August 19, 2013

Arsenal are in desperate need of change

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Well, it has been a while since my last post, but there’s only so many hours in the day and I’ve been hard at work on last week’s Premier League 2013-14 season preview, as well as this week’s NFL fantasy preview, which starts in Wednesday’s paper.

What I will be trying to do is write a weekly Premier League column here, which could eventually find its way into the Sun.

I look forward to your comments about the world’s greatest soccer league.

GUNNED DOWN

A lot can gleaned from Arsenal’s season-opening 3-1 loss to Aston Villa, and I’m not just talking about the Gunners’ very apparent need to bring in some new faces.

While many are quick to point to that score line and say that this was a definitive loss, you must realize that Arsenal was pretty much jobbed here.

If not for the linesman making that bad penalty call and giving Laurent Koscielny his first yellow, the French defender would not have been sent off later in the game, greatly hindering his side.

That penalty led to Villa’s second goal – on its second penalty of the game. This time Christian Benteke didn’t need to immediately head in a lucky rebound to score.

The most concerning goal was Villa’s third, when after a cleared Arsenal corner, Antonio Luna essentially had a breakaway from essentially just outside his own box. It should be noted that only one Gunner, Jack Wilshere, even attempted to catch the slow-footed defender.

The Gunners showed little heart in the loss and despite being down a man, had the lion’s share of possession. The team is missing something. Maybe some leadership, maybe it’s a sense of urgency. Maybe it is just knowing that new players could come in and challenge others to be better.

Maybe it’s time for Arsene Wenger to finally go.

An early decision that he made was to take off left back Kieran Gibbs, who suffered a cut on his forehead. Instead of simply having it wrapped up and have him come back on in a couple of minutes, Wenger opted to bring on Carl Jenkinson, wasting a substitution. Wenger held off, that extra sub could have been used later, when his team was down a man.

The time for change has come at Arsenal, but actually, it has been there for a while.

DAZZLING DEBUTANTS

While the longest-serving top-dog in the Premiership faltered, the three contenders under new management could off to sizzling, impressive starts. David Moyes, Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho led Manchester United, Man City and Chelsea, respectively, to dominant victories.

Pellegrini’s 4-0 demolition on an already-imploding Newcastle side was the most impressive. Newcomers Jesus Navas and Fernandinho looked like excellent additions and Alvaro Negredo was robbed of a goal during his 10-minute substitute stint.

Chelsea, who has another game Wednesday, played a lineup without a couple of stars, but still looked great in a 2-0 win. If Kevin de Bruyne can play as well as he did Sunday, the Blues will have six or seven dangerous midfielders in their lineup on any given gameday.

Then there were the champs, Man U, who had the toughest test of the three travelling to Swansea. Robin van Persie looked like he did last season: Amazing. His overhead full volley to open scoring was spectacular and will likely run in highlight packages throughout the year. And kudos to Danny Welbeck, who doubled his goal total from last season in the season opener. His cheeky chip for United’s fourth goal was a thing of beauty too.

OUTSIDE THE BOX

Another debuting star was Hawkeye goal-line technology. While a few of its uses were on balls that clearly hit the post and stayed out, there was a fine example during the Chelsea-Hull City tilt. A Blues header off a corner was stopped on the line by Hull keeper Allan McGregor. The replay showed that the refs called it right and the ball only halfway crossed the line … Why didn’t Man U begin the season at home? Shouldn’t the champs have a coronation ceremony before opening kickoff? And is the EPL the only league that does this? … Everton had four forwards on its bench and no midfielders. Could new manager Roberto Martinez not prise one away from his former club Wigan? … I’m pretty sure the rules are the same in League Championship, but promoted side Cardiff only had six subs on its bench. It may want to look into some squad depth … Tottenham earned a penalty for the first time since the 2011-12 season. How a team can go an entire campaign is beyond me and seems rather ridiculous … Spurs didn’t look like they needed injured superstar Gareth Bale much either, with their four new signings all getting run. But beating a promoted team 1-0 on a late penalty isn’t much to write home about … It may have been for only 2.5 hours or so, but at least Liverpool was top of the table for at least that little bit this season. A Reds fan friend of mine was hoping that they could make it wire-to-wire.

TALKING FANTASY

It was great seeing Christian Benteke score off a header after seeing his penalty saved, but that just means that he had a minus-2 to bring down his total for the gameday … Interesting to see RVP being both the most captained player and the most vice captained. I didn’t even have him in my squad and have 67 points before Chelsea-Villa on Wednesday … Simon Mignolet could be a great bargain at 5.5 pounds if he keeps playing like he did on Saturday.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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