Gareth Bale. Quite good these days. The biggest quiff you’ve ever seen.
Plenty more here, including Jimmy Neutron, Planet of the Apes, and the cat in a bin lady.
Based on all the predictions written, here’s how I see the Premier League finishing up in May.
A few more thoughts. I think the top four are quite interchangeable though Man City won’t win it. It depends what other business is done before the end of the transfer window – you get the feeling the Milner deal will get a few things going.
I reckon Liverpool, Everton and Spurs are all capable of sneaking fourth spot. With the former two it depends on how fit their first choice teams stay throughout the season while Spurs could maybe go as high as third but it relies on them coping with two competitions at once. I’m sure they’ll sign one or two more players but are waiting to see if they beat Young Boys in the qualifier.
With Martin O’Neill leaving Aston Villa will drop down the table. It doesn’t matter who they get in to replace him, they won’t come ahead of those top seven teams. I have Fulham a little high on reflection. I should probably swap them with Villa. If they lose Schwarzer and get an injury or two, it remains to be seen whether Hughes can keep them going. With the signing of Kenwyne Jones Stoke might push on an extra place or two. I genuinely wonder if they have any players under 6ft beyond Tuncay and Etherington!
Going down to about 15th/16th you can mix and match. Bolton could shock a few people, while West Ham have one of the more talented spines of teams at that level. Birmingham could really struggle if Foster doesn’t live up to Hart’s performances last season and Zigic doesn’t perform but all in all the teams in this section should be ok.
For me there are just the four clear relegation candidates, though you could perhaps chuck Wolves in there too. Maybe I’ll revisit this once the transfer window shuts, as things should be a bit clearer by then.
Last Season: 4th
New Signings: Sandro
Key Player: Luka Modric
One To Watch: Tom Huddlestone. Hard to miss him really.
Needs A Big Year: Peter Crouch
Would Quite Like: Some glory European nights and finally coming ahead of their bigger, better neighbours from N5. Perhaps a trophy too.
Thoughts: After many years of trying and many years of spending, Spurs finally reached their holy grail and came 4th last season to have a shot at the Big Cup. Assuming they overcome Young Boys (responsible for one of the best ever headlines), Spurs will suddenly be welcoming the top sides to White Hart Lane every few weeks. I get the feeling may struggle to cope with demands of the Champions League and Premier League football.
Certainly their squad is big but I’m yet to be convinced that there is enough quality in it to do well in both. Surprisingly there’s been just the one signing so far, Sandro coming in to provide a much needed second defensive midfielder. It’s clear Redknapp is after a striker a who can play the lone front man role as none of his current ones can (save perhaps Pavlyuchenko).
The ability to adequately play 451 away from home (and in Europe) may go some way to improving their woeful record of no away wins against the top four in about fifteen years. Creatively they look fine with Modric, Kranjcar, Lennon Bale and Bentley all capable of laying chances on a plate. Defensive cover is probably an issue, certainly at right back at least. Corluka is a bit slow and none of the others are fully established. The last time all four central defenders were fit at the same time was quite a while ago too.
It’s clear Spurs are a good side but perhaps they peaked last season. I just don’t see how they’re going to as motivated this year for an away trip to someone like Blackburn when there’s a home tie against say Inter round the corner. They’ll still be challenging the top four again but I personally think they may find that both Man City and Liverpool come ahead of them this season. 6th spot in the league but the knockout stages of Europe.
It all went a bit Pete Tong last week as I saw my league lead almost entirely wiped out based on one wrong transfer. I was still debating who to bring in on Saturday morning and was thinking that someone like Gerrard for Ashley Young would be a good move given the formers home game against Burnley. However I started to second guess myself given that a) Liverpool are super inconsistent and b) they were coming off the back of a European tie. It says a lot that I wasn’t 100% confident of them thrashing Burnley!
