Quite a game, no? Nick Miller watched Arsenal's thrilling 1-1 draw with Everton and saw two teams who have improved, leaving certain others trailing...
In a Sunday Mailbox which is understandably dominated by Manchester United, there are a few little bits for the rest, specifically Chelsea & a Liverpool Christmas list...
* This, arguably, was worse for Manchester United than the 6-1 at Old Trafford a couple of years ago. For a start, United had 11 men for the whole of this one - in 2011, they played 43 minutes of the second half with ten after Jonny Evans was sent off. This time all their players stayed on the pitch, even if some of them might as well not have bothered. Also, that game was actually 3-1 until the 89th minute, with three more goals coming when United were already exhausted and demoralised - in this one they were 4-0 down and thoroughly embarrassed by the 50th minute. The scoreline may have been slightly less emphatic, but the nature of the defeat was not.
* United have been spanked before. They have lost heavily and recovered to win the title. Sir Alex Ferguson's United were humiliated in this fashion in the past. The difference this time, as Andi Thomas wrote on this site on his retirement, is that when Ferguson made a mess of things, it was okay because Ferguson was there to clean it up again. Ferguson isn't there anymore, just a man who is a perfectly good manager but at present looks out of his depth. At some point David Moyes might get a handle on how to be Manchester United manager, on what a huge responsibility and job this is. The problem there is how long does he have? How long does he have to learn on the job? Even if this season really goes south (by United standards), it's difficult to see Moyes being sacked at any stage this year, so he'll be given time, but in order not to be labelled a failure in following Ferguson, the most difficult job in football, he needs to get a grip on all this pretty quickly. However...
* "Any manager would have found it difficult taking over the club with that run of fixtures," said Moyes after the game. And thus, he confirmed the fears of any United fan who thought they had hired a manager with a small-time attitude. Ferguson whined about fixture lists too, but all he needed to do was point to his collection of medals in order to dispel any 'small-time' accusations. This is Manchester United - they're expected to win things. They're expected to deal with a problem like a tough fixture list by beating the teams on it, not p*ss and whine that it's been made awfully difficult for them by a computer. What perhaps would have been more constructive is to win those tough games, letting everyone know that the king was dead, long live the king. Ferguson is gone, but don't worry, I can step into his shoes. As it is, United have taken one point from games against Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City, and Moyes looks like a man scrabbling around for poor excuses.
* "It's been a difficult start - the way the balls came out at the start of the season, I said I wasn't convinced, and I'm still not convinced." Oh, not this sh*t again David. Your team already embarrassed you on the pitch, there's really no need to do so again off it.
* As bad as United were, certainly in the first hour of the game, one should give plenty of credit to City. They attacked United from the start, both in a literal sense by piling pressure on their defence, but also by pressing at the other end and not allowing United to get anything approaching a rhythm going when they attacked. They made more tackles (Pablo Zabaleta made ten himself - the whole United starting side made 11) and more interceptions, playing at a ferocious pace. Indeed, that might partly explain United getting back into the game in the closing stages, as there was no way City could have kept up that effort for a full 90 minutes.
* See, here's the thing about Shinji Kagawa. Yes, he's a marvellous player. Yes, he's a joy to watch. Yes, there's that quote from Jurgen Klopp who everyone loves. But for those clamouring for him to start this one, where exactly would you have played him? He can't play in a two-man central midfield, he wasn't going to play instead of Wayne Rooney, who is in the middle of one of his runs of form, and while he can perform on the left, he drifts inside too much and would have left Patrice Evra exposed. We'd all like to see Kagawa play more, and Ashley Young may have been awful (and boy, was he awful), but leaving the Japanese playmaker on the bench was an understandable call this time.
* Indeed, another consequence of Robin van Persie's injury may have been to switch Moyes' plans - this of course is speculation, but one of his options would have been to start Danny Welbeck on the left with Van Persie up top. With the Dutchman out, he perhaps could not have trusted Javier Hernandez from the start, and that would of course have left no strikers in reserve, so Welbeck had to begin up front. Unless of course he wanted Young to play which, given his emergence in the second half despite being comfortably the worst player in a terrible United performance, is plausible, however baffling.
