He is one of a number of solid shouts for players that look old before their time. We also have the final words on lovely D-Beck and a rejection of end of season playoffs...
That's one opinion, but others give their thanks to the man. We also have ideas for a relegation playoff, happy memories of the season and a defence of Liverpool's campaign...
If you have anything to say on any subject, mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
One Man's Mid-Season Review
I imagine that the good sirs at Football365 will probably be wheeling out their own mid-season report cards for all the teams in the Premier League, but after seeing a few football sites start publishing their own versions, I thought I'd share some mid-season thoughts, summaries, and projections.
Manchester United - Are they actually any good? Most people have been saying for the last few years that the most recent crop of United players have hardly been vintage, yet they sit atop the league. Will need a near-perfect second half if they are to reclaim the title from the lads down the road.
Player of the Season: Rafael - after Wes Brown, John O'Shea, Phil Bardsley and Danny Simpson failed to fill the Gary Neville shaped hole at right-back, United have finally developed the Neviller's successor. Only Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs to go then.
Moment of the Season: Robin van Persie's first goal for the club against Fulham. When that goal went it I think most people realised that this was a very good match-up.
Manchester City - Adopted the 'if it ain't broke' mentality to summer recruitment, and it's fair to say the new signings haven't exactly been marquee players for the Blues so far. Swapping Savic for Nastasic was a good bit of cover and the youngster seems much more solid cover than the Montenegrin.
Player of the Season: Carlos Tevez - Simply put, when he plays City usually win. Doesn't seem to be running his mouth as much as last year. Shame the same can't be said about another City striker.
Moment of the Season: Starting Mario Balotelli against United. Cost City their two-year unbeaten record at home.
Chelsea - After scraping a Champions League victory, Chelsea threw loads of money around during the summer, and looked like it was going to pay off after a great start. Could be very far behind when they resume their league campaign.
Player of the Season: Ramires - Has an incredible engine and really deserves a better midfield partner than Mikel.
Moment of the Season: Chelsea have had so many 'moments' this year already it's hard to pick just one. At a push, I suppose the continued sacking of managers just edges it.
Tottenham - The early season calls for Andre Villas-Boas to be executed (I think that's what The Sun wanted...) have all but died out. Spurs will probably need to qualify for the Champions League to ensure they remain silent. What are the chances of them finishing in the top four only to lose their place to the tournament winners again?
Player of the Season: Sandro - Scott Parker will struggle to displace the strong Brazilian, who has developed a great understanding wth F365 fave Moussa Dembele.
Moment of the Season: Spurs fans describe their plight as "happy face, confused face, sad face". No match captured that idiom more than the London derby.
Arsenal - Are Arsenal the masters of the silky football, or are they a collection of adequate players playing above themselves? I've wondered this about Arsenal for a few years now, and despite the addition of the obvious qualities of Podolski and Cazorla, they seem a team perpetually one loss away from a crisis. That fear is crippling the team and despite still being in a few cup competitions, and not mathematically eliminated from the league just yet, it will probably be another trophyless season at the Emirates.
Player of the Season: Santi Cazorla - There really could be no one else. A bit of a lull leading up to the Reading game, but was back to his best and will be crucial to the Gunners if they hope to usurp Spurs in fourth.
Moment of the Season: The return of Jack Wilshere. F365 ran a great feature about injuries beatifying players from time to time, but young Jack's return coincided with the unsurprising injury to the surprisingly in-form Abou Diaby.
Teams 6-10 to follow.
Worra Bizarre Season
I noticed yesterday after Arsenal's win that although they're fifth, points wise they are closer in proximity to the relegation zone than to the top of the league.
Once again they're fifth! It seems the Prem is becoming like La Liga with just two teams in it. The two Manchester clubs are splitting from the pack, in the summer if you'd told me that by the middle of December Arsenal would be closer points wise to 18th than to 1st I'd have assumed they'd be having a shocking season but they're fifth.
To add to that a couple of strange stats. The gap between first and second is the same distance between third and 11th and the gap between first and third is the same between third and 16th.
Just such a weird season.
Arsenal Running From Deep
When our line-up against Reading was announced and it appeared Theo would be our main man up front, I admit that I was fully expecting to the see the patient methodical approach that Arsenal have become associated with, stroking the ball from side to side and waiting for a chance to present itself.
Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to see our players eager to get crosses into the box, and more importantly there were players arriving in the box to meet said crosses. Our first four goals came via this route, which really goes to show that you don't need a target man (like Giroud) to play a more direct game.
What you do need are players making runs from deep to challenge for crosses or pick up poor clearances and loose balls, and it wasn't so long ago that Pires and Ljungberg were doing that job for us to great effect. It probably is harder for defenders to pick up players arriving late in the box, so I'm really hoping we continue to attack teams in this fashion.
Aaron, Singaporean Gooner
Looking On The Bright Side
Yes, I know it was 'only' Reading but...
...no other team has scored five goals against them, home or away.
...no other team has won by a three-goal margin.
Keith, Ar$e fan exiled in Blackpool
Wenger: So Sodding Cool
The only thing I have to say about the Reading match, for now at least, is that if leaving playing Walcott as CF until two weeks before he can sign pre-contract agreements abroad is AW's idea of brinkmanship, I never want to play him at poker.
That is all.
Andy, Gooner in Colchester
Before all the Arsenal fans get too excited can I just point out that Santi disappears for nine months after Xmas.
Merry Xmas to the Mailbox and all at F365 towers.
Well Done To Arsenal Underdogs
After all the chat last week of Arsene basically having his hands tied behind his back financially, it was great to see the underdogs pull off a famous win at Reading. To think, they beat Reading, on their own patch, with a hat-trick from a guy who cost a mere £16.5m, and the opener from their £10.9m 100+ capped German international Podolski. And to think, they only had three £10m+ other players on the park. Hello massive achievement. Wenger working miracles.
In all seriousness, a good win for Arsenal and Cazorla finally doing what he's threatened to do for some time, albeit against the worst team in the league. Arsenal are where they should be with the players they have. I wrote a few unpublished mails last week on why I don't think its some kind of mad idea to replace Wenger and how the whole 'he's had his hands tied behind his back financially stuff' is utter guff. Arsenal should finish third or fourth. There's no excuses not to frankly. They have a squad and a first 11 that is significantly better than all but City and United (and arguably Chelsea). Great to watch, and like every side this year, a bit sloppy too.
Great fun though.
...Can I just say, as a Liverpool fan watching the Reading-Arsenal game, that given the current tragic/desperate/abominable position Arsenal are supposedly in I would give one of my arms and legs to have their starting XI ahead of the mainly average dross in my team. Better keeper, better defence, vastly superior central midfield with Wilshere, Cazorla and Arteta and, bar Suarez (and Gervinho when he plays), a better attack.
Similarly deluded manager mind...
Does Victory Taste Sweeter On The Other Side?
Watching United complete a routine win against Sunderland at the weekend got me thinking. Is it better to support a team at the top end of the table or a team at the bottom end? To some this might seem pretty straightforward. Challenging for trophies, European nights, goal-fests, sublime skill (RVP's assist-Oh My Word!), but consider the converse. . .
Are the wins sweeter at the other side? Imagine the joy of a QPR fan picking up their first win of the season or Villa's Anfield romp. As a United fan, I would say that about 80% of the wins picked up in the league are for the most part expected (eg: Sunderland), and I find it hard to believe that any of those wins would give me half as much joy as a fan of the aforementioned teams.
In light of the fact that their wins are less likely but the opportunity comes weekly, would one get more joy from supporting those teams? I would love to hear the thoughts of fellow mailboxers.
Shidaan (JHB) MUFC
In The Wrong End
After reading Shaun Russell's Beat This mail about being an Arsenal fan in the wrong end, I think this certainly runs close...I was an Arsenal fan in the KOP at Anfield for the 6-3 destruction of Liverpool back in 2007. It was hard enough not being able to celebrate when Julio 'la Bestia' Baptista run riot with four, but trying to take a photo with my phone of the scoreboard without drawing attention to myself from fuming scousers was the most challenging. Half-time was fun with it just gone 4-1. I nodded my head in agreement when an upset fan sitting next to me mocked the away fans asking where's their European Cups...but boy was I was dancing inside!
Gavin Gold, north London
...Very few footballing articles have caused me to reminisce with such heartbreak as Matt Stanger's Behind Enemy Lines piece.
