Mails: Assessing each of the PL title contenders

Date published: Monday 26th September 2016 2:02

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Assessing the title contenders
It felt like one for Mediawatch this morning, when the mailbox headline read: Doubting Arsenal’s Title Credentials. This was based on one line, from Peter G, who said he probably felt that third might be fairer. The rest of the mailbox was Rooney/weekend generally based, so felt the headline was rather misleading.

So I actually want to write about our title credentials, and some of the other teams too.

Arsenal: Peter is probably right. Saturday was outstanding – one of our best Emirates Stadium performances – but it isn’t going to convince me we are going to win the league, unfortunately. For the first time in a while, we seem to have a deep squad and genuine options in all positions. But I just don’t know if we’ll really be challenging come May, I’m skeptical too about us. Perhaps the opening day is still in my mind? Perhaps I’ve simply been burnt too many times over the years!!

Man City: Maybe the the biggest stumbling block in Arsenal’s way is City. They just look phenomenal. If Walcott is our player reborn, City’s is Sterling – and I’m so pleased to see it after the behaviour of The Sun back in the summer. Pep has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water and Aguero is just the best striker around. The injury to De Bruyne is annoying for them but at the moment they look near perfect. Actually, they’re probably the closest looking thing to the Invincibles that the Premier League has seen. Genuinely, this team looks as if they could do it unbeaten.

Liverpool: It all feels very 2013/14. No Europe, exciting attack, can’t keep clean sheets, everybody in the media is falling over themselves about them. I think they’ll be right up there too, but won’t go as close this time as they did the other year. Partly because of City, partly because they’re more capable of a shock defeat along the way.

Spurs: The Spurs fan who had the issue with the title odds – maybe it was because they finished third in a two horse race just a few months ago! Similarly to Arsenal, I think it’s a mentality thing with Tottenham. Occasion often gets the better of them; the Chelsea game in May, Wembley vs Monaco, and there have been others down the years. Saturday might be an interesting marker of where they are, but I’m interested to see how they deal with Kane’s injury and juggling the Champions League. If they’re still in the thick of it in February time, I’ll perhaps change my mind.

Chelsea: Nope, not this year. I really believed that Conte and Kante would fire them back to the top but that defence is all over the place. There was a tweet at the weekend, I forget who, which said: Chelsea look very old for a team that wins hundreds of youth honours every year, and it’s true. The fans are awaiting the return of John Terry but you’d really have thought they might have someone else with a clue back there now. The defending for our third on Saturday was comical and you cannot win the league playing like that. The one thing in their favour is no Europe but at present Liverpool look better.

Man United: Well, I’m gutted. I was hoping Jose would take until at least Christmas to work out Rooney was done. But now the formula has been changed, he can’t possibly go back? Herrera was outstanding, obviously. Pogba looked better, Mata was everywhere, Rashford is awesome. Even Zlatan – despite not scoring – led the line really well once again. This is the United team now, or at least it should be. And if it is, they’ll finish in the top four easily. Whether they can win it? Again, probably not because City look so great, but they can certainly be good enough to end up a close second.

Leicester: Obligatory mention for the champions. I hoped they’d be able to just carry on this year but it seems not. Not that their fans will care one bit – the Champions League is where they can have their fun this season. And good luck to them!!

May it continue with the excitement that it has started with.
Joe, AFC, East Sussex


Those Spurs odds
Tom in the mailbox this morning has questioned Liverpool’s title odds in comparison with Spurs (Liverpool being second favourites with Spurs as fifth favourites). Young Thomas didn’t appear to have an issue with Spurs being fifth favourite, rather it is Liverpool’s elevated status that causing him concern. By way of a response I thought I would offer the following;

1. Bookmakers have to make a book. They respond to the bets they are receiving. The odds on any given market are usually indicative of the money being wagered. This means there are probably lots of Liverpool fans piling in on their club with Spurs’ fans… not so confident

