November 5, 2013

Gunners shooting for the title

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

It feels like every week I’m waiting for Arsenal to collapse under the weight of their present expectations and blow a game. The funny thing is, I’m still waiting and I’m not sure when it’s going to come.

On Saturday, the Gunners held strong against visiting Liverpool, only the second hottest team in the Premier League. The 2-0 result now puts Arsenal five points up on the Reds and Chelsea – which we’ll get to later.

That’s quite the gap up top this early in the season and will take some legit work to overcome for the teams in the chase.

The big difference in the game was something that seemed unthinkable over the past few weeks: The new SAS looked completely out of sync. This once-strong connection looked average at best, with both guys taking shots when passes were the clearly better option. The result was the first time the duo has been held off the scoresheet since Luis Suarez’s return from suspension.

The good news for the attack is that Philippe Coutinho is back from shoulder surgery and saw some action as a sub. Adding him as a playmaker will do even more wonders for the club.

As for Arsenal, the leaders can only get better, shockingly. Saturday’s lineup was without Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lukas Podolski, Jack Wilshere and Mathieu Flamini – all of which could play a big role for the club and have at times this season.

It looks like the only thing that can get in their way is themselves. Perhaps Mesut Ozil will get tired and hit a poor run of form. Perhaps Olivier Giroud will suffer his inevitable injury. Perhaps the defence suffers some of those mental lapses that doomed the side so many times last year.

But with a good manager like Arsene Wenger – as much as it pains me to write that – this team could avoid those pitfalls and actually do better than their usual fourth-place finish.


If I told you that in the Chelsea-Newcastle game, one team would start its third and fourth best centre backs, outshoot the opponent 8-2 and win 2-0 but probably should have taken it by as much as 4-0, you would think that the Blues rolled over the Magpies, right? Wrong.

The title contenders looked poor visiting the northern side and were bailed out by keeper Petr Cech on a couple of occasions. The offence couldn’t click despite going against a third-choice pairing and Fernando Torres’ run of good form has apparently come to an end, being subbed off just after an hour in.

It’s these types of games that Arsenal has avoided to stay atop the table. Now, the supposed favourites to take the silverware are struggling to find their best XI.

I’d guess that there is some business to be done in the January window for Roman Abramovich, particularly at forward. Both Torres and Samuel Eto’o don’t seem up to the task and last January’s buy, Demba Ba, seems to be out of favour.

Who they can bring in that will help, who knows. But Chelsea is need of some stability – not just up front, all over the pitch.

It’s time for Jose Mourinho to pick an XI and actually try to stick with it for a while. It’s just a shame that his team sheet is far too crowded with talent to do so.


Just in time for next week’s meeting with Arsenal, Manchester United has found some form, putting a good performance on against Fulham. Maybe the Red Devils really have turned the corner.

For once, though, the bigger headlines are coming from United’s noisy neighbours.

Somehow, in a game in which Manchester City dominated 7-0 – with seven different scorers no less – in an offensive masterpiece, the biggest story seems to be on the other end of the pitch.

That’s because England No. 1 Joe Hart was on the bench as opposed to in between the posts. This comes after the mistakes continued to pile up, most notably his gaffe last week that cost City a draw at Chelsea.

So now that Hart has been dropped – and won’t play in the Champions League match against CSKA Moscow either – what does this say about his situation at City and with England?

Maybe watching Costel Pantilimon take his spot will fire him up. Maybe it will destroy his confidence. Either way a move had to be made and you have to give kudos to manager Manuel Pellegrini for making it.

This will also send a message to the other players on the team that nobody is so entrenched in the side that they can’t be dropped.


So, Sunderland can only beat Newcastle? It looks that way after falling 1-0 against Hull City – a fellow relegation struggler. Even worse, how do you have two players sent off in first-half injury time? I guess the only good news for the Black Cats was that they actually held on and didn’t allow another goal with just nine men … Southampton was robbed of a late penalty and dropped points because of it. The Saints shouts for a late hand ball should have been answered and they should have walked away with a 2-1 win against Stoke … Christian Benteke clearly isn’t up to form yet after missing time with injury. He’s clearly behind Romelu Lukaku on the EPL Belgian strikers power rankings … Speaking of Lukaku, he inadvertently knocked Spur ‘keeper Hugo Lloris with a scary knee to the head. Considering Lloris was knocked unconscious briefly, how in the world was he allowed to stay in the game? That’s something that has to looked into considering the crackdown on concussions in the world of sports … There was little drama in the first ever EPL South Wales derby between Swansea and Cardiff. The host got the win while the Swans continued to play unimpressively despite putting up good possession and passing numbers.


Stoke City goalkeeper Asmir Begovic did something that had only happened four time before in Premier League history: He scored a goal.

Any time a ‘keeper scores, it’s a thing of wonder. You just know that they instantly feel bad for their opposite number, but can’t help but be overjoyed at such the rare achievement.

But most importantly, how can a keeper’s goal only be worth six points in fantasy? That’s the same amount as a when a defender scores!

Something so rare should definitely be rewarded with at least eight points. There’s no way that Begovic’s goal is worth as much as Steven Caulker’s.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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