The 'Specialist In Failure' Can Seek His Revenge

With a top-four place assured, Arsene Wenger's side can go full tilt at the title. Meanwhile, United must show that Wednesday wasn't just a stopped clock being right...

Last Updated: 21/03/14 at 09:30 Post Comment

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Arsene Wenger
A significant hurdle negotiated against Spurs last Sunday. It was neither convincing nor easy on the eye, but demonstrated a grittiness lacking in too many of Arsenal's recent trophyless seasons.

There is, however, little doubt that this weekend's trip to Stamford Bridge will be an altogether tougher assignment, not least because Arsene Wenger must seek victory against an opponent in Jose Mourinho who he has failed to overcome in ten attempts.

Although they may well settle for it in practice, a point for Arsenal on Saturday actually fails to offer too much assistance. Draw at Chelsea and Arsenal could well find themselves fourth on Saturday evening, six points behind Manchester City (should Manuel Pellegrini's side win their two games in hand) with just eight matches remaining. Instead, Arsenal must go for the jugular.

Not only does that make the fixture fascinating, it also potentially plays into Arsenal's hands. Too often this season (against Bayern (h), Manchester United (h and a), Chelsea (h)) they have been guilty of operating on a safety-first approach, but the top-four security afforded by the win over Spurs provides Wenger's side with the luxury of going for broke at the title. Typically, that's when Arsenal have been at their very best.

As an aside, it is just over a month since Mourinho branded Wenger a "specialist in failure". Arsenal's manager now has the opportunity to take a huge step in shaking off the shackles of such a moniker.

Jose Mourinho
The defeat to Aston Villa was not, in itself, a catastrophe. It followed a run of 14 league matches in which Chelsea had taken 36 points from a possible 42, and after Saturday they face Crystal Palace, Stoke, Swansea and Sunderland in their next four league matches.

However, it was the manner of the defeat that will have caused alarm. With both senior players and manager losing their discipline so spectacularly, it sent out an unwanted admission to the rest of the title challengers that Chelsea were feeling the pressure of being title favourites. It isn't a tag they enjoy/endure any longer.

If the behaviour of Mourinho at Villa Park was particularly bizarre, walking onto the pitch to confront Chris Foy and being sent to the stands, his quotes after the match were disgraceful, effectively blaming Foy for Ramires' abhorrent two-footed challenge on Karim El-Ahmadi.

"There are persons in the game who are responsible to help the players control the emotions and, sometimes, these people are the people who push the players to lose their control."

Whilst it is clear that Mourinho's schtick is an exercise to take the heat off his own players, there must also be a chance that the reverse is possible. The Portuguese makes his players emotionally invest so heavily in his footballing vision that should they see their manager losing his cool, are they not in fact more likely to do the same?

Beat Arsenal on Saturday lunchtime and Chelsea will have righted many of the wrongs of last weekend. Drop more points, and we may yet see more of Mourinho's toy-throwing antics. Right now he's acting as anything but a calming factor.

Chelsea's Work-Rate
Much of Jose Mourinho's reasoning for allowing Juan Mata to leave the club was his insistence that Chelsea's midfielders should demonstrate a tenacity and determination without the ball that he felt the Spaniard could, or would, not provide.

For the large part, Mourinho has been proven right. Willian, Mata's replacement (in terms of numbers if not role, which has evidently fallen to Oscar), has acted as a harrier and hassler of defenders, showing a work-rate that has surprised many. In central midfield, Ramires has done the same, with one of Frank Lampard, David Luiz or Jon Obi Mikel tasked with the more reserved holding midfield role.

Due to a combination of slight misfortune and gross misconduct, Jose and Chelsea will be without both Ramires and Willian for the visit of Arsenal, a significant blow to their hopes of breaking up Arsenal's possession-based play. On assumes that Chelsea will line up with both Luiz and Nemanja Matic in central midfield and Oscar, Hazard and Andre Schurrle in midfield, but that assumption is made chiefly because there are very few other options.

It is far from Mourinho's ideal scenario, and should provide Arsene Wenger with the belief that his side should not fear being overrun in midfield, as Manchester United were at Stamford Bridge two months ago.

Manchester United
One swallow does not make a summer, especially if that summer follows a season in which the Premier League champions have finished behind six other teams. Even more so when those six includes an Everton side that have actually made £12million in the last two transfer windows, rather than losing £68m like United.

That said, Wednesday's victory and qualification over Olympiakos should have provided the players with the great spirit alluded to by Phil Jones, who toed the party line admirably on Thursday. "We're in it together. We're a team, the manager and the staff, and we've got to band together. We have to use this as an impetus to go and prove that we can win game after game."

