Friday, 29 November 2013

AVB - Always Very Boring

Well it's been nigh on three weeks since I put finger to keyboard - at least in any meaningful way - and for those of you who hang on to my every word like a baby tooth clings to a toddler's gums, I can only apologise. The rest of you seemed to have managed okay.

Much has passed since Arsenal were top of the league - and by God if they aren't still there - hovering happily like Wile E Coyote, just before he looks down and finds there's nothing between him and the ground.

In the meantime Manchester City continue to slap all-comers around like the flat-track bullies they are, but still get all agoraphobic when they have to leave Eastlands. Incidentally I noticed there was a vote going on for African Player of the Year. The answer you're looking for is Yaya Toure - the rest are but crumpled beer cans that he carries in his magisterial wake.

Chelsea are starting to grind into the relentless Mourinho mode - cheerless and efficient - and United are at the very least stabilising with Rooney showing his best from since he was 17 years of age. I think Moyes can take a little bit of credit there.

Southampton have been a delightful exception to the expected rule but the main subject of current speculation is that fidgety football student Andre Villas-Boas and his expensively assembled bunch of dullards.

It is way too early for Spurs fans to bringing out the old Juande Ramos banners and altering the names a bit, but there is definitely a sense of stagnation at White Hart Lane at the moment. It doesn't help that AVB has taken over after a couple of seasons of high entertainment - some of it supplied by 'Arry's cavaliers, and the rest of it almost entirely by Gareth Bale.

It's hard not to review AVB's second season in the light of Bale's absence. The Welsh wonderchimp dug them out of so many holes last season and when AVB needs a ludicrous thirty-yarer from someone it seems that the first one to have a swing is Kyle Walker. It's not quite the same is it? I mean if you want someone to knock in a double-top to win you a darts fixture you don't seek out the drunkest man in the pub.

Actually I like Walker - going forward (by which I mean 'going forward' and not 'in the future') - but his form typifies the problems Spurs are having. And the bad news is, it's very reminiscent of Chelsea under the same manager.

Tottenham have some very sharp attackers still but only if the ball is moved quickly. You could put a couple of greyhounds on your left flank and you'd still have a lot of bother keeping up with Walker and Lennon. But stick a couple of banks of four and some hard-chasing forwards ahead of them and Spurs move the ball around like pensioners handing around a bucket of water.

When he played for England Walker repeatedly got the byline but cut back every time because you're better keeping the ball than doing anything dangerous with it. All this ploddery means that AVB's boys are constantly getting clogged up in front of a dogged and organised team.

What's more Soldado, a lad who plays much more off the last man's shoulder than with his back to goal, is looking like a waste of space and money. Not that there's anyone to spark off particularly. He does look a little bit on his ownsome.

The midfielders, capable players one and all, seem unable to imagine themselves bursting past the opposition back four either, unless it's one of those all guns blazing finishes that the White Hart Lane faithful are getting used to. Eighty minutes of pitter-patter tippy-tappy followed by ten minutes of the Siege of Mafeking.

Villas-Boas's team has a 100% record in the Europa League. Mind you they are still at the 'where the fuck do they come from?' stage of the tournament. If you can't beat Rfnsubzphlix Grabbenhoffsted home and away you're in real bother.

Not that a 6-0 drubbing at Man City should be cause for concern. Citeh can hammer anyone on their day. But the stats for that game tell you that Spurs had more possession and corners in that game. The nil is the problem, not the 6. Put simply, they don't score enough. It doesn't help that the proven goalscorer Jermain Defoe is left to prove himself on chilly European nights rather than in the Premier League.

The plain truth is that the reason the home fans at Spurs are getting so restless is that they're having the pants bored off them every other week. It seems to be the AVB way. True, they haven't conceded too many. But Jeez  there ought to be more to show for the Bale bonanza than scraping ugly draws against Hull with well dodgy penalties.

While we are on the subject of entertainment, congratulations to Rodgers and Martinez for putting out two such reckless sides for the last Merseyside derby. A game that had grown tired, mean and fractious suddenly flowered into a thing of madcap beauty. Footy at its best.

Of course had Mirallas been sent off for his bollock-high assault on the Uruguayan Bernie Winters it might well have been a much more straightforward affair. But Phil Dowd, no doubt somewhere deep within him wishing he could do summat like that to Suarez and get away with it, let it pass with a yellow. Not right, of course, but a much better game because of it.

In other news, Australian cricketers are much better when they wear moustaches, and the Sports Personality of the Year Award nominees are pointlessly announced. If it's not Andy Murray then I'm a Scotsman. Not that he can be considered British really. Or at least this time next year.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Arsene Ascending

It's official. We have to start taking Arsenal seriously. They are five points clear. If you changed their name to Manchester United then stubbly Robbie Savage would be saying in that dentist's drill of a drawl of his that 'the title's over'. He is prone to generalisation that lad.

