February 10, 2014

Is this the start of Arsenal’s annual collapse?

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Remember when Arsenal was a rock-solid defensive side that would regularly put teams down 2-0? That went out the window at Anfield on Saturday.

Liverpool overrun the league leaders for the first 20 minutes and jumped out to a 4-0 lead which actually could have been even worse. Really, the Gunners are lucky it wasn’t 6-0.

It didn’t even take a minute for the Reds to get on the board, with Martin Skrtel heading home a free kick at just 55 seconds. He would add to his total nine minutes later, heading in a corner.

It looked like Arsenal was demonstrating the kind of set-piece defending it had in past seasons – which has always been one of the biggest weaknesses for Arsene Wenger’s teams.

The duo of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny looked mortal and obviously couldn’t keep up with Liverpool’s vast strike force. It was a rare bad game for the pair and the Gunners have to hope this was a deviation from the norm and will not develop into a startling trend.

The thing is that this is how things usually start for Arsenal and this is the usual time of the season that the collapse occurs.

Arsenal fans have to scared, as their worst fears may be coming true.

CITY RATTLED?

For the second game in a row, Manchester City was blanked on the scoreboard. And this wasn’t against the league’s best defence like last week, on Saturday it was Norwich City – which has allowed the fifth most goals this season.

Even with such a deep squad, it is apparent that injuries are really reeking havoc on the Citizens. With Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri and Fernandinho, they were lacking that needed spark.

It was also puzzling that Manuel Pellegrini wasn’t sending Yaya Toure forward more, as he has had a marvelous season on the attack.

Maybe this was just a return to the road form that had troubled City earlier this season.

We’ll just see if it can turn it around in their midweek game at home to Sunderland. Dropping points it that one could put them a bit too far off the pace.

CHELSEA GOES TOP

Another week, another team atop the Premier League.

With Arsenal and City both faltering, Chelsea stepped up to take the lead in this race.

A hat trick from Eden Hazard was more than enough to down struggling Newcastle.

With the tough defence Jose Mourinho has it playing, this could actually be Chelsea’s title to lose. As long as Hazard’s scoring can make up for the lack of a solid striker, the “Little Horse” could run away with this league.

As for Newcastle, this is a side that is clearly falling apart after selling off Yohan Cabaye. They looked listless yet again. The Magpies have dropped into the now-two-team midtable with Southampton and there’ little hope they can climb back into contention for a Europa League spot.

WEEKLY UNITED SUCKING UPDATE

Even while setting a record in a game – a good one too! – Manchester United still managed to give away points at home to lesser competition.

This time it was last-placed Fulham stealing a point at Old Trafford, a place where it had lost nine straight games.

For a long period of time, it was actually Fulham leading after netting in the first half. But two quick goals in the 78th and 80th minutes had United sitting pretty. It’s just too bad that the defence fell apart in the final minute of injury time, letting Darren Bent head home the equalizer after an easy break.

It was another example of the curse of Sir Alex, who was sitting in the stands once again to witness a Red Devils collapse.

Really, it’s no wonder that captain Nemanja Vidic will be leaving in the summer. This team seems so out of whack this season that even faltering Italian mainstays Inter – where he is reportedly going – seem like a step up. It also adds another hole for United to plug this coming summer at a time when it has looked terrible in the transfer market – Juan Mata aside.

Oh, and that record was for most crosses attempted in a game with 86.

AROUND THE PREMIERSHIP

Spurs eked out a win against Everton in a clash that could decide a Europa League spot, but there were two more important sightings to talk about. Jermain Defoe made a cameo appearance and was carried off the field by teammates after his final appearance for Tottenham. It was a hero’s goodbye for the striker that will now join Toronto FC. On the other side, hulking Ivorian forward Lacina Traore was on the bench, but didn’t get into the game for Everton. At 6’8”, Traore is like a bulky, better, African version of Peter Crouch. I can’t wait to watch him play … Some great jokes were had during a Twitter session between fans and Michael Carrick this week. Some questions included: “On a scale of Tom Cleverly to 10, how bad is Ashley Young?” and “If you had to cut one player, how would you tell Tom Cleverly.” … Stoke City has a thing for Peters, with both Odemwingie and Crouch getting in on the scoring against Southampton … What was Wes Brown thinking? The former United defender picked up a red card just five minutes into Sunderland’s game with Hull. Making a reckless challenge that early in the game all but doomed the Black Cats’ hopes in an otherwise winnable match.

THE LAST WORD

Once again we see evidence that Premier League teams simply don’t care about Europa League.

With Defoe – Europa League’s leading scorer – being sold to TFC and Swansea – which is competing in the Round of 32 against Napoli – firing manager Michael Laudrup, it’s hard to make a case that this competition has any impact on the team’s thinking going forward.

We’ve talked about how Europa League is more of a curse than a blessing for teams like Swansea, which are ill-equipped to deal with the suffocating fixture list.

Without the depth of the top teams that qualify for Champions League, it’s really hard to play games on Thursday in far off places in Europe and also be ready for an arguably bigger match on Sunday.

Without the allure of big cash prizes either, there’s little incentive to really go for it in Europa League as well.

The bad part is that there’s no real way to fix this problem. It’s not like England can bow out of this second-tier competition, but at least now we can stop pretending – if anybody still was – that Europa League is worth the time and effort invested into it.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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