lost four times and are top of the table. An extreme example perhaps but it shows how destructive draws can be to your league position. Mark Hughes should remember that a win and a loss is better than two draws. Of his last 27 games with both Man City and Fulham, Hughes has overseen 15 stalemates.

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T.

The Six Pointer: Theo Time, Tennis Scores & more…

23/08/2010

That was the weekend that was.

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1. Theo Walcott had arguably his best ever game for Arsenal scoring a hat-trick as the Gunners demolished Blackpool 6-0. Showing pace, direct running, and good end product, Walcott ran the show against the beleaguered Seasiders.

Yes it was “only” Blackpool and he was afforded more time and space than normal (not least once Blackpool were down to ten men) but it was encouraging to watch him put in such a performance.

Walcott has had his critics in his brief career, and rightly so in many cases but it shouldn’t be forgotten that he’s only 21 years old and has yet to get a through a season without major injury disruptions.

Taking his league stats from the last three seasons into account, it shows every season broken up through injury and bit part appearances.

2007/08 – 25 appearances/1260 minutes

2008/09 – 22 appearances/1265 minutes

2009/10 – 23 appearances/1129 minutes

1260 minutes equates to 14 full games which is just over a third of the season. Therefore in the space of three league seasons, he’s had one season’s worth of playing time. Yet people wonder why he’s not yet the finished article.

Of course cup and European games can be added to those totals but the point remains that Walcott is still very early into his development. Walcott himself acknowledges this is a key season for him, but let’s judge him at the end of it not the beginning.

Yeah!

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2. Another week, another 6-0 win for Chelsea – this Premier League lark is pretty easy isn’t it?! Drogba was once again a key player with three assists while Malouda and Anelka helped themselves to yet more goals.

Tougher tests will follow than West Brom and Wigan but a significant goal difference advantage amounts to the equivalent of an extra point at the business end of the season. Given they won the title by just a point last season, these early victories may prove vital.

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3. Two bogey teams continued their hold in London this weekend; Bolton winning their third successive game at Upton Park while Fulham prevented Man Utd from 3 points at Craven Cottage for the third successive season. Both games came down to missed penalties taken by someone other than the regular taker.

Carlton Cole saw his kick saved by Jaaskelainen which meant West Ham didn’t go into half time with lead. Bolton came out in the second half and scored twice and went on to win meaning Mark Noble’s penalty made no difference.

Meanwhile at 2-1 up against Fulham, Man Utd’s Nani took a spot kick instead of regular man Ryan Giggs. Stockdale saved, Fulham equalised and Fergie bemoaned silly dropped points.

It got me wondering as to why Noble hadn’t taken West Ham’s first and Giggs hadn’t taken United’s. Every club ranks their penalty takers for a reason. If the top man is on the field, he should take it.

The only exception to this is if someone is on a hat-trick and the game is won. I’m sure both Avram Grant and Alex Ferguson will be telling their players as much before the next game.

He's no Ronaldo...

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4. As much as I want to ignore Bale’s second goal vs Stoke, I can’t deny it was an excellent volley. I’m pretty sure we’ll see better this season but it’s likely to end up as goal of the month if nothing else. Bale is fast becoming Tottenham’s most important player and will be key to ensuring they challenge for a top four spot again.

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5. I don’t think anyone expected the third 6-0 of the weekend at St. James’ Park. Newcastle were terrific against a woeful Aston Villa and Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan reminded many that they are more than capable of performing at the highest level.

Andy Carroll scored a nice hat-trick and already people are tipping him for an England call. It is perhaps a little early for that but he has great potential. He won most things in the air against Vidic last week and was once again dominant aerially against the Aston Villa defence. His link up play suggests decent technique and it will be worth watching him this season, especially in home games.

Newcastle are now unbeaten in something like 23 games at home and they could do well to follow the template of two other recently promoted clubs, Stoke and Birmingham, in making their home ground a fortress in order to get the points needed to stay up.

Aerial beast.