The date was 13th May 2012. Like all Manchester United fans we expected City to clinch the league with an easy win over QPR and our flight from Belfast to Newcastle and train on to Sunderland was really just one last chance to watch the Reds given we were out of all other competitions. Away tickets were gold dust but one of the crafty sods sniped five tickets for the home end and we felt we had the necessary skills to sit there, shut up and not expose ourselves in what we thought would be ultimately a sideshow to City's crowning glory.
Even Rooney's opener (and winner as it turned out) right in front of us in the second row did not give away our loyalties given what we expected to play out in Manchester (although my mate on the phone beside me having every kick of the City game relayed to him must have roused suspicion). The second half though was a different matter altogether. The game before our eyes was boring in all honesty and the shouts, screams and jumps emanating from us upon hearing Cisse (an ex-scouser to boot) and Mackie had scored caused the fans around us to think a few of our company had tourettes. They actually seemed quite frightened.
The relaying of Barton's dismissal was meet with cries of anguish and at that point the game was up. One rather burly male to the right of us decided to scream, "I've rumbled them, I've rumbled them" and "f-ing United fans" to the rest of the crowd while jumping up and down and pointing at us as if Sherlock Holmes had just cracked his greatest case. A few bottles of coke came our way but at that stage we didn't care that our life was in danger; if today was the day it all ended then stealing the title from City on the final day was some way to go!
We began wondering what to do at the final whistle. Do we go mad or try and stay calm and make our way round to the away fans?... the quickest route we concluded was right across the pitch! News of the Dzeko equalizer caused fear like I have never experienced. I sat in my seat with my hands on my head looking at my mate, still on the phone, and waiting anxiously. When I saw his face drain white I knew what had happened and the Sunderland fans cheering five seconds later confirmed it. The detective to our right began cries of "you're not singing anymore" (not that we were before that) and the silent walk from the stadium to the train station was one of the longest of my life. But I console myself in the knowledge that the bitter experiences make the highs all the sweeter.
(For the record most of the Sunderland fans when we were uncovered were great banter!)
Paul, Belfast (First away game and likely to be the most memorable)
Man Love For Shebby Singh
My apologies! I am still steadily catching up on past Mailboxes having been away for ten days on business (too much work and boozing to keep up).
An advantage of this is that as I run through Mailboxes and see points that I would love to answer, I find that by the time I get to the next one, somebody usually has - and in a much more fluent, erudite and entertaining way than I could have done. Vaseline/Vicks being a great example.
However, I have just reached the correspondence about worldwide punditry and really must step in to defend Shebby Singh and his past and wonderfully heart-warming performances in front of the regularly expectant TV audience of South East Asia. So many of us found him witty, intelligent, insightful and a wonderful foil to Steve 'One Minute' McMahon's Scouse rants. Come home, Shebby, we miss you!
Oh, and Shebby, if you are reading this, please don't worry about relinquishing your role at the mighty Blackburn Rovers, I reckon that we will be able to get along just fine without you! Although, if you could do just one useful thing before you go back to Malaysia - have a word with our chicken-farming friends and bring back Sparky!
Yours from a blue and white nightmare...
Chris 'Beef Kway Teow Blues' Ryan, BRFC, Singapore
I particularly enjoyed the mailbox discussion of a few weeks ago, surrounding what some of the more regular contributors might look like. However, following recent events I've decided, actually, it's much more fun imagining what everyone looks like.
An old classmate of mine moved to Geneva when he was 14, but we've kept in touch on the Facebook. Over the weekend he posted the following status, 'Back in Geneva in a week. Who is gonna be around?' To this an Oliver Dziggel replied, 'I'm there - how long will you be around for?' Naturally, I had to have a look at his profile...
I was disappointed to discover, Oliver is not the pasty, besuited, European banker type I had envisioned (I was thinking Roger Brown in Headhunters, anyone else get that vibe?!). He's a normal-looking bloke in his mid-twenties with a penchant for aviator sunglasses and a solid jawline betraying the fact he isn't a European!
Hometown - Washington, District of Columbia.
My little mind is blown. In the words of Pineapple Express, "The monkey's out of the bottle now. Pandora can't go back into the box - he only comes out." I no longer wish to know what any of you look like.
Except Carolyn, South London Gooner; she's obviously a fox.
Jimmy Skew (On the plus-side, I'm only one degree away from Oliver Dziggel), Los Angeles