March 10, 2014

Wenger’s best, last chance at silverware

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

This is it, Arsene Wenger.

This is your best chance at ending Arsenal’s nine-year silverware drought.

That’s all because Manchester City failed yet again to beat the thorn in its side, Wigan Athletic.

It happened in last year’s League Cup final, it happened again in this year’s FA Cup quarterfinal. It seems the Sky Blues just can’t get by the pesky Latics.

That leaves Arsenal to compete with Wigan – its semifinal opponent – and the winner of Hull City and Sheffield United. In other words, the path to glory couldn’t be easier for Wenger and Co.

This is his chance to get pundits off his back for saying the finishing fourth in the league and playing in Champions League is ‘like a trophy.’ This is his chance to justify his questionable transfer policies and failing to bring in the big names that supporters want.

This really could be it for Wenger.

Any soccer fan in front a keyboard will be quick to pile on Arsenal’s manager if it fails to hold up the sport’s oldest trophy at Wembley in May. The Premier League’s elder statesman could finally get sacked, as many have been asking for for years.

But Cup upsets are always in the offing – just look at City.

As for City, if you can’t see the irony of manager Manuel Pellegrini wearing a hoodie on the sidelines and losing a big game, well you don’t watch much New England Patriots football.

The good news for City is that with no more FA Cup games and a likely dismissal from the Champions League at the hands of Barcelona, that congested fixture list is clearing up right before their eyes. Being able to concentrate on just one trophy will do this overworked side very well down the stretch.

THE BIGGEST LEAGUE GAME

I was all set to lead with this game – somewhat ironically – until City went and blew it on Sunday. That’s how much I think that the six-pointer between Cardiff City and Fulham mattered in the relegation battle.

The loss all but dooms the Cottagers, now three points back of Sunderland in 19th, but have three games in hand. Fulham trails 17th-place Cardiff and 16th-place West Brom which are both four points up off the bottom.

What hurts Fulham most is its terrible goal differential, sitting with a horrendous -36. It’s hard to see a team in this kind of disarray mount any sort of push to stay up, meaning we’re looking at our first lock in the relegation race. I’m sure this isn’t what new owner Shahid Kahn had in mind when buying the team less than a year ago. Perhaps he should have kept up the Michael Jackson statue.

Cardiff, meanwhile, put aside a midweek visit from eccentric chairman Vincent Tam to look decent for once. Granted it was a win at home against the EPL’s worst side, but three points is three points and it will surely take them.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Isn’t it just like David Moyes’ Manchester United side to get a win in the league on the weekend when everyone else is playing in a cup game? And if you think that beating West Brom is a feather in his cap and that the Red Devils are back, you haven’t seen that Liverpool is next on the fixture list … Chelsea did its usual, efficient business against Tottenham, going seven points clear on top – with other contenders having games in hand of course. The real story though is that Spurs simply can’t play against the top-four teams. They looked horrendous again against a contender and had one of the most farcical second halves I have ever seen … If you don’t believe me, look up Kyle Walker’s attempt to head the ball back to his keeper from nearly half field. What a joke … Tottenham now sit in fifth place, but have a 0 goal differential. When was the last time a team finished that high with a GD like that? … This was from last week really, but has City cursed cross-town rival United to play in Europa League next season? By winning the League Cup and almost-assuredly finishing in the top four, that means the sixth-place finisher will have to play for the poison chalice. That could be a race between Everton and United that neither side wants to win.

FANTASY CORNER

If you were able to field a full XI in fantasy this week, you either used your wildcard, ate a lot of points for the transfers or were very well-prepared.

With only five games and ten teams to pick players from, there wasn’t a lot of options out there.

But while many struggled this week, they could be rewarded down the road with double gameweeks.

Manchester City and Sunderland both have three games to make up while others have two or one double week coming.

And since the Sky Blues and Black Cats haven’t played in quite some time, their players are dirt cheap, so stock up. It will be well worth the investment.

THE LAST WORD

What’s the best way to make light of last week’s controversy? Use it to inspire a goal celebration of course.

After being “headbutted” by Newcastle manager Alan Pardew last week, Hull City’s David Meyler did the same to the corner flag after potting one against Sunderland in FA Cup play.

I’m sure Pardew and Magpie fans are seething at the gesture, but come on, that was about as fun of a celebration as I’ve seen since Luis Suarez did his mock diving celebration in front of then-Everton manager David Moyes.

So good on you, David Meyler, but I wouldn’t go walking around the streets of Newcastle alone any time soon.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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