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6. Last season Wigan were very Jekyll and Hyde beating Arsenal or Liverpool one week before getting smacked by seven the next. It looks like this season will mainly consist of the latter. I don’t think Martinez will have too long to sort it out but with games against Spurs and Man City coming up, they may be quite far adrift quite quickly.

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T.

The Six Pointer – Cheap Managers, Poor Teams & more…

15/03/2010

1. While most teams tend to roll over at Old Trafford, you occasionally harbour hope for someone to pull a surprise. Fulham however are not one of those teams (in contrast to their good home record against Fergie’s side) and Saturday was another comprehensive defeat thanks in no small part to Master Rooney again.

The last six seasons has seen Man Utd P6, W6, F18, A3 vs Fulham at home while Rooney now has 32 for the season and a maximum of 13 games to beat Ronaldo’s 42 in 2007/08. Next week sees a big game vs Liverpool but given the way Rafa Benitez’s team is playing, I don’t see anything other than a Man Utd win.

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2. Drogba didn’t do much but scored twice. Chelsea not at their best but won 4-1. Just another regular day at the office at Stamford Bridge. With three easy home games left (plus a tough one vs Villa), whether they win the title will come down to whether they can improve that shaky away form.

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3. At this stage of the season it’s all about wins, by whatever means necessary. Arsenal left it very late to beat Hull, but as 7amkickoff pointed out, it was somewhat inevitable given Hull have conceded the most last-minute goals this season while Arsenal have scored the most. Given that Hull were down to ten men after George Boateng’s red card (more on that in a mo) it was no surprise Nicklas Bendtner bundled in a flapped save from Boaz Myhill with 92 minutes on the clock.

It was a fair result all things considered as Wenger’s side were in control for the majority of the game, Hull’s only shot on target coming from Bullard’s penalty that should never have been.

The officiating was particularly poor in this game and helped make it more a struggle then it should have been. Firstly, Vennegor of Hesselink was a clear yard offside when Campbell climbed all over his back and Phil Brown is spouting his usual nonsense if he thinks that was a clear goalscoring opportunity – the only reason the Dutchman was ahead of Sol was because he started offside.

Watch me get you booked.

Secondly, the persistent fouling from Hull was allowed to go on for far too long. Boateng was booked for poking Bendtner in the eye while Bendtner was mysteriously booked for being poked in the eye by Boateng. Odd one that. Dean Marney (I think) somehow escaped a yellow for a filthy sliding tackle on the touchline while Boateng was then sent off for a second yellow after a hatchet job on Sagna’s knee.

Quite how that wasn’t a straight red I’ll never know, but at least he won’t be able to appeal it. Oh and before anyone says he isn’t, Boateng is a bit of a dirty player – this was his second red card in a month. He also got sent off twice on 06/07.

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4. Phil Brown, you can’t say it hasn’t been coming. Perhaps it was time to part ways at the end of last season, with Brown having kept them up (solely because Newcastle were so inept) but having lost the dressing room following that team talk. As it happened Hull persevered with him into this season and the result has been another struggle.

To be fair to Brown he did what he could considering the resources available to him but given there has been more than one long winless run this season the timing of his departure is a little strange. Eight games to go does not leave an awful lot of time for a successor to make their mark but luckily Hull are currently just three points from safety.

Brian Laws Burnley

Cheap.

The interesting thing will be whether they do a Burnley and bring in a cheap Championship level manager in anticipation of relegation or spend that little bit more on someone quality who can keep them up and then push on next season.

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5. Does anyone want 4th spot? Spurs are winning the games they need to for now but I still think it will all unravel when they face the three title challengers in consecutive weeks in April. Man City are too inconsistent under Mancini while Aston Villa are doing their best to throw it away. They in particular have probably the most settled team and experience from last season yet seem reluctant to risk going for victories in tight games. In their last nine they’ve drawn 0-0 four times. Gambling on extra attack to force a win in just two of those games would have yielded more points even if they’d lost the other two. Something to consider going into their last ten.

