Archive for December 7th, 2010

What We Learned From Prem Week 16

Is Samir Nasri The Best Player In The Prem?
It suddenly struck me on Saturday, probably just after he’d danced into Fulham’s penalty area, she-she’d around their defender and Mark Schwarzer and corkscrewed around to slot the ball in from a ridiculous angle for his second outstanding goal of the game, that Samir Nasri was actually quite good. Well, actually more than quite good, quite exceptional really. And it wasn’t the first time. Indeed, he’s consistently been Arsenal’s best player this season both in the Prem and the Big Cup. That’s 11 goals, 8 of which have been in the Prem, and most of those have been pretty impressive ones. So could it be that he’s actually currently the best player in the league?

Certainly none of the usual suspects have really distinguished themselves this season. The Drog (malaria ridden – excellent excuse), Malouda (great at the start of the season, now a pale shallow husk of himself), Greedy Stevie Me (hamstrung in so many ways), Essien (injured or suspended), Titface, Lumpy, Fabregas, and Torres (long-term injuries of various sorts) all seem to be suffering from World Cup hangovers (or in Essien’s case pre-World Cup). And don’t get me started on the continuing fall from grace that is the life of Chav Wanker.

In contrast this season, this mostly quality free season, Nasri has been almost singularly excellent. He’s been more consistent than Van der Vaart, who’s certainly been the best newcomer, and not as injured (there’s that World Cup hangover again). And others like Elmander, Tevez and, er, that’s about it, have merely flashed around in one or two games. In fact, the only real challenger seems to be Gareth Bale (who was also spared World Cup exertions) and while he’s been great against Inter and Arsenal, he hasn’t been quite as continually effective in the Prem.

Is It Acceptable To Hate Blackburn? Or Should It Just Be Made Compulsory?

The latest incarnation of the Fat Sam method of physical football. They epitomise everything that’s wrong with the Prem. A team who think barging, blocking and bad tackling are the basic building blocks of the game. A team and a gameplan built around quasi-legal physicality rather than any kind of ball-playing skills. They play mind-boggling anti-football, which makes the worst of Mourinho’s look like it was perfected on the playing fields of Barcelona. And they’re managed by someone who is so completely deluded that he honestly believes that he would be a winner at Real Madrid or Inter Milan (or that he’d even be hired by them). They are as evil as Sepp Blatter only without any of the redeeming features.

Is It Squeaky Bum Time Already Mother?

Blimey doesn’t time fly? Like the onset of Christmas, the annual Squeaky Bum Time festival just seems to creep up earlier and earlier. Time was the powers that be would wait until at least March before going all serious on us. This time you can be sure that Sky, never ones to miss a trick promotion-wise (what with every week having a Super Sunday and a Not-Quite-So-Super-But-We-Have-To-Televise-Them-Sometimes Monday almost every week) will have the Squeaky Bum bunting out in the studio before Christmas is even upon us.

However, this time they might actually have a point, what with this being the most open Prem ever and the Top Three due to go round robin on each other in December, it could be that the next four weeks will sort out the destiny of the Prem. Let’s see how it looks:

  • Arsenal (currently 32 pts) face Man U, Stoke, Chelski and Wigan
  • Man U (31 pts) face Arsenal, Chelski, Sunderland and Boremingham
  • Chelski (30 pts) face Tottingham, Man U, Arsenal and Bolton (ouch!)
  • Man City (29 pts) face West Ham, Everton, Newcastle and Villa
  • Tottingham (26 pts) face Chelski, Blackpool, Villa and Newcastle

Any one of the top three who win all their matches will be in pole position at the top of the table. But if you imagine that they all drop points (hardly a big stretch of the imagination given their performances this season) while City, who have the sort of easy run Chelski had at the start of the season, get the full 12/12, I can see Man City  being top at the end of the year. I’d be specially worried if I were Chelski, because I can now see them losing two, if not three of those games. Then we really have a battle on our hands.

