Midweek PL Winners And Losers...

Arsenal are top again but Everton are probably the week's biggest winners, with Luis Suarez and Nicklas Bendtner also with big ticks against their names. Losers? You know...

Last Updated: 05/12/13 at 12:42 Post Comment

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Four points clear at the top, 12 ahead of the champions, having won all-but three of their games this season and conceding just one in the last six, and with the league's outstanding midfielder (if not player), who isn't even the one they spent £45million on in August.

Yes, life is sweet for Gooners right now.

Nicklas Bendtner
There was much hilarity when Bendtner was named in Arsenal's starting XI - hilarity from the rest of us, of course. Arsenal fans reached for the nearest paper bag.

However, while selecting a player of the Dane's abilities (or otherwise) was clearly a gamble, and a gamble born from Arsene Wenger's lack of forward options, it didn't carry the same level of risk that choosing someone of similar quality in another position would. Olivier Giroud is a fine player, but he is not the reason for Arsenal's excellent start to the season, so while it's far too simplistic to say it doesn't matter who they play up front, it doesn't have the calamitous impact that some may have feared.

Giroud has commented recently that he is tired, and it's hardly a surprise. He had started every Premier and Champions League game before Wednesday, and with three games in a week, this seemed the best time to give him a rest. Making that decision against a Hull side who had just beaten Liverpool looked risky, but if you'd like to look at it another way, it was a Hull side who had lost at home to Crystal Palace the game before.

Wenger spoke of Bendtner's 'quality' and how he believes in him after the game, which is slightly disingenuous, since the striker had two feet out the door and was dragged back in by the waistband of his unnamed online betting company underpants when a replacement couldn't be found in August. However, such is the paucity of Wenger's options, Bendtner was the pragmatic choice, and gosh darn it, north London's blondest samurai justified that choice.

Carl Jenkinson
How 'bout that cross, though?

Luis Suarez
There was a rumour that, after their recent World Cup qualifier first leg against Egypt that they won 6-1, Ghana simply wouldn't bother turning up for the return game, taking the forfeited 3-0 defeat and saving them the bother of schlepping across a continent for a match from which they could gain little.

Norwich must be tempted to do something similar whenever they come up against Luis Suarez and Liverpool. The aggregate score in the five games between the clubs since Norwich returned to the Premier League is 19-4. The aggregate score between Suarez and Norwich is 11-4.

'Who else would even have thought about having a go?' was the Match of the Day commentator's assessment of Suarez's first, the lob from 40 yards over the head of the helpless John Ruddy. While that's not entirely accurate (watch the Football League Show and you'll see some chancer from Cheltenham score a similar goal most weeks), the wonder of Suarez is that he does this sort of thing all the time. The difference between him and the Cheltenham chancer is that Suarez tries those shots with the expectation of scoring, rather than the hope. The skill is in the repetition.

One could argue about the quality of defending for the second and third goals, but to do so seems churlish. This was an extraordinary exhibition from an extraordinary player, and one that we should appreciate while he's still playing in front of us every week.

Roberto Martinez spoke before the game of trying to remove the mental block that they have with regards to games at Old Trafford, the unspoken second sentence being 'a mental block that the chap in the other dugout was largely responsible for'.

The Everton manager has dismissed any fears (raised by someone else - definitely not this writer on this website, so sir, not at all...) that he was a flimsy manager, more capable of producing a team with style than one with substance, and one that could not defend. This was a performance that basically combined everything that a good team needs, from dogged defending to flowing passing to rapid counter-attacks. Sure, they got lucky to an extent after United missed a few chances and hit the woodwork a couple of times, but they were more clinical than their more illustrious opponents - another tick in the 'good team' column.

"Being able to play with the arrogance that we had throughout the game, I'm really pleased and proud of the players and the performance and really satisfied with the hard work that we put in."

Martinez clearly meant arrogance as a good thing, and he's right, Everton were arrogant in their play. Arrogant, at the home of the Premier League champions, where they hadn't won in 21 years. At the moment, the only worrying thing for Everton fans is that two of their most exciting and penetrative players are loans that have little chance of sticking around beyond this season.

But that's a worry for May. For now, drink it in.

Gareth Barry
Another lesson in understated efficiency. Twas ever thus for Barry.

Manchester City
An away win! Look at that. Even if they did cause harrowing flashbacks for those fans who remember the 'typical City' days by conceding two late goals. While winning at West Brom, decent team though they are, is not something to celebrate like Nigella, City are inching the away monkey off their backs.

For a while it looked like The Daily Mail would be the least of Andre Villas-Boas' problems this week.

A creditable point against Manchester United simply had to be followed with a win over Fulham, otherwise those apparently convinced that Villas-Boas is getting an easy ride because he's foreign, and have thus taken it upon them to magnify his faults in the interests of balance, might have started to look like the sensible ones.