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6. If Sunderland hadn’t conceded any of their goals in the last-minute, they would be riding high on 41 points and not worrying about relegation. After a start which promised so much, it appears more rebuilding work will be needed in the summer by Steve Bruce.

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T.

The Six Pointer – Same old Arsenal, Man Utd’s 2nd best striker & more…

08/02/2010

1. It’s getting boring writing the same thing each week but if Arsenal make the same mistakes each week then what choice do I have?! Unlike last Sunday against Man Utd, there was at least something resembling a performance against Chelsea, but once again Arsenal failed to win with their traditional combination of poor defending and not taking chances.

the wanderer clichy

Clichy the Wanderer

Quite where Gael Clichy was wandering to for the first goal I’ll never know but it was really rather stupid to leave your post as the ball was being played into the danger area. One Terry flick on later and Drogba is stealing in at the far post to slot home the opener. As I mentioned last week, Clichy has been in a funk for probably 18 months now but with Traore just as poor positionally and Gibbs injured there’s no other option (Silvestre is NOT an option).

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2. When Chelsea smashed Arsenal 3-0 at the Emirates in November, Wenger made an interesting point about how Drogba doesn’t really do that much (this was after having scored twice). To a certain degree he’s right but only because so often opportunities are given to him on a plate when facing what masquerades as an Arsenal defence.

drogba arsenal

Easy.

The second goal was made by Clichy drifting inside as Chelsea were counter-attacking. The failure to realise until too late that Drogba was on the right meant the Ivorian could easily cut inside him and blast a powerful shot past Almunia.

Considering how highly Wenger values pace, it’s distressing to see how devastating counter attacks have been from Everton, Man Utd and Chelsea in recent weeks. I’m probably being a touch harsh in thinking Almunia could have made a better effort but Drogba’s shot was pretty powerful. That said, I think a top keeper would have reacted.

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3. Theo Walcott was at least visible in this match. Only for his appalling touch however. What was confusing though was both him and Bendtner have come back from long injuries yet it is only the former who is getting starts at the moment.

You can understand that neither are fit enough to play 90 minutes at the moment but surely someone like Bendtner would be more effective starting, as opposed to coming on when the game is lost. Likewise, surely Walcott is better suited to a sub role where his only reliable skill (pace) could be used against tiring legs rather than fresh ones.

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4. Man Utd’s second top scorer this season is Own Goal with ten goals thus far. He scored a hat-trick on Saturday against Portsmouth and now has as many as Berbatov and Owen combined!

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5. It’s a little depressing if Liverpool end up as the 4th best team this season. Despite their good recent form, to me they are fundamentally a flawed side but years of finishing in the top four has given them a head start in knowing what it takes. We saw last season how Aston Villa fell away and it seems like no one of Man City, Spurs or Villa can string a set of results together to make a charge this time round.

gerrard liverpool everton

Yay, I play for an average team!

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6. The form of the bottom eight or so teams is so poor right now that a win shoots you right up the table. Two games ago Hull were in the relegation zone but a draw against Chelsea and win against Man City later they are up to 14th. Of course it’s still very tight with just four points separating seven teams so it’s anyone’s guess who will go down. For what it’s worth I still think Hull will be one of them.

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T.

The Six Pointer – Arsenal deficiencies, Arsenal deficiencies & more…

02/02/2010

1. While Man Utd clearly deserved their win against Arsenal on Sunday, they were greatly helped by the non-performances of three Arsenal players in particular; Almunia, Clichy and Denilson.

Almunia has been a liability all season. He appears to have no confidence in his own decision making and no confidence from his two centre backs, Gallas in particular. Perhaps the Nani goal was unfortunate but I’ve seen Almunia do that weird palming thing too many times (e.g. Bentley last season) to think so.

almunia arsenal man utd

Words fail me.

There’s a level of technique which he clearly doesn’t have, and won’t learn at the age of 32. Mentally he looks shot and I struggle to think of which Premier League teams he’d get into right now. Certainly no-one in the top half.