Anyway, that plan was put aside and I decided to get rid of Drogba as he was listed doubtful for the Stoke game. Rooney at home seemed like a good idea so in he came. Literally five minutes later the news broke that he was out injured. Transfer already made, one injured player in, one doubtful player out. As it turned out Drogba was fit and got nine points against Stoke while Gerrard got 15 against Burnley. 24 points missed out on and my lead is down to a measly 17. The title race between the two Sportboys is back on! Oh dear.
Gameweek 36 Top Gun (aka Tom Cruise Approves):
Chelsea went goal crazy against Stoke, eventually settling for a 7-0 victory. Chief beneficiary was squad player Kalou who notched a hat-trick of tap ins, as well as an assist and man of the match for a grand total of 24. He had only got 42 points all season prior to that and it’s certainly one of the highest scores this year. Following closely behind was Frank Lampard, who rewarded the many who chose him as captain with an 18 point performance.
Lampard really has been racking up the points and has ten goals and ten bonus in his last nine matches. Barring some heroics from Drogba or Rooney, he ends the season as highest points scorer – not for the first time either. Elsewhere it was a case of the midfielders with Gerrard on 15 and Giggs and Aquilani both on 14.
Three Captain Picks:
Four teams play twice – Man City, Spurs and Fulham are the three you want to load up on.
1. Tevez/Man City – Two home games and about the only Man City player you can trust. Always performs in big games and Aston Villa and Spurs are big games.
2. Bale/Spurs – With Defoe out of form and none of the midfielders doing particularly well either, the Spurs pick has to be Gareth Bale. After last week’s messy performance at Old Trafford, Redknapp should hopefully switch him back to left-wing.
3. Fulham defenders or Dempsey – Fulham are always solid at home and have conceded just 12 goals at Craven Cottage this season, better than anyone else. West Ham and Stoke should bring at least one clean sheet. Meanwhile with Zamora injured, look to Dempsey to play upfront and hopefully bag a goal or two.
Suggested Transfers In:
1. Lennon/Spurs – Fit again though I doubt he will play the whole 180 minutes available to him this week.
2. Fulop/Man City – Apparently nine professional goalkeepers isn’t enough so Man City have been allowed to sign Sunderland’s reserve keeper to try and keep Villa and Spurs at bay. He conceded seven on his last appearance…
3. Etherington/Stoke – If you must go for a Stoke player this week make it him.
Three Transfers Out:
1. Bendtner/Arsenal – Suffering now that Van Persie is back.
2. Sorensen/Stoke – Out for the season.
3. Given/Man City – Ditto.
When this whole road to Wembley idea started back in November it was meant to be fun, not a chore that has to be fulfilled every time another round occurs. Not for the first time I accidently missed a round due to genuinely not being interested in the FA Cup. I think it’s the fact that we’ve reached the semi final stage and I’m still only on my third team. It’s more fun when it’s someone new each time.
Anyway, enough of my moaning. Last time we were here, Portsmouth were about to face local rivals Southampton in the fifth round. In a one-sided contest the Saints were swept aside 4-1. That’s a little unfair I suppose as it was level for three quarters of the game but the superior fitness of Pompey must have told as three late goals from Dindane, Belhadj and O’Hara ensured there was no shock.
The quarter-final saw a home tie against Birmingham, who have had a great season under Alex McLeish. Once again, Portsmouth put aside their off-field and league worries and ran out quite comfortable 2-0 winners. A quick fire double from Frederic Piquionne saw off the Blues, who judging from the match report had a goal incorrectly disallowed. It’s unlikely Portsmouth will care really, given that victory gave them a bit more prize money and TV cash.
The semi final draw produced an interesting proposition for Portsmouth – a meeting with ex manager Harry Redknapp, who was in charge when they won the whole thing just two seasons ago. Whatever your views on Redknapp’s responsibility for Portsmouth’s current plight (and I happen to think he should take a fair proportion of the blame) you can deny it was a great achievement in winning their first trophy in decades. He’s now trying to win Tottenham’s first proper trophy since 1991 (you can shove your Carling Cups where the sun doesn’t shine) and in doing so has plundered Portsmouth for about 43 of their players (ok, ok, just four).