"It puts us back on track, we jump a couple of positions in the table," said Villas-Boas, but one might advise him to cool his jets just a little on that one. The problems with breaking down teams remain, something that two long-range screamers from Vlad Chiriches and Lewis Holtby did not solve, while there still appears to be some confusion in Villas-Boas' team selection.

On the positive side though, his tactical decisions during the game seemed to pay off, from introducing Holtby to provide the attacking penetration that he eventually delivered (incidentally, I can't be the only one who enjoyed him ushering aside shot-monger Andros Townsend before showing the winger how it's done by spanking the thing into the top corner), while swapping Erik Lamela and Aaron Lennon around seemed to make Spurs much more threatening. Oh, and of course they're three points off the Champions League places.

This win doesn't solve everything, but life is now a little more relaxing for both Villas-Boas and Spurs fans.

Paul Lambert
The striking thing about Lambert is that in his time at Aston Villa he has been faced with quite a few of what pundits might call Big Decisions. Whether that's to drop and ostracise Darren Bent or replace Shay Given with Brad Guzan, most of them seem to have paid off. Villa are of course still a way from being the team they probably should be, but in this respect they appear to have the right man in charge.

Add to that dropping Christian Benteke for a potentially tough trip to Southampton. You don't get much more vindicated than an away win with the man who replaced your star striker scoring.

Tony Pulis
Is it possible that Pulis is actually magic, and that he wears a magic hat?

While club issue baseball caps do not usually come with mystical properties, Palace have won two games since Pulis' appointment was confirmed. He wasn't in the dug-out for the first one, but surely that simply confirms his wizardry. How else can you explain an away victory with ten men? Pulis clearly waved his magic wand, asked a volunteer from the crowd to check that they were indeed real knives and cast some sort of spell over his new charges.

Magic or otherwise, Pulis' appointment seems to be having the desired effect, and while these are early days, one wonders if Steve Parrish will come to regret the month of dithering (for whatever reason) that came after Ian Holloway's departure.

Eden Hazard
He's pretty good, on his day, isn't he?

Only just, mind. Jose Mourinho was positively beaming after the game, hailing Chelsea's best away performance of the season, but they made this much more difficult than it should have been, prompting frantic scenes towards the end of the game as Sunderland sniffed an equaliser.

Still, as Mourinho says, they are just behind Arsenal and ahead of the "absolutely amazing" squad of Manchester City. Like an 800m runner nearing the bell on the shoulder of the race leader, Mourinho will be fairly confident about Chelsea's title prospects.

Charlie Adam
But only if you class 'somehow getting away with not being sent off' as winning. I guess it's not losing.

Ravel Morrison


David Moyes
Should you require more extensive discussion of Moyes, please allow us to direct you here.

However, a couple of other bits. United now haven't won any of the four games Marouane Fellaini, Moyes' main summer signing, has started this season. This is not necessarily Fellaini's fault, but it does highlight what a missed opportunity the summer was for Moyes and United.

And as if Moyes wasn't worried enough at the moment, Wayne Rooney is suspended for Saturday's game against Newcastle, and the manager admitted he didn't know when Robin van Persie would be available again. Those two are responsible for 15 of United's 22 league goals this season, and their likely replacements, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez, have three between them. An alternative option might be to play Fellaini in the position where he was often most threatening for Everton, just behind a striker, allowing him to use his strength and massive chest where it is most useful. It might not be terribly popular or pretty, but one imagines it will be effective.

Still, at least he seemed to deal with defeat well.

Shinji Kagawa
An anonymous performance, largely in the position that we are told by frustrated United fans and Jurgen Klopp he would excel in and unlock defences for japes.

Just as his reputation grew in his absence, it seems to be diminishing in his presence.

Gerard Deulofeu's teammates
There is talk that Barcelona see the future of their forward line as Leo Messi, Neymar and Deulofeu. High praise indeed, but while the youngster is quite clearly outrageously talented, Martinez must drum into him that his loan spell at Everton is not simply a glorified exhibition of his skills, and he probably needs to start passing to his colleagues.

On at least three occasions at Old Trafford, Deulofeu drove towards the opposition goal and either tried an implausible shot, or was dispossessed when he had teammates in better positions. It must be infuriating to play with him, and perhaps this is the reason Martinez has been relatively reticent about starting the Catalan prodigy.

Christian Benteke
From wanting to leave because, in the nicest possible way, he thought he was better than Aston Villa, to being dropped for a trip to Southampton, following a run of eight games without a goal.

Football can really kick you in the balls sometimes. Particularly when your replacement is given a goal on a plate.

Costel Pantilimon
While the 'If that was X you would have been etc and so on' debates are largely tedious, one wonders what the reaction might have been had Joe Hart firstly scored an own goal and secondly allowed Victor Anichebe's shot to go in via a weak hand.

