No Talk Of Corners Turned - Whatever The Result

No more than fire-fighting for United's falling leader, whilst another debacle would see Wenger move close to the edge. It's Daniel Storey's less-than-jolly Big Weekend...

Last Updated: 29/03/14 at 12:28 Post Comment

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David Moyes
Whether or not the Manchester United hierarchy are to tackle the unmitigated failure of their manager with patience (an innovative weapon in such a scenario) once again, talk of a fan revolt will do little to improve the situation for a man who has lost five of his last nine home games in the Premier League. Defeats against Everton, Newcastle, Liverpool, Spurs and Manchester City have been coupled with the concession of ten goals compared to just one for the champions.

By anyone's standards that's a poor run, but given what Old Trafford is used to, it's utterly unthinkable: In his last nine home league games, Moyes has suffered defeat as many times as Ferguson did in his last 59 - teams just don't regress that quickly.

The rumours appear to suggest that should United be embarrassed by Bayern Munich in the Champions League (and is there any reason to think that anything else is possible?) then Moyes could finally be relieved of his position, but that slightly underplays the importance of Saturday's fixture against Aston Villa. Lose and that will surely be that.

The good news for Moyes and United is that, in Aston Villa, they are facing a rather rotten opponent. Much is spoken of Paul Lambert's side playing with a style more suited to away matches, but five points in their last seven games on the road rather undermines such an argument, particularly when Fulham, Cardiff, Stoke and Sunderland accounted for four of those fixtures.

United will win, of that I am confident, but that rather pales into insignificance given the magnitude of the journey Moyes faces on the road to redemption. It will probably be 2-0 or 3-0, but the crucial difference is that you will hear nothing reactive regarding corners being turned this weekend, however impressive United's margin of victory. Too many journalists have looked silly too often in recent weeks for that folly to be repeated.

As an aside, quick confirmation that should a section of United's support fly a banner on a plane to protest at the performance of a football manager, they are a completely ridiculous set of individuals. Grow up, and next time give the money you spent on such a laughable exercise to a worthier cause.

Juan Mata
At first he was quiet, and United supporters consoled themselves that this was because he was new.

Then he was ineffective, and United supporters persuaded each other that things would improve in time.

Now Juan Mata just looks stagnant, shown up by the impressive David Silva on Tuesday evening and in desperate need of a display containing vibrancy and creativity.

The primary concern is that David Moyes bought the Spaniard not because he met United's demands, but simply to make a statement that he could attract the best players to Old Trafford. That's all very well, but if he then demonstrates a complete inability to manage such a talent, it only reflects badly ahead of a summer of potential spending.

In exactly the same manner as his manager, an impressive performance against Aston Villa wouldn't make everything (or even anything) right, but it would help to persuade fans that this is not another high-profile error of the Moyes era.

Less than two months ago, Arsenal were top of the league. They had just beaten Crystal Palace at home, their sixth victory in seven matches, and travelled to Anfield in their next game hopeful of maintaining their lead at the summit. Four goals conceded in the first half, and an implosion that set the tone for the rest of the season.

From riches to ruin within eight short weeks, this is a collapse of entirely predictable making. Once injuries set in and Olivier Giroud dropped out of early-season form, there was nowhere else for Arsenal to go. Four more first-half goals conceded at Chelsea last week, and the last embers of a title bid extinguished with a bucket of cold water.

The expectation is surely that Arsenal will simply continue their big-game erectile dysfunction that seems to haunt the club like a bad conscience, whispering "you can't do it, you never do it" repeatedly into the ears of players and manager. Arsenal conceded as many league goals in 90 minutes on Saturday as Manchester City have since Boxing Day. We wish Arsene Wenger only the very best fortune.

As Matthew Stanger explained in Winners and Losers, this match takes on added significance for Wenger given the shambles of the last two outings. Should his side capitulate once again as they have against City, Chelsea and Liverpool, the level of unease will rise to a mutinous level.

It may seem rather hypothetical (although not unthinkable), but if Arsenal concede five or more goals for the fourth time this season, would Arsenal's board take the timing of Wenger's departure out of the Frenchman's hands once and for all?

Manchester City
We could talk all day about how exciting the title race promises to be, but the suspicion must surely be that if City can beat Arsenal and Everton away from home and avoid defeat at Anfield, the title will probably be theirs.

A draw against Liverpool would leave City needing victories in their other matches to guarantee finishing top, but with Southampton, Aston Villa, West Ham, Sunderland and West Brom to play at home and only Crystal Palace away, it's a perfectly plausible eventuality. The majority view was that City's run-in was tricky in the extreme, but these suddenly seem to be battles far tougher on paper than in reality.

Such a positive denouement for City relies on Manuel Pellegrini's side taking three points from the Emirates on Saturday evening, but it would take a brave soul to suggest otherwise. City have won 12 of their last 14 league games, and six of seven away from home. One only has to think about the strength of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho against Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta to start wincing on Arsenal's behalf.

City had little need to get out of third gear in beating United on Tuesday, and Moyes' side have taken four points from Arsenal this season. Play at a level anywhere approaching their best, and there is only one likely victor at the Emirates.

Cardiff's survival this season effectively depends on their performance against the teams around them. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side have just four points from their last eight games, the only victory coming against the also-doomed Fulham - their only away win of the season came against the same opposition.

In fact, it is even more pronounced than that. In total, 40% of the club's points have been taken from just five matches against the rest of the teams in the bottom quarter of the Premier League. That indicates a return of just 15 points from their other 26 games, a woeful return.

The one positive for Cardiff is that three of their remaining seven fixtures come against similar opposition, starting with West Brom away on Saturday. It does rather increase the importance of such matches, however. Lose and that is probably it for Vincent Tan's Premier League clusterf**k.

Victory over struggling Fulham on Sunday and Everton will have five consecutive Premier League victories.

More importantly, they could be three points off the top four by Sunday afternoon. Even given their impressive loan and permanent recruits last summer, there is little doubt that Roberto Martinez has this side way ahead of schedule. A club on the rise and a manager quickly proving his pre-season critics (myself included) quite drastically wrong.

Said this column a fortnight ago: '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.'

Two out of three in the bag, and just defeat at the Liberty Stadium to complete the set. Norwich might well survive, but don't let that be seen as anything like a compliment either to the quality of the squad or the ability of Hughton to inspire them.

Southampton and Newcastle
Forget your title race, because it's obviously going to be won by Arsenal. Forget your relegation battle, because it's clear that Aston Villa, Swansea and West Ham will go down. No, roll up for the big one.

Southampton and Newcastle have been locking horns all season, more nip and tuck than a plastic surgeon's Monday morning. By 5pm on Saturday, we may have our clearest indication yet - just who will lift the Eighth-Place Trophy come May.

Daniel Storey - Follow him on Twitter.

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