The less said about Portsmouth’s league form the better. They’ve had nine points deducted and will go down officially shortly. They drew their last game but haven’t scored in three games including a 2-0 defeat to Spurs. Tottenham had won four straight before losing 3-1 last week against Sunderland. Their next three league games are against the top three so they I imagine they’ll go all out for this.
Basically Spurs have about seven central defenders out injured while Portsmouth have a bunch of players who will cost them appearance fees if they play again after the semi.
Concentrate. Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch, Niko Kranjcar and Younes Kaboul were all at Pompey but now Spurs. Except Defoe who was at Spurs then Pompey then back to Spurs. Kevin-Prince Boateng used to be at Spurs but is now at Porstmouth, as is Ricardo Rocha who is really rubbish and Michael Brown who is really average. Jamie O’Hara is owned by Spurs but on loan at Portsmouth. Kyle Walker was on loan at Pompey but is now back at Spurs. Both O’Hara and Walker are cup-tied. Harry Redknapp was manager at Pompey and is now at Spurs and his assistant in both cases is Joe Jordan. Clear?
How Pompey Got Here:
2-1 v Coventry A after a 1-1 H draw
2-1 v Sunderland H
4-1 v Southampton A
2-0 v Birmingham H
How Spurs Got Here:
Beat Peterborough 4-0 at home in the third round, Leeds 3-1 away in a fourth round replay after a 2-2 draw, Bolton 4-0 at home in a fifth round replay after a 1-1 draw, and Fulham 3-1 at home in a quarter final replay after a 0-0 draw at Craven Cottage. The semi can’t go to a replay as far as I’m aware so the job will need to be done first time round.
Lawro says:Both teams come into this with injury worries – Tottenham defensively, in particular, and Portsmouth, well, everywhere you look in their squad. I know some people will have already written Portsmouth off, but the fact is this is their Cup final for so many reasons; they are relegated all but mathematically, every single one of their players is playing either for a move or for a new contract, and the financial reward for reaching a Cup final would be massive for the club. Every single person connected with the club has a massive incentive in this match. And if I was [Portsmouth boss] Avram Grant, I’d be urging my players to make it extremely uncomfortable for Spurs. He’s not going to turn Portsmouth into an irresistible attacking force overnight so they have to grind the opposition down, flood the midfield and sneak a result. Saying that, I can’t really see past Tottenham winning. I definitely see it being tight, possibly going to extra-time, but Spurs will always cause you problems with their attacking players and that might just be enough to see them through this one. Prediction: 1-0
Spurs are heavy favourites going into this tie and I’m sure Harry Redknapp would be delighted to get on over his old side. However logic hasn’t really applied to Portsmouth’s cup run so far and maybe, just maybe they can pull off another shock result. You can get 10/1 on Portsmouth winning which is a ridiculous price and worth a pound of anyone’s money. Tottenham have a few defensive problems and somehow I think they’ll just mess it up. Let’s go with 1-0 Portsmouth with a late second half goal. Either that or heavy Spurs win. You know, whatever…
The January transfer window just passed saw the lowest spending since 2003, a whole £140m less than last January’s whopping £170m. Clubs have been certainly feeling the pinch and seem to be much more careful with their money. While it’s far too early to judge here are some thoughts on who could be hits and who might be misses.
The Free Transfers
I think Sol Campbell to Arsenal is quite astute and judging by the game and a half he’s played thus far, he looks like he can still cut it in the top flight. Certainly a better option than Mikael Silvestre! Over in Manchester, I was less convinced by City’s signing of Patrick Vieira. I think it will be difficult for him and there will be games where the pace is too much for him. That said, he’ll bring a lot to that dressing room and should be good for cameos where games are being closed out.
With money a bit thin on the ground, some of the most interesting deals were loans. Landon Donovan looks to have fitted straight in at Everton and I think he’ll do well for the remaining time he’s over here. Senderos from Arsenal is also a good move – the Swiss has stagnated a touch but people think he’s rubbish just because Drogba messed him a few times. Name me a central defender that hasn’t struggled against the Drog.
