Premier League review and team of the week
16:59, 06 Nov 2012
In the same way that Chelsea seem to do endless controversy, Arsenal appear to do endless deflation.
In certain aspects - if obviously not the scoreline - the 2-1 defeat on Saturday at Old Trafford was worse than the 8-2 over a year before. At least then, the embarrassment only really came after Arsenal tried to save face by actually going for it. What’s more, everything Manchester United hit that day went in. On Saturday, the opposite happened. In fact, had Antonio Valencia and Robin van Persie not missed two chances they both should have scored with, and Wayne Rooney scored his penalty, the gap would have been almost as bad as the 8-2.
The worst thing for Arsenal was that it was all so predictable. In fact, it was even more predictable if you believe some of the leaks that have come out of Old Trafford over the last year about what Alex Ferguson now things of his old rival, Arsene Wenger.
Reportedly, the United boss doesn’t even see the game as a true threat anymore because he has figured out a formula to beat them almost every time. Since Wenger is so reluctant to change his system, Ferguson generally applies the same approach: hit Arsenal physically, then scorch them with speed. We saw that again on Saturday, with Valencia in particular embarrassing Andre Santos. In terms of the physical battle, though, there was one interesting point. Ferguson took his young midfielders off when they were on the verge of a second yellow card. Wenger left his on and paid the price.
To be fair to Ferguson, though, United’s season in general has taken on a totally different complexion than even a month ago. After building momentum and cohesion to the point when they won two big games, they suddenly look the most assured of all the main challengers.
A lot of that, however, is also down to the fact Roberto Mancini now looks so unsure of himself. Manchester City’s odd front-loaded formation against West Ham was further evidence of how the Italian seems to be overthinking things and possibly even undercutting the natural evolution his team would have enjoyed anyway, having won the title in such a rousing manner in May. Despite 22 shots on goal against an admirably resilient West Ham, they didn’t really create a good chance that wasn’t fashioned through handball or offside.
The starkest stat of all is this: at this point last season, City had scored 36 goals. After the exact same number of games in this campaign, it’s been halved: 18. Worse, they’ve only scored one in their last two.
Mancini’s formations, then, are part of a wider trend. With Chelsea, though, it’s a little harder to say. Either way, dropping points against Swansea couldn’t have come at a worse time, given all that controversy and the fact it was the first league game after their first league defeat, to Manchester United.
- Luis Suarez: the best use of a chest since the poster for One Million Years BC
- For the first time since Roberto Martinez took the Wigan job, all evidence suggests the club will comfortably avoid a relegation fight. And, as has been argued on these pages before, that is also because the Spaniard has avoided the kind of squad upheaval that has generally interrupted their integration to his passing style in the past. The victory away to Spurs, after all, wasn’t their first big scalp on the road.
- Ultimately, how predictable was the draw between Reading and QPR? Two sides that haven’t won came up with a very diplomatic result that actually suits nobody.
- Generally, it was a weekend of surprises, if also ones that a smart better might have had a bit of joy with. For example, you would have usually expected Stoke to at least hold Norwich, Sunderland and Aston Villa to fight it out to a draw, and Spurs to keep on their surge against a bottom-half side. While Wigan already suggested they might do something, though, Stoke have never been the most awkward on the road while there is already evidence of a certain stagnation under Martin O’Neill at the Stadium of Light. Villa, meanwhile, may finally be starting to feel the benefits of Paul Lambert.
Team of the week
1. Alex McCarthy (Reading)
2. Emmerson Boyce (Wigan)
3. Patrice Evra (Manchester United)
4. Ron Vlaar (Aston Villa)
5. James Collins (West Ham United)
6. Mark Noble (West Ham United)
7. Pablo Hernandez (Swansea City)
8. Marouane Fellaini (Everton)
9. Peter Odemwingie (West Brom)
10. Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
11. Wes Hoolahan (Norwich City)