The result may have been meaningless as Arsenal again crashed out of the Champions League in the last 16, but the performance was anything but. The Ox was hugely impressive...
Manuel Pellegrini's side must seek an early goal that will cause panic amongst home supporters (and then hopefully players) in the Camp Nou. It may be a thankless task...
"Tackling is not really a quality, it's more something you are forced to resort to when you don't have the ball," is the glorious quote from Xabi Alonso that has been wheeled out once again this season in the wake of Jack Wilshere's 'we are English, we are tacklers' ill-judged rallying cry. That Crystal Palace and Sunderland lead the tackling charts in the Premier League is further illustration of Alonso's point - topping that particular table is the watermark of the desperate.
For Sunderland and Palace are buggered. The bookies have Palace as relegation favourites at 1/10 with Sunderland at a rather more generous 8/13 - we have not even reached the end of October and there is an acceptance that two teams who contrived to ship four goals each this weekend are already condemned. Just as an awful QPR were already doomed last year and a terrible, self-combusting Portsmouth were already over the side of the ship in 2009, this poor pair are in for a miserable and ultimately heartbreaking six months.
They have just four points in total so far this season - Derby had a point more than their combined effort after eight games of a season that saw them relegated with a meagre 11 points. Another combined total for you - these two beleagured teams have so far used 47 players in the Premier League and we think we're being a tad generous in saying that maybe five or six are of Premier League quality.
Sympathy is short on the ground. Ian Holloway said this week that he has learned lessons from his one-season top-flight sojourn with Blackpool and yet made exactly the same mistakes again, buying a barrel-load of average strikers while sticking with mediocre Championship defenders. Joel Ward (the best of a rotten bunch), Damien Delaney, Adrian Mariappa and Dean Moxey do not a Premier League defence make. Meanwhile, at Sunderland, they have amassed a massive squad of has-beens, never-weres and barely-theres and have a manager who has no top-flight managerial experience and a combustible temper. But not the manager with no top-flight managerial experience and a combustible temper who built this bloated squad.
Sympathy might be short but there is a sense that as Premier League neutrals we have been cheated. Now, barring some kind of miracle, there is only one relegation place remaining and seven or eight mediocre teams battling to stay clear of that one place. An awful lot of teams will have to be only occasionally half-decent in order to stay in the Premier League and receive another fat TV cheque. All but one of Norwich, Cardiff, Stoke, West Ham, Fulham, Villa, West Brom and Hull will be in the Premier League next season. To those of us who watch as neutrals greedy for entertainment rather than fans, that is a sobering thought. We crave competition and in October, two teams are already head and shoulders above the rest only in terms of incompetence (and tackling).
So we need a miracle. Two points from eight games (how can you get two points from eight games?) was the running total from Tottenham five years ago but that was a team that featured Jonathan Woodgate, Aaron Lennon, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Ledley King and Darren Bent. Not Phil Bardsley or Marouane Chamakh. It's making us feel a little bit sad.