2. Liverpool are playing, in the opinions of the bookies, the second best football in the division at the moment

3. Spurs are one point ahead of Liverpool but Liverpool have played away at Arsenal, Chelsea and (importantly) Spurs. They have also battered the champions at home. Spurs have drawn at Everton (who lost to Bournemouth this weekend) and at home to Liverpool but the rest of their matches have been against weaker opposition (Palace, Sunderland, Boro and Stoke) and they have only really impressed against Stoke

4. Since taking over from Brendan Rodgers (who was sacked because the team were dire) Klopp’s Liverpool are the top scorers in the league

5. Since taking over from Brendan Rodgers (who was sacked because the team were dire) Klopp has taken Liverpool to the finals of the League Cup and the Europa League

6. Liverpool have no European football this season. Spurs will play six matches in the Champions League, with a possible two further matches in the Europa

7. Spurs haven’t won the title since 1961 and have only won it twice in their history. They have finished in the top four three times since the formation of the Premier League

8. Spurs finished third in a two horse race last season with 70 points and 69 goals. Tommy compares Spurs last season to Liverpool in 2013-14 when Liverpool finished with 84 points and 101 goals… not a pretty comparison

9. Harry Kane is injured and his replacement has scored once so far… with a penalty… against Gillingham. Liverpool can choose between Sturridge, Mane, Firminho, Origi and Ings up top.

I hope that helps.
Micki Attridge


More Herrera love
It’s what dreams are made. Writing into the mailbox suggesting that United should play a central midfield partnership of Pogba and Herrera and that this would be the week that Rooney is dropped, then come Saturday it happens. ALL OF IT.  Not only that, we then go on to put four past the champions in the first half alone! No one likes a show off, but f**k it I’ll take my moment of glory before it all goes tits up!

On a serious note, both Pogba and Herrera were excellent. Pogba flourished alongside a midfield partner who maintained the tempo of the game whilst providing ample defensive cover. We saw what I’m sure is the real Pogba on Saturday and we now hope that many performances of this ilk will follow. Rooney could also learn a thing or two from Pogba on how to spray a cross field ball.

Herrera was absolutely everywhere and was the unsung hero behind the Pogba limelight – although I’m delighted that you picked up on him in the 16 conclusions. He hurried Leicester when they had the ball, kept our tempo whilst in possession, and provided a perfect link between our defensive and attacking outfits. It’s funny what happens when you play two positive ball playing midfielders in central midfield isn’t it.

I don’t think that this will work against every opponent and there will be games where we need a Schneiderlin, Carrick or Fellaini, but it was great to see some out and out positivity from the centre of our midfield, and it certainly showed in our overall team performance. Admittedly Leicester’s midfield (or more lack of) very much helped our cause, but you can only try and beat what is put in front of you and boy did Pogba and Herrera do that!

On an entirely separate note, the man is responsible for one of the most disheartening moments of my life, but Aguero really is some player. I know that we all already know this, but I just have to force myself to come to terms with how good he really is. His goal scoring record in the premier league is just phenomenal. He makes everything look so so easy. His first goal against Swansea encapsulates him. With his first touch he didn’t just create himself an extra yard, he created about six, and then the finish was just ruthless. He’s on another planet. As much as I try to fight it, I just can’t help but like the guy. He truly will be thought of as one of the Premier League greats in years to come.
Al Williams


Messy over Mesut
I read this morning’s winners and losers, with interest. Particularly the comment by Sarah Winterburn stating that Mesut Ozil, ‘loves Arsenal; Arsenal loves him’. And pretty much since he signed, I have asked myself the question, ‘why in the hell, when he could be playing for any club in the world, has Ozil chosen to play for Arsenal?’ Don’t get me wrong, I am delighted that he has, but for a player of his qualities what is it about the ‘Arsenal project’ that appears to have captured his heart? He does seem genuinely happy to be at Arsenal, and he is not the only one either. A few times this season Alexis Sanchez has also beat the crest on his chest and made signs to make the fans think that, ‘he’s doing it for Arsenal’.