Give Me Full On Football Action Baby

Make no mistake, Chelski are in trouble. We all said they’d start the season well given their first five fixtures were effectively gimmies, but wondered how they’d cope once they got to the big games. Sure they got their usual 3 points off Arsenal, but they were beaten by Man City and they’ve really not looked solid since, losing to Boremingham, Sunderland and Liverpool. Certainly against an Everton side that really can’t boast a single genuine striker, they looked terrifyingly average and Leighton Baines was awesome attacking down the left against first Bosingwa, then once he had been removed, Ferreira. Quite where Chelski’s mojo has gone (possibly it’s keeping recently sacked Ray Wilkins company) or how they’re going to get it back (possibly out of his cold, dead hands) is something of a mystery. Everton are no great shakes either. It’s not too serious to say that results in December will determine Chelski’s destiny for years to come. Where once their position in the top two was assured, they’re now part of a five way battle for the top four slots.

Arsenal took advantage in typical fashion, conceding goals as if they had the Engerland defence instead of France’s 3rd team stringers for centre halves, while scoring more goals, more beautiful goals than the opposition. In the same way that Arsenal used to be hideously predictable during their pre-Wenger ‘one nil to the Arsenal’ days, so their matches now follow a familiar, if radically different script. Early doors (as they say) Arsenal look imperious, have hundreds of shots and go ahead (often by at least two), only to suffer an inexplicable moral collapse around half time (often inspired by a catastrophic defensive error of some sort), then let the opposition back into the game and squeaky bum it to the finish line with varying results. Hardly the most convincing of gameplans. Nasri’s two goals were both outstanding pieces of individual skill capping excellent teamplay which cut the Fulham defence apart. And Fulham were poor. Mark Hughes’ choice to play a young Michael Briggs against Nasri was a massive tactical error and he was subbed during the first half.

Man U had for them a good week, given they didn’t play a game, while Blackpool had a week in the sun while their pitch was deep frozen by the weather. Maybe they should consider playing this type of match abroad in some kind of Match 39 sort of way in future. It’s actually great news for Blackpool, who don’t have to face a Man U still energised by their 7-1 thrashing of Real Blackburn and can now rack up some more points before having a potentially morale sapping thumping from one of the big boys.

Meanwhile back in Madchester, those pesky kids at Man City gave Bolton as total a one-nil pasting as it’s possible to give, only not in the assured style of the pre-Wenger ‘one nil to the Arsenal’ Arsenal. Given Match of the Day tries to be as neutral and unbiased as possible, sharing shots and possession equally in a strange kind of quasi-Stalinist fashion that rarely tells the real story of the game, the fact that they showed only one Bolton attack tells you all you need to know. Man City battered Bolton mercilessly and they were amazingly lucky to only lose by one. Mind you, they were absolutely terrible, with the kind of chase and run defence that was pulled all over the place by City. Sure not as bad as Real Blackburn were against Man U, but pretty bloody bad all the same. It’s hard to believe this is the same team that played so well in the second half against Blackpool last week, although on reflection it’s easy to see that they’re the same side who conceded two sloppy, set pieces to Blackpool in the first place. Still City were unable to convert 89 minutes of total domination into more than one goal and continue to show that if Tevez doesn’t score, then they don’t often get goals.

Tottingham showed that there is no position of supremacy that they’re not prepared to sacrifice in the pursuit of a successful season. Having stuffed Arsenal, Inter Milan and Liverpool Redsox recently, they once more underachieved by securing a draw with Boremingham. Admittedly they were without their inspirational talisman Van der Vaart, who is injured, and had offside regular Jermain Defoe back and consequently returned to last season’s form. Although, in contrast to their usual ‘give the opposition a goal or two to start’ style, they actually took the lead before allowing Boremingham back into the game. I always wondered how they would fare once Defoe came back, as I don’t think that they can successfully play Van der Vaart, Crouch and Defoe in the same team (although they did briefly at Arsenal and it seemed to work). Boremingham were as defensively obdurate and unattacking as ever. Their main attacking threat, Zigic, was shite.