Still, the Gunners saw off Liverpool more than handsomely. 8 wins out of 9 looks a good return to me. And yet, and yet....

I don't know any Gooner who is getting ahead of himself right now. If they only looked at he bare facts they'd be hoovering out the trophy cabinet for Monsieur Wenger right now, particularly as they're going to need a good six months to get shot of all that dust.

After all:

1. No team passes the ball quite so well at the moment.

(Apart from Man City, sometimes. Mind you Norwich stood so far off them that Yaya Toure had time to pop in to the dressing-room, have a jimmy riddle, get back on the pitch and still find himself in possession of the ball.) Wenger has so many midfielders that Arsenal sometimes play a 1-8-1 formation. And Ozil's languid ease seems to have rubbed off on the rest of them. It is a joy to behold.

2.  They've learnt how to tackle.

Or at least remembered how to. All them tippy-tappy boys, robust as thistle-seeds in a hurricane, have suddenly discovered how physical strength and commitment can help them regain possession. The fancy Dans become honest johns when they haven't got the ball. Even without Flamini, Arteta filled the gap admirably.

3. Giroud? Who knew?

Seasoned Wenger watchers will realise that Arsene doesn't have the greatest record when seeking out a top centre-forward. Anyone who's watched Chamakh's scruffy gel-plastered get nowhere near cross after cross would know what I mean. Giroud's link-up play has been delicate and smart and his finishing, while not always cold-eyed, hasn't been too shoddy either. It's impossible to overstate his importance to the team at the moment, especially when you look to the bench.

In the League Cup against Chelsea, Bendtner started in Giroud's stead which on current performance is like wheeling your Aston Martin into the garage and then appearing out of the side-door on a squeaky tricycle.

4. Ramsey revives

I can only imagine that some well-meaning mystic laid hands upon Aaron Ramsey in the summer. The signing of Ozil made him look like the first man off the overcrowded midfield boat and yet right now he must be the first name on the team-sheet. He seems possessed of Ozil's time on the ball, Cazorla's quick feet, Wilshere's drive.... Last season he was bog-standard, but that seems light years ago. It's a bit like trying to remember when Gareth Bale was a shit left-back. And after that hideous leg-break you can't help but be happy for the lad.

5. A Solid Defence

Whenever Arsenal have a run of clean sheets we have to blame Steve Bould. Dependency at the back has always had more to do with the nous of the personnel there than anything Wenger has done. At present they look solid as a rock there even though Mertesacker resembles a spooky family butler, and Koscielny spends every game struggling to contain his inner ninja.

When you add in an injury list which means that Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott and Podolski are on their way back, and the likes of Rosicky and Gnabry are playing very well too it would all suggest that come May Arsene's going to be trotting up the Holloway Road while Gooners everywhere wave their palm fronds and sing hosannas.

Except... except... Arsenal have very little depth in key places. Only Vermaelen can cover the centre-backs and he's not as trusty as we once thought. As noted the options at centre-forward are frankly bleak. When you compare this to Chelsea or Man City you see how fragile this situation makes them.

In other words, injuries will make or break Arsenal's season. As witnessed by the absence of Walcott and Ox-lax-Chumber-Pan, the midfield is crisper and healthier than a yogi's salad. It's just everywhere else where it's as thin as a newspaper editor's excuse.

Of the others, Liverpool still look overly-reliant on two brilliant but erratic forwards (in Luis's case it's the personality not the play that is unpredictable).

Spurs get duller and duller - much like last year but without the simian wonderboy to - ahem - Bale them out. Everton will be plucky and persistent but won't scare too many and Pochettino's stylists at St. Mary's should hang on to 7th. United - remember them? - are looking a bit more stable but you've still got to reckon that there's not enough in the centre of the park to hurt the opposition there.

So... at the risk of echoing Kevin Keegan - and no sane man would want to do that - I'd love it if Arsenal could fight off the wealth-sodden pack.

Don't get me wrong, anyone who's paid for an Emirates season ticket can vouch for the enormous sums that Wenger has at his disposal. And Mehzut Ozil cost £1,999.999.99 more than they would've paid for Luis Suarez. That's not peanuts.

It's just that I can't help but admire a bloke who puts principle first, even if that does mean his team comes up short season after season. The team ethic is still there. The Wenger Vay. And with a bit more backbone in place this season... well...Yes!

They CAN do it! In fact I think they might even finish ABOVE third place.