That might well be true, and recent reports of rifts may be completely unfounded, but (as Matthew Stanger explained very nicely here) without a spell of consistency it will count for nought. Manchester United sides have not been built on the occasional positive display piercing through a blanket of dreary underperformance. Three points at West Ham on Saturday would, however, give further reasons for belief that the Olympiakos win was more than a stopped clock simply hitting upon the right time.

Sam Allardyce
Just imagine how smug Sam Allardyce will be if he manages to 'out-tactic' Manchester United this weekend, bringing David Moyes back to earth in a bump in the process.

I'd guess it would look somewhere between this and this, if you can stomach such an image.

Tim Sherwood
As Nick Miller noted in his piece on Sherwood this week, there is an incredible juxtaposition to be made between how Tim Sherwood sees himself and how he is viewed by others, a self-confidence and bullishness kept warm by an item of clothing rarely seen in such context.

It goes further - there seems to be an inversely proportional relationship between the amount of confidence Sherwood has in himself and the amount placed in him by others. It's almost as if there is one pot of 'Sherwood Confidence' from which we all must share.

This week, Tim has been rather drinking that pot dry. "I believe I'll be here next year," was the manager's response to rumours of Louis Van Gaal succeeding him as manager. "I'm planning for next season. The players are playing for their futures. I'm sure he'll get his opportunity: he's been shouting loud enough for it."

It's almost laughable bravado from a manager that has managed 19 matches in his entire coaching career. Handily (for this comparison at least), Van Gaal has won 19 major trophies.

Furthermore, Sherwood has failed the majority of his recent tests. Since the win at Old Trafford on New Year's Day, Spurs have had fixtures against Arsenal (twice), Manchester City, Chelsea. Four matches, four defeats. One goals scored, and 12 conceded. Whatever his chums (or opponents of Andre Villas-Boas, to be more exact) in the tabloid media may say, that is an utterly awful interview to keep the job on a more permanent basis.

Spurs welcome Southampton to White Hart Lane this weekend, a return to the opposition where his tenure began in such surprisingly excellent fashion, and it's fair to surmise that we have come full circle. From zero to self-proclaimed hero and back to a standing approaching nought once again, most worryingly in the eyes of Spurs supports themselves.

Goodness only know what 'tactics' will be used this week. Harry Kane up front? Two full-backs on one wing? Or a winger playing as a no. 10? One thing is surely true: Nabil Bentaleb will be starting in central midfield. It was ever thus.

Chris Hughton
From this very column last week:

'They'll lose to Southampton on Saturday, Chris Hughton will suddenly be one game from the sack and then they'll beat Sunderland at home to keep one nostril above the water to allow them to breathe. Then they'll lose again.'

One third of an entirely predictable prophecy has been proved true. Hughton will hope that I was right on the second too, or he may be clearing his desk early next week. Those last four fixtures of the season hang around the Norwich like the corpse of a dead albatross.

Crystal Palace
It's now one goal and two points in four games for Palace and, whilst there is still no sign that the wheels are coming off the Tony Pulis wagon in spectacular fashion, that run has seen them move to within one place of the bottom three (with Sunderland below them having two games in hand).

This week has also seen Pulis forced to deny reports of a rift with co-chairman Steve Parish over the club's pre-season plans, bizarrely explained away as journalists trying to help the clubs they support.

"What will happen now is that lots of journalists, with their own teams, will be doing everything to help their own team by trying to destabilise other clubs. Without there being too many conspiracy theories, journalists put things out there to help their own."

Now really isn't the team for self-created paranoia, and of greater concern is Palace's woeful away record this season, with just eight points taken from 14 games on the road and a pitiful six goals scored. A team relying on home form to survive the drop is obviously nothing new, but it's two defeats in a row at Selhurst Park now, and Palace must entertain Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool in three of their last four at home, away day specialists Aston Villa being the other visitors.

Given that no points should be expected from at least three of those fixtures, Palace are in desperate need of picking up points away. Last week's point at Sunderland was well-earned but unfathomably dreary, and Pulis' side travel to the north-east again this weekend. A third away win of the season would come as a welcome relief.

Darren Bent
"I want to do all I can to help Fulham stay up," Bent said this week. "If I'm involved, I'd always back myself to score."

Bent has scored one goal in his last five-and-a-half months of Premier League football on loan from Aston Villa, so waiting until his Fulham side are perilously close to relegation to get going seems a slightly self-defeating tactic.

Still, Bent's last Premier League goal was a last-minute equaliser in Manchester, so perhaps two days before a trip to City is actually the perfect time to chirp up.

Daniel Storey - Follow him on Twitter.

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ven if United were to sign CR7 & Messi to play upfront, the fact remains Fletcher and Cleverly are playing in midfield. That's where the problem is. Fletcher is too slow with an awful pass, while Cleverly is simply rubbish

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