Speaking of shite, Newcastle were thoroughly awful at West Brom. Hardly helped by their revolting sky blue away kit (at least Everton appear to have dumped their rancid pinky perky away kit), Newcastle were comfortably played off the park by Brom, with Tchoyi and Odemwinge taking them to the cleaners. Newcastle appear to miss the many talents of part-time criminal Jailbird Barton (currently suspended following his punch on Morton Gamst Pederson) more than previously thought. Having suggested last week that they might be comfortably safe, on this performance they’re not, which no doubt explains why manager Hughton has been given the heave-ho. West Brom, on the other hand, are putting in the kind of performances that scream mid-table survival, which for them is a massive improvement.

On Monday (one of Sky’s Not-Quite-So-Super-But-We-Have-To-Televise-Them-Sometimes Mondays naturally), Liverpool Redsox somehow conspired to utterly muller Villa. These are two failing states of Prem football, both undergoing rebuild or bust seasons, both waiting for the UEFA financial fair play rules to kick in and lower (surely level – ed) the playing field, allowing them both to play catch up without going horrendously bust. Of the two, Villa seem to have the most untapped potential, with a group of talented youngsters to fall back on. But on this showing untapped is where it’s staying. Even with the pace of Albrighton and the return of Agbonlahor, Villa look toothless upfront and poor at the back. Liverpool look like they’ll have to buy another job lot of scandewegian offcuts to shore up their defence and I don’t think they trust Uncle Wroy’s judgement enough to let him loose with their chequebook. Still a mere 10 points off the top probably makes this a pretty good season so far for the Soxers.

For Wigan, Wolves and West Ham fans it wasn't going to be a pleasant journey through the promised land of the Prem

Meanwhile, life on suicide watch gets harder and harder. No sooner is hope glimpsed than it is rudely taken away again. It’s almost as if the Prem is deliberately torturing those teams lingering like pre-dead zombies in the basement region, crudely chucking them rancid husks of flesh to just about keep their hearts beating. Certainly, if I were Wolves, I’d feel that being spanked by Real Blackburn (the same Real Blackburn who capitulated so completely to Man U last week) was the greatest of insults and the most cruel of morale sappers. Especially after Wolves had gone to all that trouble to beat Sunderland last week. But if you will play bad football and be unlucky, you’re going to get what you deserve.

West Ham joined in the communal slapping of the Prem’s down and outs, losing gamely to Sunderland. Admittedly they were away and they had played (and won) a Carling Cup match against Man U a few days before, but that’s really no excuse. At some point they need to convert vaguely good attacking performances and the midfield threat of Parker and Specter into actual points or they’re stuffed. And that would scupper their plans to be given a shiney new stadium after the Olympics.

Of the three walking dead, only Wigan can have retained any sense of hope after this weekend. They at least got a point at home to Stoke. However, you could argue that a point at home isn’t really enough and that both West Ham and Wolves were playing away. Still it’s points that win prizes and today Wigan have the same number of points as 17th place Fulham and are a win above both the Hammers and the Wolves.

Rob Green Save Of The Day

We may have to rename this, or simply replace it with the Pascal Chimbonda Backpass Disaster Prize as Everton’s Phil Neville stepped up to the plate with a backpass of such inspired lameness it practically invited Anelka to slot it a la Berbatov last week. That he chose instead to blatantly run into Tim Howard (no stranger to the Rob Green award btw) for the most bought of bought penalties is a reflection of just how traumatised Chelski are at present. Anyway, it was a class backpass, made all the more juicy because you could almost see it coming in a strange, real time slow motion as Neville first got the ball, thought about passing it forward, then lost his nerve totally, surrendering like a broken showpony and becoming, if only for an instant, the lowest bitch on Chelski’s roasting pole. It was like watching the blood draining out of a man whose confidence has been excised with a scythe. Unlike Chimmy, who has been told to sling his hook from Real Blackburn (which takes some doing baring in mind their performance against Man U), Neville is likely to continue to play for, if not captain, Everton if only because they don’t have two pennies to rub together to replace him.