Bolton have got a couple of good youngsters in Weiss and Wilshere from Man City and Arsenal respectively. Wilshere in particular could be an instant hit if his cameo Carling Cup appearances are anything to go by. Basturk is one of those players who was once good on Football Manager but I’ve never seen him play enough to comment in real life. Fat Sam had a decent track record with signing older creative types at Bolton and the Turk could be sneaky good for Blackburn.
Maxi Rodriguez will be rubbish for Liverpool and Amr Zaki will be rubbish for Hull. Fellow Egyptian Mido might surprise a few people at West Ham. With a £1K a week wage he’s motivated to prove people wrong if nothing else.
The Cold Hard Cash
The biggest signing was Man City getting Adam Johnson for £6m+. An interesting one this, he’s done well in the Championship this season but I don’t see where he’s going to fit at Eastlands right now. You have Bellamy and Petrov both playing on the left and they’re both playing very well. One for the future me thinks, but he’ll have a great mentor in Petrov who is an excellent left winger.
After much of the window saw both Porstmouth keepers being linked with moves away to the same clubs, it was eventually Asmir Begovic who left, joining Stoke for £3.25m. He was wanted by Spurs too but apparently legged it from the hotel they were putting him up in. I do wonder whether he will displace Sorensen, they seem kind of at the same level to me. It’s a good signing for next season though.
Elsewhere Victor Moses should get lots of opportunity to prove he’s worth £2.5m at Wigan given that Jason Scotland has yet to score this season, while Benni McCarthy should score enough to justify his £1m move to West Ham. Sunderland have got a good prospect in Matt Kilgallon for £2m.
Birmingham had lots to spend but only got some squad depth in the end with Michel and Craig Gardner joining for £3m each. They’ll be useful, nothing more nothing less.
Harry Redknapp’s Wheeling Dealing Transfer Merry-Go-Round
Let’s face it, Spurs deserve a whole category of their own. Any team with Harry Redknapp in charge is always likely to make deals but when you cross it with Spurs’ odd transfer policy you’re bound to get some baffling deals. First up, they bought Younes Kaboul back from Portsmouth for about £5m (less if you count what Pompey still owed).
This is by my count the fifth player they’ve bought back in about 18 months (Keane, Defoe, Crouch & Chimbonda the others) and they’d probably save themselves a lot of money if they didn’t destroy careers in the first place. Kaboul has improved but won’t play when everyone is fit, so as usual lots of foresight there. Two right backs (Naughton and Hutton) went out on loan leaving them with only Corluka.
Gudjohnsen was brought in on loan. I’m not sure about this one, it kind of depends where he plays. He certainly hasn’t been a striker for a few seasons now but is a decent player. I get the feeling Redknapp is addicted to buying players he once liked the look of. Lets be honest now, they don’t really need Gudjohnsen do they, but Redknapp just couldn’t say no to a bit of sexy loan action.
The one striker leaving was surprisingly not Pavlyuchenko but instead Robbie Keane who left on loan to Celtic. You don’t normally loan your captain out do you, but by the sounds of it they were constantly changing the price of Pavlyuchenko. No doubt the same happened with Bentley which is why he’s still there too.
So overall nothing that exciting happened, and as usual the bullshit rumour brigade was full of exactly that – bullshit. There are a few decent signings but you sense everyone is saving their dollar for some post World Cup bingeing. Because of course that’s when the best value can be found…
Gameweek 22 is shaping up to be a big one for fantasy managers. After snow decimated the fixture list last weekend, we were left with just three games played meaning many managers only had a few players at most scoring them points.
In one of my leagues my nearest rival scored just six points while in my main league with the other Sportboy, the Football Guy and a few others, the story was similar. Nearly everyone had Carlos Tevez so the scores weren’t terrible but me picking him as captain meant I got 55 points and extended my lead to 37 points over 2nd place (now taken by Amer who was once upon a time sixth in the world). The week couldn’t have gone better really, and going for Tevez instead of Rooney as captain really made a difference.
