Archive for May 14th, 2012

Football: Best Of The Prem 2012

Sergio Aguero goes mental having just won the prem with the last kick of the season

Man City: That’s The Way To Do It

WOW! Top of the Prem for most of the year, biggest pockets by around a billion or so, best team and they snatch glory from the brink of catastrophe with the final kick of the season. That’s the Man City way of winning the league. No doubt they have been the best side this season, with games against Spurs away and Man U being the highlights, but I suspect that consolidating second rather than winning the Prem was their goal at the start of the season. It was only when they roared away with the league over the Autumn that winning it became a realistic achievement. And even then it was a darn close thing.

Their off-pitch shinanighans and mid-season slump showed that this City side are still vulnerable. A number of players, Silva and Dzeko in particular, looked burnt out by the end of the season, and it took a while for Yaya Touré to get over the Africa Cup of Nations. Still even wantaway munchkin Tevez and notorious bad boy Ballotelli came good in the end.

With a first title in the bag City are bound to be having a big summer, what with finally shipping out five years worth of not-quite-up-to-it talent at rock bottom prices and needing to improve their squad if they want to realistically challenge in Europe as well as dominate the Prem.

Man U: Title No 20 Will Be Hard Work

How the season ended. As they say, the table never lies

It’s hard to tell what will hurt United the most, knowing that they pushed City so close that they ended up with enough points to win the Prem in practically ever other year, or knowing that they lost it on goal difference. United’s faces when they heard that Aguero had scored had the kind of shell-shocked look about them that only an entire year in the trenches can bring.

If last year’s surprise Champions were United’s worst team in living memory, then this year’s team were potentially even worse. They lost Vidic and Ferdinand for much of the season, had a new keeper who took time to find his feet, and hadn’t really done anything to beef up their midfield. Players who came in, Cleverly, Jones, Smalling still looked like ones for the future, while Ashley Young merely lived up to his Villa hype, the occasional great goal and a lot of diving. It’s a sign of concern that it took the return of the previously retired Paul Scholes to really kick start their season.

That said, their form in the second half of the season was outstanding and had they held City at home to, say, just the two goals, they could have been Champions themselves.

Arsenal: How Did That Happen?

To lose one key midfielder during the close season is bad, to lose three smacks of incompetence. In selling Fabregas and Nasri (albeit unwillingly) and losing Wilshire to injury for a year, Arsenal managed to gut themselves completely. Certainly their replacements, Ramsey, Arteta and Rosicky never quite fulfilled the potential, as their nose dive into the bowels of relegation during the Autumn clearly showed. So it’s pretty damn impressive that they managed to not only regain their place in the top four but actually improved on their final position last year.

Still Arsenal’s failings are well known and were very visible this season. A suicidal defence, especially when it’s not heavily protected from midfield, a thoroughly lousy set of second teamers  capable of losing to pretty much anyone, any time, anywhere (Chamakh, Bendtner, Vela, Djourou, Squillaci, Park, and Arshavin are just the pick of the bunch), a pretty disastrous history of transfer dealings (see useless second teamers list) and the internal fortitude of a roasted marshmallow. Nothing that happened this season, aside from the replacement of the retiring Pat Rice, looks like changing any of that. They can’t afford another close season of selling their best players.

Four moments stand out in their season. The first was Szczesny’s penalty save against Udinese in the Champions League qualifying round. I think if Arsenal had lost that game their season really would have imploded. The second was Sagna’s goal against Spurs. 2 down, having played well, it was a trasformational statement moment, a stern bullet into the net followed not by a celebration, but by a determined retrieval of the ball and a race back to kick off. A rare moment when the entire team effectively said, ‘Fuck this, we mean business’.  The third was the removal of Arshavin. His return to Russia seemed to galvanise the team to their most consistent run of results. Finally, the short term import of Thierry Henry after Christmas gave the fans something to shout about and sparked something in the team itself.  None of which should camouflage the fragility of Arsenal’s position. This has been a dreadful season that Wenger and the team have somehow managed to salvage. This summer is possibly the most important of Arsène’s reign.

Spurs: Mind The Gap

Not that there really is that much of a gap, a single point and equal goal difference was the difference between Spurs and Arsenal. Yet not so long ago, before that Sagna goal in fact, Spurs were 13 points ahead and potential Championship contenders. Now they face a painful wait to discover whether 4th will actually be good enough to get to the Champions League qualifiers. Their collapse has been one of the most impressive slides this season.

Rumour has it that it was all ‘Arry’s fault, as his eyes bulged a little too far into his head when his Engerland coronation was announced by his media chums, but the fact is that his team simply ran out of steam. Like City they played beautiful football for the first half of the season (their total demolition of Liverpool at home being a particular favourite), but like them they hit the wall some time in early Spring. And, unlike City, they didn’t have the players to step up and fill the gaps left by an exhausted Bale, Modric, Van der Vaart or Adebayor – something that was quite clear when their second teamers failed to make it out of the Europa League group stage.

With a bunch of older players or loanees beefing up the side, you have to feel that this team is on the cusp and may already have peaked. It will need substantial readjustment over the summer, especially if Man City decide they want Adebayor back or sell/loan him to someone else or fancy a bit of Modric to go with Silva and Nasri. So let’s hope Bayern win the Big Cup and Spurs get their golden ticket for next season.