What are they putting in the water at London Colney that is making these top class players sign up to the project? Because at the moment, it’s certainly not silverware.
Global Gooner


Rule Arsenal out? Not quite
If anyone likes a safe bet, zero chance of egg on face, then right Arsenal out of the title chase. We have got form for looking quite good then reverting to tripe. I’ll usually get carried away without myself for at least few weeks each season. Last years delusion went on the for months.

As well as historical precedent, there’s good reason to doubt that we can win it. City look amazing, Pep’s record is unprecedented. But he only does it for big teams with loads of money? He’s at a big team and spent loads of money. Liverpool’s lack of Europe worries me, they have a chance. I rate Poch’s Tottenham, but think their squad’s too thin and inexperienced to win the league alongside some euro distractions. Only also rans beyond this four in my opinion. Sorry Jose and Utd.

On the other side, Arsenal might be better this year. Subbing Coquelin off for 34 million Xhaka speaks of new depth. That we could still see Ramsey and El-Neny on the bench after the internationals says more. Add to this that our depth up front means some of us have forgotten that Welbeck exists. Finally Mustaphi is an upgrade and Alexis is finding his feat in the Suarez role up front.

Our optimism can also be buttressed by some doubts I have over city. They only team they’ve played outside the bottom half was a Rooney handicapped Utd,who lost to bloody everyone that week. City’s defence has not really been tested yet. Also, Pep has never managed without an international break, or with the English tradition of stupid fixtures around champions league games.

For once writing us off is as equally foolish as me over excitement on our good patch in September. If the league isn’t close I think we should all feel cheated.
James Gooner


Kostafi (Muscielny?)
Much as I’m finding it hilarious that I now know many more Gooners than I thought I did after they finally , no, really , beat my beloved Chelsea at the weekend , I actually chortled at the way Matt “Call me Arsene” Stead has embigenned the solid if unspectacular performance of Mustafi and Koscielny.

They dealt with Costa fantastically well , which was no mean feat when you consider that Chelsea were debuting their own newly invented formation 10-0-1 and they had two other defenders with literally nothing else to do , helping them.

You could have played Alan Carr and Ronnie Corbett in place of them and the end result would have been the same.

People have been in solitary confinement in Russian gulags with more company than Costa had.
Mark Kelly


Over the last 3-4 seasons, a lot of importance has been heaped on the longevity of the centre-half pairing of Mertesacker and Koscielny, considering it to be the backbone of the team’s defense and key to their success in the league. The truth is, Koscielny is so sodding brilliant that he can do well when paired with anyone, making his partner look top-class in the process. Be it Gabriel, Holding, Chambers, Varane, Umtiti or even Adil Rami.

But the introduction of Mustafi brings a new proposition. Much like Koscielny, Mustafi is aggressive, quick, fearless, determined, good on the ball and seemingly intelligent. You could say Gabriel has similar attributes, but he’s still raw, lacking in intelligence and assurance with the ball at his feet.

Kostafi (not taking credit for this, saw it online) has the potential to bully attackers, to send jitters down their spines. Every time a ball is played to a forward with his back facing goal, he knows there’s one of them charging in with ferocity. The sheer pace, aggressiveness and ruthlessness of the pair can make it difficult to find space to move, space to breathe. This was best displayed against Chelsea, with a conventionally tigerish Diego Costa made to look like kitten with a bell. Imagine the same Chelsea team vs a pairing of Chambers and Holding. Costa would’ve eaten them alive, a below-average Eden Hazard would’ve torn them to shreds.

I know it’s early days but the signs do look bright. Mustafi has improved and seems much better adjusted since his first couple of games. More playing time together can only improve cohesion and boost the confidence of the pairing. Now to sit back and pray neither one of them get injured just like every other Arsenal fan in the world.
– Ali (Gooner living in Dubai)


A defence of Moyes
Seriously, David Moyes‘ time at Everton is the outlier? The club was on the absolute brink when he went in and he helped save them from going down the Leeds United, Nottingham Forest et al road to scraping by. Sure some of his transfers were duds, but find a manager’s who wasn’t. Sometimes his lack of ambition stifled his teams, teams that were capable of playing some good football at times.