Gameweek 21 Top Gun (aka Tom Cruise Approves):
Yes, in case you hadn’t realised Carlos Tevez was easily the top scorer last week – a hat-trick against Blackburn getting him three bonus points for a grand total of 17, or 34 if you made him captain like I did. Even though the game was initially in doubt I thought it was worth the risk as if it did get called off it would automatically go to my second choice Rooney.
Anyway, I digress. Benjani grabbed three assists in the same match for 13 points in what was his first appearance of the season. Not bad for someone who’s best has passed. Elsewhere Pienaar and Richards both got nine, as did Cameron Jerome.
Gameweek 22 Picks:
With all the postponed games last week, many clubs have tried to rearrange them as quickly as possible. It means this week we have six teams playing twice: Man Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs, Bolton and Hull. Plenty of good teams to pick from and I’d say you’d want at least six players playing twice, if not more. Just be aware that Man Utd and Hull don’t play in gameweek 23 so don’t pick too many of their players for this week.
Three Captain Choices:
1. Fabregas/Arsenal – A quirk in the fixtures means both of Arsenal’s games this week are against Bolton; first away, then at home. Fabregas is confirmed fit again so I would think that he’ll definitely play in both games. He’s been a stud this season and there have been just two (and a half) games where he’s failed to anything. Bolton away will be tricky what with Owen Coyle providing the new manager lift in performance, but the match at the Emirates should be a comfortable win. In any case, you’d be wise to pick him as captain this week. Arshavin would be my next Arsenal choice.
2. Rooney/Man Utd – The fiery striker has arguably easier games than Fabregas, with two home games against Burnley and Hull but I’m wary of a couple of things. Firstly, Utd haven’t been overly impressive of late and the FA Cup tie against Leeds showed they are still vulnerable in defence without Rio, Vidic and VDS. Secondly, Rooney can be a bit hot and cold, either having a massive game or doing nothing. He scored 15 against Hull recently but only got one point against Burnley away in August. A confident, but not surefire pick. Valencia would be the Man Utd alternative.
3. Defoe/Spurs – With all of Liverpool’s good players injured, it leaves us looking at Tottenham as the third team to provide a potential captain. Hull at home should be easy pickings for Defoe and he might just do something at Anfield too. Modric is back fit again and could get some good points if you don’t have the midget up front.
Three Potential Transfers In:
1. Bolton players – This gameweek is admittedly difficult to envisage a Bolton player scoring heavily but even two sets of two points would be useful and Arsenal are not super solid defensively. I think Owen Coyle will give them a boost and hopefully make them a more expansive, attractive side. This could mean players like Matt Taylor are worth watching. They also have play twice in gameweek 26 meaning seven matches in the next five weeks.
2. Donovan/Everton – The American loanee made his debut for the Toffees last week and by all accounts played pretty well against Arsenal (he got an assist). I’ve always thought he’s overrated, and his previous record in Germany suggests that he’s not quite good enough at the top level. That said, maybe the Premier League will suit him. Plenty of US players have succeeded so maybe he will be the next (if only for a couple of months). It will cost you £6m to find out.
3. N’Gog/Liverpool – The young Frenchman is an interesting one. He has only played 412 minutes this season but has grabbed four goals and two assists, which is twice as many as a certain M. Owen. With Torres injured for six weeks, he should get a consistent run in the side. Liverpool are woeful this season but at £5.2m he may be worth a speculative punt as a third striker.
Three To Avoid:
1. Vieira/Man City – I think Vieira is a legend and as an Arsenal fan he gave me nine glorious years of midfield dominance but I can’t help thinking this move back to the Premier League is a bad idea. He’s only £5m but I don’t think he’s going to do much. Granted, he’ll probably have a big game against a team which doesn’t possess much pace and people will think he’s still great but I reckon it’ll will be a one-off. Not worth the bother.
2. Sorensen/Stoke – With David James about to join on loan, it seems Sorensen may be on his way out. With the World Cup coming up I can’t think that James would be moving somewhere where he isn’t guaranteed a first team place and rumours of the Dane going abroad have not been denied. Time to find a new penalty saving king.
