It’s always frustrating to lose a game to a late goal but there is very little doubt that Manchester City deserved their win over Tottenham at the Etihad stadium. Despite leading for a large portion of the game, the visitors were second best throughout and did not perform to anywhere near what they are capable of. It might have taken another late winner from Edin Dzeko to earn the victory but City were undoubtedly the better team.
Tottenham’s goal came via Steven Caulker’s head from an excellent Tom Huddlestone free-kick, and with a helping hand/chest from Joe Hart, however they were poor otherwise. Contrary to the reaction of some of the media, and indeed a portion of the fans, the decision to start with Emmanuel Adebayor over Jermain Defoe was the right one. Of course it seems harsh to drop a player having scored a hat-trick in his previous outing but for the specific game plan that Spurs tried to implement the Togolese international was the right choice. Adebayor’s link-up play was good and the poor performance was no result of his presence.
Arsenal have been on an awful run of form since the last international break. Dreadful away to Norwich, not much better at home to QPR, fortunate to escape with a point from two games against Schalke in the Champions League and a very humbling defeat at Old Trafford have all highlighted their deficiencies.
Surprisingly for an Arsène Wenger team, they have struggled to create chances throughout the season (the 6-1 battering of a very welcoming Southampton aside). It’s been discussed over and over already but the loss of Robin van Persie was obviously going to take time to get used to, while it can’t help that the front four were all strangers to each other as the season kicked off. A lack of fluency was to be expected initially, that’s just the unfortunate situation Arsenal were in, but as the dust settled there seems to be an underlying problem coming to the surface.
All great teams must have an identity, a characteristic about them that separates them from everyone else. But the problem is this Arsenal side does not have one, it just doesn’t know what it is.
For the second time in the Premier League this season, Chelsea lacked their usual attacking fluidity against Swansea at the weekend. The other occasion in which they really failed to create much was in their goalless draw at Loftus Road against QPR, with the common feature of both games being the absence of Juan Mata.
With the summer arrivals of Eden Hazard from Lille and the Brazilian wonderkid Oscar, there was much buzz around Stamford Bridge before a ball had even been kicked. And while both have showed signs of their undoubted talents, it has been the little Spaniard that has become the star of the show.
It’s remarkable to think that Mata was recently left out of the Spanish international squad, yet he seems to have an outstanding temperament and has reacted in the best possible way, producing an even better string of performances. Mata has outshone both his new colleagues and his contemporaries in the league, arguably being the player of the season to date.
Early on Saturday morning I tweeted that Arsène Wenger had two selection choices to make ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Old Trafford. There was a team I thought he would choose and a team I thought he should choose. And as the final whistle blew and the after effects of a very disappointing performance set in amongst Arsenal fans, I felt even more assured about my earlier statements.
Wenger had the benefit of being almost certain how Alex Ferguson would set up his side, which in theory should have made his selection choices easier. Manchester United were going to use the same system that they had a week earlier against Chelsea, since it was going to work for the same reasons. Wayne Rooney would drop deep to form a midfield five without possession, whilst effectively doing a man-marking job on Mikel Arteta, and Antonio Valencia would hug the right touchline to isolate the Arsenal left-back.
Arsenal’s Capital One Cup victory over Reading on Tuesday night was so bizarre that it’s very difficult to deduce anything meaningful from it. It was just one of those ridiculously weird games of football that come around once in a blue moon. If that had happened over at the park with some mates, you’d probably end up just playing first to ten and then all go home.
Amongst the comments about how crazy the whole episode was, it seemed that the most talked about issue in the aftermath of the game was again the unresolved contract issues surrounding Theo Walcott. From the moment he raced through on goal just before half-time he was excellent, scoring two or three goals depending on whether you credit him with the one which went over the line (thankfully Carl Jenkinson smashed in the rebound and spared us another tedious debate about goal-line technology) and creating others.