He was onto a hiding to nothing at Man Utd. The players downed tools once Ferguson left. He made a massive mistake getting rid of all the staff, probably in an apparent attempt to stake his authority. He should have instead pointed certain players to the door and told Mr Giggs to get off his bench and coach some youth teams first. I wanted him out, but in hindsight, the players too were a disgrace.

Real Sociedad were dire at the time he took over and in a proper relegation battle. They had just had all their star players barring Vela sold to other teams and were strugginlg. They finished comfortably midtable, and then got in some players that were better than what was there. Not exactly a success but hardly a huge failure. The Spanish league is a shark tank for any but the absolute top teams, and an in form team one season is often battling relegation the next.

Lastly, Sunderland are absolute turd. They’ve been turd for at least 5 seasons. They have a pretty bad owner who is not all that interested in what happens on the pitch. They have players who don’t care as they know the manager will likely get the blame again and again. Sunderland are the problem, not David Moyes.

Give the guy some credit. His Preston team was pretty good. Everton might only be a footnote without him. Man United was a mistake, but wjhy wouldn’t he take it.

Gutter journalism.
Pete F, Eire


Chelsea Blues
So the dust has settled on another weekend in which I dreaded going back to work for those painful “I don’t know you very well but I know you support Chelsea so let’s laugh about that” conversations.  I’ve had time to reflect on that appalling performance against Arsenal and I worry for Conte because it had such an AVB feel to it with defenders (especially, but the midfielders didn’t exactly help them out) seemingly forgetting how to play football.

There’s three points that I consider key from this.  Why are they playing that way (poorly)?

– They are incapable of understanding or carrying out Conte’s instructions.  This was obvious when we attempted to play out from the back and under the slightest press fell to pieces.

– Conte is incapable of finding a new system with the players he has at his disposal.  This would be the most worrying because Conte had a reputation of being able to find a system to suit the players he had.  Asking Cahill and Iva to try and pass their way out from the back is asking for trouble.

– The board didn’t back Conte when he identified players for his system.  In my opinion, this is a mixed one.  Some of the prices being quoted were eye-watering even in this market so I don’t fully blame the board for not finding the money.  Having said that, saying “the price you paid for David Luiz + £20m” sounds like a much more reasonable proposition for Bonucci rather than the outright £50m.

Saturday felt a bit like the weeks before Bobby got drafted in to patch up AVB’s tactical experiments.  I really hope I’m wrong and we stick with Conte as he seems like an energetic, intelligent coach hungry for further success to what he’s already had.
BlueLuke (if this was Champ Man, I’d be recalling Christensen right now)


Palace thoughts
*Crystal Palace have now claimed 3 points from goals scored after the 90th minute – Christian Benteke’s winner on Saturday followed Scott Dann’s late equaliser against AFC Bournemouth.  This is a welcome change for a team with (it seems) a long history of chucking points away.

*Not that we didn’t try to gift it to Sunderland.  They’d barely had a sniff – possibly one shot on target – before Joe Ledley’s pass found Jermain Defoe.   Something similar happened last season against The Black Cats, with Defoe again the welcome recipient, and I did fear the worst.

It’s a symptom of a commitment to passing it out from the back – much like having a sweeper-keeper, it has its benefits but any mistakes tend to have serious consequences.

*The Eagles started the game in a 4-2-3-1, with Cabaye at number ten behind Benteke, and Jason Puncheon and Andros Townsend out wide.  This worked well while we were on the front foot and trying to dominate possession, but when we chasing the game, Alan Pardew switched to a 4-4-2, replacing Cabaye with Connor Wickham.

Pardew is a very difficult man to like, and I have been as critical as anyone of how ridiculous he can be, but he deserves a lot of credit for this performance for the impact his substitutes had.  Zeki Fryers was brought on to be a more attacking left-back than Martin Kelly, and straight away he delivered a peach of a cross for James McArthur to level the scores.  Lee Chung-yong, on for Puncheon in stoppage time, only touched the ball once, and yet delivered a fantastic free-kick for Benteke to head home.