3. Liverpool players – The good ones like Torres, Johnson, Gerrard and Benayoun are all injured for varying lengths of time. The others like Aquilani, Kuyt, Riera and Carragher have been useless for varying lengths of time.
That was the weekend that was…
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
1. Amazing to think that you can score five goals in a game and there can still be a debate over whether you were man of the match. Aaron Lennon’s performance against Wigan ensured that Defoe didn’t come away with all the plaudits, his sparkling play from the right playing a big part in at least half the goals.
Defoe meanwhile became just the third player to score five in a game in the Premier League era and notched the second fastest hat trick after Robbie Fowler’s four and a half minute wonder against Arsenal many years ago. I’ve mentioned in recent weeks that he needed to watch his temper and just concentrate on his football, and with performances like that there’s no chance of him not going to South Africa. Lennon too did his case no harm, and on current form is far and away the best option when it comes to tricky small winger.
Spurs’ goal difference enjoyed a big boost in terms of chasing Arsenal, while they are beginning to take advantage of Man City, Liverpool and Aston Villa’s inconsistency to open a little gap over those three. They face one of their rivals next week in Aston Villa but should have nothing to fear the way they are playing.
As for Wigan the best you can say is that it’s just one game. These sorts of results can have a lasting effect, especially if you go behind in a game. It will be up to Roberto Martinez to ensure it remains a one off.
2. Would Phil Brown be fearing for his job if Jimmy Bullard hadn’t got injured in his first game after signing? His performances in the last couple of games suggest that may have been the case. A win over Stoke and a fightback from two goals down to draw against West Ham possibly indicates an improvement in fortune for the men at the KC. Even Tango Man himself seems to be less in the spotlight than usual.
Bullard may have dodgy knees but he has an enthusiasm for the game that few players can match and his energy and creative play have got Hull scoring some goals again. They have a tough run coming up with three well organised teams in Everton, Man City and Aston Villa. Ok maybe not Man City but still! I’m pretty sure Geovanni isn’t injured and he appears to have lost his place to Bullard but I would be interested to see them both in the same team. Part of Hull’s success last year was to be brave, so maybe playing both together would have the same effect this year.
3. Before Arsenal get completely written off for losing against Sunderland (who have drawn with Man Utd and beaten Liverpool), let’s not forget that the key game is next week against Chelsea. Defeat would leave an 11 point gap; a win would leave it at just five with a game in hand. This defeat does render next weekend rather important if a title challenged is to be maintained. The lack of focal point without van Persie (and Bendtner) was a concern but it was in midfield where Sunderland won, with Cana stopping Fabregas and his teammates from creating many chances.
In addition to this, a set play was once again Arsenal’s outdoing at the back with Darren Bent reacting quickest after the initial ball had not been dealt with (déjà vu anyone?) While such defensive frailties are a long-term malaise, Arsene Wenger must ensure that his patched up squad is mentally right for the Chelsea game. Win it and two easier home games against Bolton and Stoke follow and momentum can be formed. Lose it and another frustrating season could be on the cards.
4. They were impressive but it was only Wolves at home. Chelsea’s next two tests are the altogether tougher visits to the Emirates and Eastlands. Let’s see how the keenly the absences of Lampard and Drogba are felt then.
5. Liverpool and Man City played out a draw which leaves neither going anywhere fast. Man City have now drawn six on the spin which has stagnated them after a promising start. Just one win in eight games fro Mark Hughes’ side. A Hull side winless away from the KC provides the best possible opportunity to end that run next weekend.
Liverpool have one win in six but their habit of winning games they don’t lose (Saturday was just their second draw) means they’re still in a good position. The pretenders to the top four ideally want a gap going into the spring as if Gerrard and Torres are fit for the run in, I know who I’d back to get the last Champions League spot.
6. David Dunn is scored his fourth goal in six games and is playing the best football of his career. Someone left a comment asking what chance an England call for the Blackburn man. While I think he’s bit of a luxury and probably not quite international quality, there’s no doubting there are few more in form midfielders playing at the moment.