* Antonio Valencia's drop in form has lasted quite a while now, but that drop has largely been in his attacking play. One of the reasons he has retained a place in the Manchester United team is that he works hard, tracks back, provides cover for the full-back etc and so on. However, Valencia's idleness for City's opener potentially cost his team a goal, allowing Alexandar Kolarov to amble past Samir Nasri and cross for Sergio Aguero to finish. If Valencia isn't going to do this most basic thing, he might as well not be in the team.
* No Wilfried Zaha on the bench again for Manchester United. Nor Adnan Januzaj. Moyes may well have his reasons for ignoring these two for the time being, and their youth is certainly a half-valid one, but these are players who can change things, who can make a substantive impact on a game going south. These are the players who could inject ideas into a creativity-free team. It perhaps provides more indication that Moyes is an inherently conservative manager, which can have its benefits, but certainly has its significant drawbacks as well.
* That conservatism was perhaps displayed in the substitution he did make. Bringing Tom Cleverley on for Young, shifting Welbeck to the left and giving United more presence in midfield looked like a damage-limitation exercise, an attempt to regain a little control on possession and stop City pounding United quite so emphatically. And, to an extent, it worked - United were much improved and even the better side in the final 30 minutes, but it didn't do a huge amount of good because, quite obviously, United were already 4-0 down by that stage. "We never really got to grips with their midfield players," said Moyes after the game, recognising that he knew what the problem was, but also exposing that he left things too late to do anything about it. United's problems were relatively obvious in the first half, so perhaps the switch would have made more of an impact had it been made at the break.
* "You make a statement over the whole season," said Vincent Kompany, when asked after the game if this had made a 'statement' with this win. And he's quite right. As good as City were on Sunday, this is also the team who lost to Cardiff and were utterly anaemic at Stoke last week. They will need a few more performances like this one to make clear which the real Manchester City is.
* The three games Kompany has played this season, City have won comfortably. The three games he has missed, they lost to Cardiff, ambled to a not-particularly-convincing win over Hull, and drew with Stoke. Probably not a coincidence, that.
* Yaya, then. In Big Weekend, I noted that this was a test for Marouane Fellaini, that he would have a job to do in keeping City's main man quiet, and in that he failed quite miserably. The Ivorian epitomised everything that was good about City's performance, over-powering United's midfield almost single-handedly, before they belatedly brought on another body to help out. At stages last season Toure went missing too often, which was perhaps a key factor in their relatively poor campaign. On this evidence, it looks like he's back.
* Aguero will get plenty of credit, and deservedly so, for his two goals, the first of which was a technical masterclass, but his strike partner Alvaro Negredo was absolutely terrific. Edin Dzeko is a fine goalscorer, but the Spaniard is arguably a better centre-forward to play with an attacking line featuring Aguero, Jesus Navas, Samir Nasri and, when he's fit, David Silva, simply because of how much work he does. His graft and hold-up play allow the creative men more opportunity to do what they do, something that paid off handsomely in this game.
* In a sea of horrendous mediocrity for United, Rooney was comfortably their best player. Unlike the majority of United's team, the England forward at least looked bothered, worked hard and was generally at the centre of what little good they did. He was responsible for two of United's three shots on target, and of course salvaged something approaching a consolation with a brilliant free-kick.
* At the risk of being labelled as a Sky shill, this game indicated what a good pundit Gary Neville is. He openly admitted that he found this a miserable experience, as any boyhood United fan would, never mind someone who also played for them for 17 years, but his analysis remained objective. His heart may be United's, but his head was impartial.
Nick Miller - follow him on Twitter
"Horrendous mediocrity?" It's not like F365 to be kind or benevolent in any way to United, we were f***ing dreadful, chaps...- jd.quench