With Fabianski being just as dodgy at the moment, it leaves a big hole to fill. Part of me wishes there had been a cheeky loan move for David James as a six month stop gap. Certainly the position will be one to address in the summer.

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2. Clichy is perhaps still a bit unfit but not for the first time this season he was given a torrid time by so-so right-winger. After Wright-Phillips and Young, Nani joined the list of players who have outwitted him positionally and through a bit of pace.

His form hasn’t been good for a while now and I’d hazard a guess that Kieran Gibbs will be pushing him very hard for a first team spot next season.

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3. Another player who has stagnated is Denilson. If you get beaten fair and square then fine, but if in one of the biggest games of the season you’re half-heartedly jogging back while the opposition are breaking at speed then something’s not right.

denilson arsenal

Jog on jogger.

Denilson has always been someone who divides opinion, on the surface a player who does nothing particularly well but nothing particularly badly. However, two weeks running he has now casually made half hearted attempts to stop breaks which have both resulted in goals.

Aaron Ramsey may give away the ball more but at least he makes things happen and chases after people. I’d play him next week if Diaby isn’t fit.

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4. Playing three tiny players up front doesn’t work. I like the 4-3-3 formation but it only works if you have a variety of players. Van Persie, Arshavin and Bendtner offer different heights, differing skills and differing work rates and it was one reason why Arsenal were playing so well at the start of the year.

A trio of Arshavin, Nasri and Rosicky is just too similar. Arshavin to his credit wasn’t that bad and caused a few problems against Wes Brown but it’s just a shame Bendtner wasn’t match fit which would have allowed the Russian to face Rafael instead.

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5. Theo Walcott isn’t going to the World Cup unless he has a dramatic improvement in form. He’s been found out for having one skill (pace) but not the intelligence to do anything with it.

I know he’s been out injured a long time and he was only a sub but you could say the same for any of his (few) games this season. There’s struggling to get into a game and then there’s complete anonymity. The problem with Walcott is he often finds himself in good positions; he just rarely makes the right decision. I know he’s a confidence player but how can he gain confidence if he’s never doing anything worthy of lifting it.

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6. If you count the Champions League and cups the last eight games against Man Utd and Chelsea have resulted in one draw and seven defeats with just five goals scored and 18 conceded (thanks to East Lower). In two home games this season against the top two Arsenal have been crushed 3-0 and now 3-1.

Yet still Wenger believes in his players and refuses to buy anyone new. I wrote last season about how it was misguided to refuse to sign players because they might ‘kill’ a current player.

arsene wenger arsenal man utd

Mr Grumpy, meet Mr Stubborn. Mr Stubborn, meet Mr Grumpy.

I don’t really care if Denilson suddenly has his path to the first team blocked or if Walcott has to work that little bit harder to get a start. What matters is the success of the team and sometimes the feelings of players have to be sacrificed.

An 18 month deal for an experienced player that can do offer an alternative is hardly to going to finish the career of 21 year old Denilson. It may however have helped win a trophy this season, something which now looks unlikely.

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T.

The Six Pointer – The new Fulham, Arsh power & more…

14/12/2009

1. Amazing what effect a good old-fashioned rollicking can have on players. Arsenal were dreadful in the first half against Liverpool yesterday and were lucky to go into the break only 1-0 down. Torres should have buried what was essentially a one on one chance while Gerrard probably paid the price for his recent diving by not being awarded a penalty for a clear foul by Gallas in the box. As it happened Liverpool were gifted the lead after another error by Almunia, who flapped at a routine crossed free kick and palmed into Kuyt’s path to score.

It has been hinted that Wenger told his young charges “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” (something many of us Arsenal fans have thought in recent times) and it had the desired result, in part helped by Liverpool’s terrible second half. First Glen Johnson got his footing all wrong to score an own goal with Carragher slipping and Walcott lurking. Then within ten minutes Andrey Arshavin (who had done little until then) scored a great goal taking one touch to control, one to step past Glen Johnson and one to rifle the ball in the net before Reina even saw it. Another memorable Anfield moment for the little Russian who at that point had five goals from five shots in his two games in Liverpool (he would later ruin it with a shot that didn’t score!).

