Oh Arsenal. Just as everything seemed rosy, Arsene Wenger’s side flashed their soft underbelly like a jolly drunk fat man. Wenger’s post-match assessment that Swansea came only to defend and not play was laughable. Does somebody need some sugar for those sour grapes?
It was an inopportune time to fall to their first defeat in 12 games. Arsenal supporters may think their FA Cup victory at Old Trafford in March exorcised a few demons, but it’s almost nine years since Arsenal beat Manchester United in the league at Old Trafford.
Even accounting for that victory in March, Arsenal’s recent record against United is appalling for a side they would consider to be rivals. Their results since November 2008 read: P 16 W 2, D 3, L 11, For 12, Against 29. Arsenal have won as many matches against United in the last six-and-a-half years as Swansea in the last eight-and-a-half months.
Notwithstanding Arsenal’s mental fragilities against United, Sunday’s game is important for league position too. Arsenal are not yet guaranteed to finish in third, thus avoiding a Champions League play-off in August. Defeat would leave them needing maximum points against Sunderland and West Brom. Likely of course, but not a given.
After a season in which Arsenal have certainly improved, it would leave a sour taste if they were not able to improve on their traditional position of fourth. Avoiding a nervy end of season would be vastly appreciated by supporters. Further undoing their Old Trafford hoodoo would be a wonderful way to do it.
“Look, I believe in the goalkeepers I have. I believe that Szczesny is a very good goalkeeper and Ospina has come in and done a fantastic job. You look at the numbers in the Premier League and who is top of all the goalkeepers and you will see it is Ospina” – Arsene Wenger, May 1.
It is quotes like these that make us worry about Wenger. Whatever the “numbers” might say, I’ve gone for the scientific approach of using my eyes too. Not only is Ospina not the best goalkeeper in the Premier League, he’s also not good enough for a side wanting to win the title. It’s a phrase we’ve used about one of two of their first-teamers.
“I think Arsenal need to go out in the summer and just buy a proper No 1,” said Jamie Carragher after Monday’s defeat to Swansea. “His record is good because the team are playing well and are defending well so they’re not having that much to do.
“But he was bought as a No 2. Very rarely do you see a No 2 goalkeeper become a No 1. If he was that good, why was he bought as a No 2? Why wasn’t he coming and being the No 1?”
That last paragraph sounds like Carragher is testing a microphone, but he makes a good point. Ospina has two games to convince that he deserves a chance as No. 1 next season. The worry is that Wenger is already persuaded.
Robin van Persie
Two goals in his last 11 matches, and one of those was a penalty. Just when Van Persie needed to demonstrate that he deserves to remain at Old Trafford for at least another season.
There will never be any doubt that the Dutchman’s move from Arsenal to Manchester United was a success. He was bought to win Alex Ferguson the Premier League title, and did exactly that. However, his decline under David Moyes and then Louis van Gaal has been pronounced. After 26 league goals in his first season at the club, it’s been 22 in almost two complete seasons since.
Reports suggested that Van Persie was furious after not even making the bench against Crystal Palace last weekend, but he missed a penalty and six other chances in the home defeat to West Brom the previous weekend. Van Gaal must be tempted to start his striker against his former club on Sunday. Fail to appear again and sure this would be the end of his tenure at Old Trafford.
As I’ve said before, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Dimitar Berbatov and Louis Saha were all sold by United at a younger age than Van Persie is now. It remains to be seen whether he will survive the summer overhaul.
Gerrard’s long goodbye may have ticked all the boxes of sugary sentiment and red-tinted cliché, but it would be cheap not to remark on the enormity of the occasion for Liverpool. Saturday will mark his 709th match as a player for his boyhood club, and could be his 646th start.
“I’m not usually one that sheds tears when I’m emotional, I usually keep it in, but we’ll have to wait and see. There’s no shame in shedding a tear I don’t think,” Gerrard said.
“Once the game finishes and I say goodbye to the fans that are here – and I know it’s being televised so it’s a good chance for me to say goodbye to the fans worldwide as well – it will be emotional, not just for me, for my family. I’m sure there will be a few supporters that are emotional too. After 17 years, that’s just the way it’s going to be.”
One thing that shone through in that interview is how little Gerrard wanted this incredible fanfare. It has been a tedious sideshow to a mediocre season, but none of the fault lies with Gerrard. He remains as humble as his first day. No razzmatazz, very few celebrity endorsements and not a glimpse of affected stardom. Just a kid who loves playing for Liverpool.
Many supporters will find it impossible to raise a glass to Liverpool’s captain. Football tribalism has sadly become hardwired into the masses. Fans feel a bizarre guilt for praising an opposition player, as if a) it reduces your love for you own team and b) it makes any sodding difference.
But at least try. NEWSFLASH: Gerrard is not the perfect player and he is not the perfect person. Another NEWSFLASH: He has never claimed to be. Final NEWSFLASH: Neither are you. To criticise an excellent player for the negative 10% is a joyless existence.
At least attempt to leave your bias at the door. We’ve all had a lovely little laugh at that slip last season, but now is the time to recognise an incredible servant to Liverpool and the Premier League. It doesn’t make you a bloody traitor.
I am as sick of writing about Steve Bruce’s Hull City underachievement as you must be reading, so let’s keep this brief. If Hull don’t win at White Hart Lane on Saturday, they could be relegated by teatime.
In his pre-match press conference, Allardyce once again stated that he could still stay at West Ham.
“I think at the end of this season it falls along the same lines,” Big Sam said. “We sit down and we negotiate and I think then the outcome will be made to clear to everyone when those negotiations are finished.
“The speculation about other managers coming here is bound to happen. Speculation that they’re not happy with me or I’m not happy with them is bound to happen, because you have lots of columns to fill today.
“You’re bound to get a whisper here and a whisper there and third hand information from here or from there somebody telling you this and that which is the world we live in today. Like I said from a point of view of whether I am staying or going that hasn’t been decided yet.”
It’s a nice sentiment, of course, but Allardyce’s last months in charge have become a miserable farewell tour to uninterested crowds. West Ham have taken 11 points from their last 14 league games. Whilst Allardyce has been metaphorically waving goodbye to the stands, many supporters have been offering markedly different hand signals in return.
West Ham’s early season form was hugely surprising, but when they are bad they are awful. Since December 2 they have played 14 games away from home, with League One Bristol City providing their only victory. They’ve only scored in two of their last nine games away from the Boleyn Ground.
Despite the public claims to the contrary, Saturday will surely be Allardyce’s final home game in charge of West Ham. Might as well play Kevin Nolan up front with Carlton Cole for old times’ sake.
Manchester City supporters have been understandably keen to defend their £28m January arrival, and there is obviously a case for patience.
However, there is no doubt that Bony was bought, in part at least, to re-energise City’s title bid. At the time of his signing Manuel Pellegrini’s side were two points behind Chelsea and a combined 21 points ahead of Manchester United and Arsenal.
Bony’s performances are not the sole (or even main) reason for City’s slump, but a return of one goal and one assist in all competitions is underwhelming. Even weirder is Pellegrini’s decision to only start the Ivorian in two league matches. That’s fewer than Edin Dzeko despite Bony being the Bosnian’s eventual replacement.
A couple of goals (or maybe even a league start!) back at the Liberty Stadium would do Bony a whole lot of good heading into next season.