One Point Off Top, But Still A Million Miles Away

That's the Diary's view on Arsenal's title chances, but at least the Gunners are showing remarkable consistency in their trophy quest. Plus, David Moyes and the definition of insanity...

Last Updated: 10/02/14 at 10:41 Post Comment

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David Moyes proved that he didn't have the wherewithal to beat a Fulham side, bottom of the league and managed by an ex-Brondby manager of no repute, seemingly planning his method of attack on the cliche of insanity. If doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different outcome each time is the definition of insanity, then doing the same thing again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and expecting a different outcome, means congratulations, you are David Moyes.

Robin van Persie is a man who can do all kinds of nice goals. He has done nice headers in the past, into the goal, as is the aim of football before it became about possession statistics. Wayne Rooney, for a relatively short striker, also is well capable of scoring with his head. But, David, this is football, and goals scored with the feet are worth just as many as with the head, and they are far more common. In fact, Michael Carrick and Robin van Persie both scored with their feet yesterday. Juan Mata is a neat, clever footballer who had previously linked up with the neat and clever Oscar and Eden Hazard. Now, Adnan Januzaj, Rooney and Van Persie aren't exactly the same, but they are of a comparable calibre, and they have been more effective in the past when not asked to channel the spirit of Carl Leaburn and Steve Talboys.

Manchester United need an enormous overhaul, with half the squad possibly leaving, and perhaps more who should do. David Moyes has not been given the backing in either transfer window to make the most of whatever talent he has. He should, just about, still be given a fair chance to manage a squad whose make-up he has chosen, and that will be next season. For now, though, it is an indictment of his firefighting and pragmatism that having been given a deficient squad with many problems but also many qualities, this is the best he can come up with. Moyes took a draw, and he made it feel like a defeat. It's a magical transformation, but not quite the same alchemy Alex Ferguson had been performing.

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Elsewhere, Liverpool beat Arsenal as Arsenal 'did an Arsenal'. For a side that has lost 8-2 to Manchester United and 6-3 to Manchester City, it shouldn't have been a huge surprise to see them lose 5-1 to another competent side. Liverpool and Luis Suarez started fiercely, and capitalised on everything they were given in a way they are not always able to. From 0-0 to 4-0 in just 20 minutes was... well, it was absolutely hilarious. How do you report a game that is funnier than any joke?

You struggle on, regardless, as you shall now read. Brendan 'Myself' Rodgers deserves praise for getting Liverpool from the Dalglish-era hiccup of incompetence to this position, even if it is unclear he will be able to take the club any further, given that the responsibility for addressing the mediocrity of the squad rests with Ian Ayre and his sexy committee, still pootling around in Ukraine, and that half of the mediocrity was chosen by Rodgers himself. But the real story is Arsenal.

Rarely has a team been one point off the top of the league in February, and looked so far from being able to win the thing. As Alex Ferguson said of momentum in title challenges, 'when it goes, it goes quickly,' and Arsene Wenger seems to have lost his in about 20 minutes, a new record. It's those kind of records, as well as 'Most Points In A Calendar Year Without Winning Any Trophies Except Fourth Place' which have come to define Arsenal.

They can still play delightful football for croissant-munching broadsheet journalists and croissant-munching Islington dwellers, but they can't actually win trophies. It could be called a mental block if there was any hint that Arsenal aren't just at the limits of the capability. It's not a block, it's their plinth. This is what Arsenal do. They promise so much, and they deliver, every year. Arsenal are criticised for inconsistency, but they have now returned the same thing every year for a decade - there are few more consistent sides. If they exit February still in any of the three competitions for which they are still competing, that would be a proper anomaly.

Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny are one-note defenders, surrounded by one-note full-backs. They can do the same thing every match and that is more often than not enough to win games. The same for their midfielders. What they cannot do, with perhaps the exception of Mathieu Flamini, is win games that require pragmatism. Against Liverpool, the brittle nature of the entire structure of was exposed - they don't mark, they just stand in the box; they don't defend, they just stand in a line - along with a general lack of toughness.

When Steven Gerrard wants to hurt someone, he can. Roy Keane was a truly reckless man at times, but when he wanted to hurt people, he could. Jack Wilshere is an affront to everybody's dignity, not least his own and when he wants to hurt someone, people hold him at arm's length while he angrily swishes at the air. That isn't to say that if Luis Suarez and Jordan Henderson had been treated to some zesty reducers early on that they wouldn't still have lost, but it is to say that they wouldn't have lost 5-1. Or if they had, they wouldn't have looked quite so pathetic in doing so.

To pre-empt the obvious whinge, we're not condoning violence. We're recommending it. Not because we think it's morally desirable - though in some circumstances it obviously is - but because, well, it works. There has not been a single Liverpool stutter this season that hasn't been greeted by complaints from the Scouse faithful that Suarez has received a bit of treatment, and while it's often difficult to tell whether he's hurt or just really, really, really cross, it's a notable theme. In the not too distant future, Liverpool and Arsenal meet again in the FA Cup, and it is absolutely imperative that the Londoners find some way of discomfiting their opponents, even if that means disgracing themselves. That they stop being so goddamned polite. As the old saying goes, if he's lying on the floor whimpering, then he isn't laughing in your face.

Andi Thomas and Alexander Netherton

You can follow Andi on Twitter here, Alexander on Twitter here, and buy last season's Diary here.

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Readers' Comments

C

lassic management. Build them up and then knock them back. Raise expectations and then dampen them. Create a dynamic where by you demand the most from your team, but where the team are given room to manoeuvre unexpected or unwanted results. Classy work by Van Gaal, he really reminds me a lot of me. A smart cookie, make no doubt.

hump3.
Van Gaal: 'I struggle for first three months'

H

e will be the England left back for ten years or more, and then you will have to thank MUFC for that. *smiles*

london saint
Shaw: Criticism spot on

P

urely because of that little diva moment he had last night, I don't want him coming to my club. DESTROYED ? Grow up and give something back to the club that helped put you up there on the world stage.

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Saints' Schneiderlin stalemate

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