Andrey Arshavin Arsenal Liverpool Anfield

So tiny yet so much shooting power.

So where does this leave both teams? Arsenal look to be back in the title mix after everyone else around them dropped points and will be just three behind Chelsea if they win their game in hand against Bolton in January. Arshavin up front is working in the sense they have two straight wins but he was much quieter against Liverpool than Stoke. A striker is still needed in January.

Liverpool meanwhile are bereft of ideas, form and confidence. They are still only five points off a Champions League spot but it’s becoming more apparent that something is fundamentally wrong at Anfield.  I’m still unsure why Aquilani isn’t starting league games, especially when the first XI aren’t doing much. Gerrard is playing poorly and petulantly while I feel Torres isn’t at full fitness. I’m not convinced Rafa has lost the dressing room but I do think he has the resigned look of someone who already is just playing out the season. Life under Hicks and Gillett has become ridiculous and to be honest I’ll be surprised to see him at Anfield next year.

rafael-benitez liverpool

Something on your mind Rafa?

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2. No team with Champions League ambitions loses at home to Stoke and Wolves and doesn’t score in either game. As always with Spurs as soon as expectation rises, performances fall; which is ironic given that they play better against the big sides. Robbie Keane being captain is becoming an issue due to his poor play, as was obvious it would a year ago, while Defoe isn’t as consistent a scorer as Darren Bent – he’s only scored in six games compared to Bent’s nine. With no money to spend in January it will be interesting to see how Harry Redknapp does going forward.

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3. Any team which beats Liverpool, Chelsea and Man Utd certainly should have Champions League ambitions. Aston Villa got their first league win at Old Trafford in some 26 years and it was thoroughly deserved. Having been in a Champions League spot for two-thirds of last season before falling away, they looked better placed to stick it out this season.

richard-dunne-aston villa

Solid as a rock.

In Milner, Downing, Young and Agbonlahor they have a quartet of attacking players who can cause problems against any team; Agbonlahor in particular consistently scoring in big matches. At the back Richard Dunne proves every week that Mark Hughes made an error in selling him. A lot depends on whether the core players stay fit but of the pretenders for 4th, Villa look by the far the most impressive at the moment. They may even be aiming higher…

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4. Are Birmingham this season’s Fulham? The points they’re gaining with the few goals they’re scoring suggests so. Their fifth 1-0 victory this season has got them up to 24 points and eighth place. A far cry from the fools who thought they’d be going down this season.

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5. Somewhere in Milan a certain J. Mourinho must be laughing at Chelsea’s recent defensive problems. Who would have thought that a team with a least eight players over six-foot including a giant 6’6″ keeper would be so vulnerable on set pieces? Cech has been far below the heights (no pun intended) of 2004-06 and in recent weeks has made a number of errors. The problem with him being so far ahead of Hilario and Ross Turnbull is that you just have to hope he works his way through it. You have to think that Chelsea wouldn’t have conceded three if Essien was playing either. It’s too early to say if he’ll be badly missed, I would say the true test will be once Drogba is out too.

Jose Mourinho Chelsea Inter

They conceded how many goals in one match?!

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6. Just five points from seven games for Sunderland. Portsmouth at home was about as good a game as you could have hoped for if you wanted to find some form. Maybe Steve Bruce needs a bit more time (read next season) to truly make them a contender for a Europa League spot.

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T.

The Six Pointer – Pressure and focus, little Russians & more…

08/12/2009

That was the weekend that was…

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1. So Man City powered their way to victory over Chelsea but it remains to be seen whether they just turn up for the big games. Mark Hughes will be glad to have won after seven straight draws especially as they had to come from behind to do it. I’m still dubious of the team spirit at Eastlands (any team with Adebayor in it can’t be that determined) but it was by far their best performance of the season.