While Pantilimon hasn't done anything seriously wrong in his time as City's No.1, it would be obtuse in the extreme to argue that he is a better keeper than Hart. One imagines the England goalkeeper's time on the bench won't last much longer.

Three defeats in a row. You could either say the bubble is burst, or that there wasn't really a bubble to begin with, but while this clearly does not erase all the good work that Mauricio Pochettino and his team have done, it is a concern.

Losses at Arsenal and Chelsea you can cope with, and even write off. A defeat at home to Aston Villa...not so much.

There are injury problems, too. Artur Boruc and Morgan Schneiderlin were missing on Wednesday, while Victor Wanyama and Nathaniel Clyne picked up injuries as well. Some spending might be required in January, and until then they may need to limp through.

Paolo Gazzaniga
Will Boruc's injury prove to be the most disproportionately costly, in relation to his actual ability, in the Premier League this year? Boruc is, as recent weeks have demonstrated, not an especially reliable goalkeeper for a number of reasons, but he is a significantly better option than Gazzaniga.

While obviously not much blame can be placed on the Argentinean for Fabian Delph's woof of a winner, one could criticise him for going to ground too early and allowing Gaby Agbonlahor to lift over him to give Villa the lead, and certainly for Libor Kozak's second. Gazzaniga dithered as the cross came over from the right, which simultaneously allowed Kozak space (although questions must be asked of Southampton's hitherto excellent centre-backs too) and put him on unstable footing to deal with the subsequent header, which he flapped into the net.

Gazzaniga is only second choice because of an injury to Kelvin Davis, but even so, it's patently clear that he is not good enough for a team with Southampton's now raised expectations.

Jonjo Shelvey
Sure, he scored a goal and sort of forced another, but he also displayed some pointless stupidity after he, as the Guardian put it, 'motioned to headbutt' Mathieu Debuchy. Giving Shelvey credit for stopping himself actually going through with the headbutt is like praising a man for leaving the house with his trousers on.

Michael Dawson
The problem with Dawson is that the weaknesses he has now seem to be the same ones as he had when a teenager at Nottingham Forest. Back then he was never the quickest, had some positional issues, would sometimes do strange things that would lead to an error and often a goal, and was an absolute sod for a 60-yard diagonal pass that would invariably sail over the head of whoever was on the left wing. For 2002, read 2013, and all of those things were in evidence against Fulham. Had Chiriches and Holtby not popped up, his error for Ashkan Dejagah's goal would have been incredibly costly.

West Ham
When stories start to appear in the press about Sam Allardyce potentially losing his job, one can assume that there's something to it. After all, Allardyce is usually a favourite of our fourth estate, so anything that might undermine him is not published solely with that intention in mind. At the very least, Davids Gold and Sullivan must be nervously glancing at the impending transfer window and wondering if there might be a better candidate to spend their money.

It wouldn't be the biggest surprise, either. West Ham are three points above the relegation zone and only heading one way, having won just one of their last seven and only three games all season. The Faustian pact you get with Allardyce is that your style of football will make puppies cry, but you'll be solid and clear of trouble. If the second half of that deal goes awry, all you're left with is a bunch of weeping puppies, and nobody wants that.

Allardyce was happy to lap up the credit for the 4-6-0 tactical innovation (which of course was not actually an innovation but a necessity born of the club's failure to sign a striker who could both a) stand upright most of the time and b) score goals) when they beat Spurs, but after the defeat to Crystal Palace he pointed the finger at his defenders not doing what they're told and a refereeing decision.

At the risk of going all Daily Mail on you, Allardyce's post-match interview with the BBC (he seemed not to talk to anyone else) did include the words "we" and "ours", so it's possible he was in fact blaming his own failure to get his instructions across, but judge for yourself:

"I haven't got the words for it [the goal] when everybody has a marker and the ball comes in from the corner, you still have your marker, you don't lose your marker but we did and being in the middle of the goal with a free header they're not going to miss.

"That's the most disappointing thing for me today because that's lost us the game effectively."

The problem, as has been stated before, is that fans will hold their nose and put up with Allardyce's style when things are going well, but as Samuel is discovering with some gusto at present, when it all starts to go south then the abuse will get louder and louder.

The Old Trafford pitch
It seems some ghastly rugby game was played at Old Trafford recently, if the markings on the pitch are anything to go by. Ban this filth!

Nick Miller - you're probably already folowing him on Twitter

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e was right to leave, but not just because of the money City were coming into. If I remember rightly he had a reasonable amount of chances to shine at City, but he never passed the bloody ball. Loads of aimless dribbles and 40 yard shots and not much else. I would say that if he had learnt to be a bit more of a team player he may have done better at City.

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h! And.... has it gone in!?' Well John, it is quite literally your job to tell me, so stop phrasing it as a question.

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