Chelsea, Man City & Arsenal all went into this weekend with great hope that eminently winnable home fixtures would yield 'the three points' and each performed a fine job in dominating their opposition.
20+ shots? Check
Vast dominance in shots on target? Check
Stifle opposition? Check.
So, Chelsea won comfortably, Man City gradually exerted their dominance to win out & Arsenal? Well, damn, they managed to lose a game in which they thoroughly deserved to get something. The whole match was a microcosm of their season insofar as they were afflicted by injuries, failed to turn spells of extreme dominance into goals or a result and allowed their opposition to convert freely from restricted opportunities. Knee-jerk merchants aplenty are now calling for Wenger's head, seemingly oblivious to the idea that Arsenal's problems are predominantly solvable given fair luck & the course of time. Whilst Ramsey has reverted to being a merely good rather than great midfielder, there are signs that Oxlade-Chamberlain & Wilshire are outliving their early potential & becoming real players & Sanchez has been genuinely excellent; tenacious, skilled & hungry. The injuries are relevant yet just part of Arsenal now, nobody is even surprised any more, so regularly and consistently they befall the squad.
I'm distinctly less enamoured with Man. Utd's offering.
As ever, the wider media are focusing on 'Who won this week?' amongst the smear of teams below the top 3 & Utd (& Newcastle) are currently 'good' but there was great horridness in the performance masked only by a degree of tenacity when ahead & swift counter-attacking as Arsenal chased hard. Excuses about defensive injuries are fine, but to offer so little going forward for so much of the game was a stark pointer of Utd's new level. This was no tactical bravura from Van Gaal. This wasn't Mourinho setting up smart & playing for one point whilst looking to sneak the three. The strange 3-4-3 formation, abandoned once but now regurgitated in the absence of a recognised right back failed entirely to match up against Wenger's long-telegraphed & consistent 4-2-3-1. The enduring love for Van Persie must surely wane soon; here he served penance in a kind of forward right role, in danger of becoming a player without a position, barely seeing the ball wherever he plays & now a seemingly speedless 2 shot per game forward that doesn't create.
And so a lot rests on Di Maria & Rooney. And Fellaini! Reborn, robust & rudimentary as always, but at last in favour, all the while reminding us that there is more Moyes in this team than Ferguson. It's now a different challenge: past guarantees no longer exist, an elite position will need to be earned & results will scarcely be as fortuitous as this one.
Man Utd are 4th. Arsenal are 8th.
Liverpool have become Tottenham
No, not in the sense that they spent the proceeds from their sale of a world star on £100m worth of not-so-great, that's been done to death. They've turned into a different type of Tottenham; the Tottenham that was pegging league average numbers throughout the early weeks of the season. Witness: over the last 5 games they are a 49% shot ratio and a 44% shot on target ratio team. This is as concerning as the results; Arsenal have had the excuse that they aren't getting rewards for their play, Liverpool are currently are getting everything they deserve, something one shot on target against Palace richly embodies. I wrote recently that Rodgers has an excellent record of getting his team to improve over the course of a season, but by god things are getting grim for him now. In a season of wide mediocrity, Rodgers' Liverpool are the last of the 'big 7' to sit in the lower half and he's not being helped by making perverse selection decisions. An attacking midfield 3 of Lallana, Coutinho & Sterling sounds great, but to my mind each of them is best served playing in a left sided role with the ability to drift inside. So Liverpool now have 3 players for one position & lack on the opposite side. Solution? Sterling moves across & is ineffective. I may have mentioned this before!
*promises not to write about Liverpool every week*
In more positive news, blog favourite Mile 'The Wall' Jedinak scored a 30 yard free kick that flew into the top corner.
What a guy!
Quick points over last 5 games
- Everton are riding their schedule at the minute, but doing a good job of it (3-2-0 against lesser teams) & restricting their opposition well (2.2 SoT PG, 70% SOTR).
- West Ham are currently conceding a lot of shots (average of 17PG)
- Arsenal, 5 games: +12.6 shots per game, +4.8 SOT. This is good.
- Leicester have stopped conceded daft amounts of shots but have stopped scoring. This is bad.
- West Brom have taken somewhat of a pounding on the shots count recently & 29% SOTR last 5 is woeful.
Obilgatory Tottenham bit
Most interesting occurances are going on off the pitch with big rumours around of player unrest, something that appears to have been reflected by an 18 man squad that included 2 kids plus Paulinho, Chiriches, Lennon and Stambouli, all of whom have struggled to even get a bench slot this year. Indeed it has largely been presumed that the first three are all surplus to requirements.
So what is occurring?
There is talk of 'malcontents' who are reluctant to train as hard as Pochettino wants them to. They trained hard, results were average, now they don't want to train hard. Or so the rumours go. Pochettino was notably non-committal towards potential injuries at his pre-match press conference this week & only later did talk of Rose 'struggling' leak out. Capoue & Adebayor, each of whom has had issues with coaches in the past did not figure today & nor did Captain Kaboul. All of this lives in the realm of speculation but seasoned club watchers will not hear these stories & be surprised. The club seems firmly behind Pochettino & his vision & it can be expected that any fall out could take some while & lead to a lively transfer window.
On the pitch: opposition brain-farts continue & another tenacious 'keep going' performance saw a late winner for Eriksen. In the numbers, and despite disappointing defeats recently, things are picking up. No longer are Tottenham entirely average across all metrics; their recent numbers are improved. Over the last 5 games they have a 60% shot ratio & 55% shot on target ratio, which is perfectly acceptable for a team attempting to look upwards. Their concession of goals is at an unsustainably high rate, hence the polarised results but this disguises some positivity; they may have conceded 6 in 4 games but Lloris has only made 3 saves in that same period. The defence is doing something right & maybe, just maybe, they are on the right track.
Thanks for reading!
Southampton playing tomorrow has found a nice gap in my schedule for a short article & hopefully they will hammer Villa & make the points i'd like to make ever more compelling. Check back sometime on Tuesday for this and maybe a '12 games' thing too. I've been a-collatin' & I may look at some historical precedents in comparison to this season.
Also hopefully coming soon is a manager focus & as ever check back next week for this column.