Tevez looks like he’s finally contributing some goals but once more Given was the man who saved City’s skin with a penalty save from Frank Lampard. I think Hughes was chatting rubbish about the pressure Lampard was under (Compared to this? Really?) but Hughes chats a lot of rubbish a lot of the time.

In many ways the more focus on him the less focus on his under performing players, but the more his players under perform (this week aside) the more focus and scrutiny on Hughes.

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2. Typical Arsenal to show that you can spend all week worrying about how to attack against Stoke’s pair of 6’2″ centre-backs when you have no big strikers fit, yet 5’7″ Andrei Arshavin shows he can do the job instead. The little Russian regularly reveals his desire to play centrally at Arsenal and his wish was finally granted against Stoke. He was instrumental in the 2-0 win and could have had a hat trick if his first touch hadn’t deserted him a couple of times.

It will be interesting to see how Wenger goes forward. With Bendtner back quite soon there could be a switch back to 4-4-2 with the Dane and the Russian up front. Or more likely the 4-3-3 will stick but with Bendtner resuming his wide role of earlier this season while Arshavin continues up front in the middle.

Andrei Arshavin Arsenal

Brains not brawn.

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3. Since their 9-1 demolition of Wigan, Spurs have gone on to draw their next two league games and also get knocked out of the Carling Cup. With at least one if not two Champions League places up for grabs due to the open nature of this season’s Premier League, Tottenham would do well to regain some consistency if they harbour dreams of filling one of the two spots.

When 2-0 up against a team with Everton’s injury problems, you should not be throwing that lead away. Even when given a chance to win it at the death, Jermaine Defoe contrived to miss a penalty (Keane wasn’t on the pitch). Points against Villa and Everton aren’t necessarily bad ones but it’s the manner in which they’ve been gained which will be of concern to Harry Redknapp. He of all people will know that a cushion needs to be built up ahead of the chasing teams. Especially when you consider at the business end of the season Tottenham have a three game consecutive run against Arsenal, Chelsea and Man Utd.

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4. When exactly does Rafa Benitez plan to give Alberto Aquilani his league debut? Given that he has presumably been fit for at least a cameo since his Carling Cup debut against Arsenal on 28th October, it seems strange that he has yet to make a league appearance. Surely when you’re drawing against Blackburn and not playing well, it would be a good time to bring him on?

Alberto Aquilani Liverpool

That bench must be getting warm.../

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5. Bobby Zamora for England? I think not. He does get unfair press sometimes given that Emile Heskey is similarly a hard-working striker who can’t score for toffee yet is lauded as a World Cup certainty. However, Heskey has proven himself over 57 caps as a great partner for first Owen and now Rooney.

Zamora can chase lost causes all he wants but Capello will be choosing his World Cup forwards from a shortlist of: Rooney, Heskey, Defoe, Crouch, Bent, Agbonlahor and Cole. At least three players on that list can do everything Zamora does and more. The rest score goals, something the Fulham striker simply doesn’t do enough of.

Bobby Zamora Fulham England

"Shut your f-ing mouths!"

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6. Another so-so Man United performance (though convincing in the end), another win. The masters of winning with the minimum of fuss. Zola meanwhile deserves time – the man has no money to spend and a squad full of injuries. Interestingly for a team with the defensive nous of Steve Clarke as assistant manager, West Ham haven’t kept a clean sheet since August.

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T.

The Six Pointer – Men vs Midgets, Self-Deprecation & more…

30/11/2009

That was the weekend that was.

 

1. Chelsea showed Arsenal what it takes to be champions elect yesterday with a lesson in how to blend skill with power. Up until the first goal Arsenal were in control without really doing anything, though Chelsea could have had a penalty for Sagna’s foul on Anelka. Then out of nothing Cole wasn’t closed down and a great cross came over for Drogba to finish clinically. The defending wasn’t the best. Sagna could have made a better attempt to prevent the cross from Cole and one of the centre backs could have cleared it but it was a great ball in.