Our squad lacks depth with the injuries to a couple of key players, but Pardew has managed to get two different and effective formations from that group.

*The effort to get back into the game, from 2-0 down, was nothing short of excellent.  I was pleased that Ledley was the one to score the goal that kickstarted it all, because he’s my son’s favourite player, and because his mistake led to the first goal.  That said the defending was utterly shocking, van Aanholt’s “effort” to block the ball was reminiscent of the worst kind of school playground defending.

*The deflection added a flavour of luck to the goal, but there was nothing lucky about the other two goals.  Both times, Sunderland failed to defend a set piece.  It’s no secret that Palace get a lot of their goals from set pieces, and it’s not as if they cannot be worked on in training.

*Duncan Watmore, previously described by at least one newspaper as “brainy”, had a good game when he came on Sunderland, and was good value for his assist.  As a non-prolific striker with a degree, he is the 21st century Iain Dowie, albeit without the looks.

*Sunderland are in deep sh#t.  Teams who know they will be down the bottom need to be able to defend, and yet defend they couldn’t.  Last week Mark Hughes threw his players under the bus for their inability to defend, because having opted for man-to-man marking, Palace’s attackers evaded their markers too easily.  This week, David Moyes washed his hands of the situation, saying afterwards “why did we not stop Benteke’s run? He got a jump on us and it’s beyond me”.  I’m no expert, but I’d guess no one stopped his run because you had told your team to mark zonally, and as such they all lined up on the six-yard line – someone should have attacked the ball, but the reason no one tracked Benteke is that your system involved a different kind of defending.  If Moyes doesn’t grasp this concept, how can he expect his players to?

Ultimately, even though he has only been there a short time, he has reshaped the team in his own image – timid, incapable of succeeding even in the safest of environments, and prone to embarrassing themselves.

*Stat of the day (probably not): since the international break, the following teams have taken nine points: Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham, and Crystal Palace, with Watford joining them if they beat Burnley tonight.  The Eagles have Everton next, on Friday night – should make for interesting TV.
Ed Quoththeraven


What if Garth managed England?
Have you ever wondered what sort of England team Garth Crooks would pick and how they’d get on? Well, I think I have the answer.

Back in the late 70s, England had a friendly to play against Holland and the England manager wasn’t well. Or maybe this was when Don Revie left. Anyway, Roy (of the Rovers) Race stepped in as caretaker manager for one match.

The side he picked was a 4-3-3:
GK: Charlie Carter (Melchester Rovers)
RB: Noel Baxter (Melchester), a genuine right back
CB: Jimmy Slade (Melchester), genuine CB
CB: Jonny Dexter (Real Granpala), think he was a CDM
LB: Lofty Peak (Melchester), a CB, and a big slow plodding CB at that
RM: Nipper Lawrence (Blackport), a winger
CM: Mike Bateson (Blackport), a striker
LM: Vernon Elliot (Melchester), a winger
LF: Malcolm Macdonald (Arsenal), striker
CF: Roy Race (Melchester), striker
RF: Trevor Francis (Birmingham), striker

It’s all here if you don’t believe me :

Final score? 5-1 to England. Three goals for Francis and two for Supermac.

Time to move over, Sam. Let’s put Garth Crooks in charge!


Happy footballers
Just read your early winner: Son Heung-min and it got me thinking about why I like certain Liverpool players more than others, and I think it’s that they smile, just like Son.
I love Firmino because he looks so happy when he scores. Lallana too, and he’s so often the first to celebrate with a teammate. Coutinho may possibly be the most talented Liverpool footballer but he doesn’t look happy enough for me, so he’s never going to be my favourite. Sturridge just seems to want to look cool when he’s hit the back of the net. The exception to this rule (which I’ve only just realised I had) is poor old Alberto Moreno. He grins like there’s no tomorrow, but thats not enough to outweigh is calamitousness. (I know it’s not a word, but it seems to fit Alberto)

Anyone else have a non-footballing reason why they like certain players?
Simon, LFC, Abu Dhabi

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