A couple of minutes later an almost identical goal was scored. Cole again had time and space to put in a great ball from the left but this time it went in off Vermaelen who was expecting Gallas to clear it. Two quick goals before half time, game over. The second half was notable for Arshavin’s disallowed goal, Drogba’s free kick to wrap up the victory and nothing more.

The game showed exactly how far Arsenal have to go if they are to match Chelsea. Ancelotti’s team had height and strength all over the pitch as well as skill, overpowering Arsenal everywhere. Wenger was missing Van Persie, Bendtner and Diaby who all would have played in this game and perhaps made a difference. However you’d imagine that even with them on the pitch Chelsea would find have found a way to win.

For some reason there was a constant stream of hopeful crosses and medium length passes to the forward line of Arshavin, Nasri and Eduardo, who every time were beaten in the air by Terry & co. It changed a little in the second half but there were mainly lots of runs up blind alleys. Eduardo in particular looked well off the pace and badly needs a meaningful goal while Arshavin continued his peripheral form of this season. Walcott was poor when he came on and there are no true wingers at the clubs, instead lots of inside forward types.

didier drogba ashley cole arsenal chelsea

I find it so hard to decide who I dislike more in this picture.

As for Drogba, Arsenal must be sick of him. Two great goals and an all action performance in tandem with Anelka. He now has 10 goals in 11 games vs Arsenal and has been directly the match winner six times.  I think Almunia should have done better with the third goal; his positioning was wrong (why move behind the wall?) and thus the ball was already in the net before he even reached with his dive.

Wenger can say the disallowed goal was pivotal but I disagree. As in the game against Man Utd, having all the possession is pointless if you can’t do anything with it. The reason why Chelsea and Man Utd have been the two top teams for the past few years is that they can soak up pressure and still win. Arsenal have yet to discover that method.

arsenal weak

What you see and what you get.

 

2. Everton lost again and although there’s no shame in being beaten by Liverpool (actually…) you sense that perhaps Moyes has taken them as far as he can. That’s not to say he isn’t right for the job and the Scot has done wonders with the budget and constraints he has but maybe something needs freshening up.

Everton won’t reach the heights of the past few seasons and the constant long-term injuries to key players means a likely finish outside the top eight this year. With the Kirkby stadium plans rejected and no buyers for the club, the future looks a little uncertain at Goodison.

 

3. Is the clock ticking for Mark Hughes? Seven straight draws now. Funny how you can say they’re unbeaten in ten or without a win in seven. Hughes will no doubt slant to the former but I suspect the owners will be looking at the latter. Of the seven games (Villa A, Wigan A, Fulham H, Birmingham A, Burnley H, Liverpool A, Hull H), only Villa and Liverpool are truly tough games if you have real aspirations to be in the top four, and despite everything said otherwise that is the target. Somehow I don’t think Hughes will get a second attempt if he doesn’t achieve it this season in what is such an open year.

 

4. Hats off to Jimmy Bullard for the celebration of the season. In case you haven’t seen it, he gathered his teammates in a circle and mock scolded a la Tango Man last season. Ironically enough it was at the City of Manchester Stadium again. His return has been the main reason behind Hull’s resurgence and they may yet find themselves in a position like last where they weren’t very good but three teams were worse. He has brought a sense of fun back to the KC Stadium and fair play to Phil Brown for being able to see the funny side of Bullard’s celebration.

jimmy bullard goal celebration man city hull

Genius.

 

5. One of those teams will be Wolves unless Mick McCarthy goes. It took a while but it’s now clear that either the players or the manager aren’t cut out for this level. Time for either to prove that’s not true.

 

6. Birmingham have been doing well of late. They have been hard to break down since the start of the season but Alex McLeish has realised that by adding an extra striker and playing 4-4-2 he is far more likely to rack up the points that will lead Birmingham to safety this season.

 

T.


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