Posts Tagged Sunderland
It’s been a good start from the north London club this season with 10 points from four league matches in second place in the Premier League, a good return in front of goal despite the spate of injuries in that department as well as a laudable stingy manner of the defence so far.
Arsenal’s next two matches however have the potential banana skin effect glossed on them especially the trip up north to face Sunderland on Saturday, but first, the visit of Sporting Braga of Portugal on Wednesday night as this season’s UEFA Champions League kicks off this week. The Gunners should be wary of complacency against Braga even though there is a sterling home record standing in the Gunners’ favour against teams from Portugal. Braga pushed FC Porto in its last league match, twice in the lead before losing 3-2 at the Dragao while the club – steadily gaining a reputation of being stubborn – was responsible for the knock out of Celtic in the second qualifying round before gaining the scalp of Sevilla in the final qualifying round.
But Arsenal should have enough quality to overcome Braga on Wednesday night. Marouane Chamakh is slowly seaming into the team and so far is making up for the absence of Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner to injury. Captain Cesc Fàbregas still turns in the assured performances, Tomas Rosicky has been in exceptional form, Samir Nasri is back early from injury, Sebastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny have been okay in defence all to make injuries to the earlier mentioned along with Abou Diaby and Thomas Vermaelen just for the moment.
A win against Braga being a good bet, it will be a real test to see how Arsene Wenger’s lads can rally to keep up the pace in the league in a tricky trip to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland.
Sometimes, it’s not the team Arsenal is up against but the manager and Steve Bruce knows how to make visiting clubs have a rough, if not outrightly bad afternoon. The Black Cats may be terrible travellers but at home, the spirit suddenly takes possession and when that happens, even Arsenal find it difficult to play in their usual stride of sleek passing till they decide when it’s time to find the back of the net.
And that ‘just one more pass’ syndrome may well be Arsenal’s undoing at the Stadium of Light. As I’ve said in previous articles here, it is games as this against Sunderland that will really help in Arsenal’s quest to end the title drought suffered since ’05. A look at Tottenham Hotspur for example. The lilywhites ultimate achievement will be to have a better season than Arsenal, meaning beating their north London arch rivals whenever their paths cross while dropping points against clubs like Wigan and West Brom…clubs the three points should be an assured collect. Till Spurs overcome their inferiority complex, Arsenal will keep finishing better than Spurs…maybe for the League Cup.
My opinion, four points from the two games this week will just be acceptable from the Gunners but two wins will be more like it to keep proving their title credentials this season because you get the feeling “beautiful football” may soon become boring to the faithful…
In my “Premier League Preview – The Challengers” post here http://wp.me/puIC6-34, I talked about the competitiveness of last season’s Premier League that among other things, saw one of the fabled ‘Big Four’ – Liverpool – finish in seventh place behind Aston Villa, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in ascending order. Liverpool’s poor finish coupled with the near alarming number of losses recorded by the other three – Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal – could also be traced to surprise defeats to teams these four would normally chalk all three points off such as Wigan Athletic, Birmingham City and a few others.
Two rounds into this season however, I like to think it’s safe to say three of the Big Four have taken good note of the value of getting the three points where it is expected of them and getting those points with authority. Champions Chelsea scored just over a hundred last term and don’t look like slowing down up front having scored a dozen goals in two games already without giving one away; half of the goals coming a few hours earlier at Wigan’s JJB where the Blues as well as the other Three struggled last term. Arsenal, following a typical lion’s-share-of-possession-comes-to-nothing draw against Liverpool, as should be expected brought Ian Halloway’s new boys Blackpool right down to the football field reality from the cloud nine highs of a four-nil win over Wigan (that’s ten conceded for the Latics…relegation candidature as stated in the note referred earlier). A major talking point was Theo Walcott’s performance which was enjoyable to all watching (Fabio Capello though fancied Wolves trip to Goodison Park instead) and the team performance was all the more impressive more so that Cesc Fàbregas and Robin van Persie played the final half hour with scores at 5-0. What Arsenal fans should however truly note from this good win is that five goals came after Blackpool were reduced to ten men, Andrei Arshavin chose the weaker opposition to perform against when a semblance of same was really expected and much needed in the Liverpool encounter and finally, it was Blackpool. Had it been Everton like it happened in last season’s opening day, I then would’ve rated it a top draw win but alas…it’s just what should be expected of a club of Arsenal’s stature. If Arsenal can perform like this against similar opposition and pick the vital points where expected (against the likes of Wolverhampton, West Brom, West Ham, Birmingham Sunderland and Stoke) as well as against the stubborn ones such as Villa, Bolton and Blackburn Rovers that the Gunners visit next week, it will stamp firmly Arsenal’s title credentials. That then allows for games against rivals (the other Three, free spending Man. City and Tottenham, especially the latter two) to be real contest where a win would truly make Arsene Wenger’s talented lads mature and make the step to returning Arsenal to winning trophies in May and not August as they’re becoming accustomed to!
Premier League champions Manchester United recovered well from its shock midweek defeat to Burnley with a 5-0 crushing of Wigan Atheltic while Arsenal regained top spot for the day at least with a 4-1 win over Portsmouth.
A goalless first half at the JJB paved way for a goal fest for the Red Devils in the second half as two goals in as many minutes from Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov put the visitors in front.
A second home defeat in four days was sealed with Rooney netting his second, Michael Owen scoring his first competitive goal and Nani rounding the rout with a stoppage time effort.
More of this story on MyNaijaNews.com through this link http://www.mynaijanews.com/content/view/3259/29/
Due to that faltering ambition in the league, Liverpool could soon be in danger of becoming the other club of the Merseyside, a place held by an ever improving Everton that has the third longest serving manager in the Premier League, David Moyes.
The Toffees did very well last season, capping it with two wins in all competitions over Liverpool as it wrestled 5th spot from Aston Villa before losing gallantly to Chelsea at the final of the FA Cup.
And with Jo extending his loan deal for the whole of this season from Manchester City; wise choice, coupled with Louis Saha on the field more than under the knife, Tim Cahill being the thorn he always is from midfield alongside Marouane Fellaini and the return of James Vaughn and fan favourites Mikel Arteta and Yakubu Aiyegbeni from injuries, getting the goals won’t be a problem for Everton.
Keeping the back tight however could be, that is if the club succeeds in keeping Joleon Lescott from the lure of City’s approach all through the summer. Last time, City improved its bid for the fine defender from £18m to £22m.
And if Lescott were to leave, Moyes could find someone else to fill the void left with the money ala Philippe Senderos from Arsenal or from the reserves but either way, you get the feeling the club would come through whatever the outcome.
That cannot be said of Aston Villa which is struggling to keep Ashley Young from lurking suitors while former captain Gareth Barry moved on, but to Man. City and not a club playing in the Champions League as he had advertised all through last season.
Add that to a thin squad of players and 6th place might just be quite a shot to aim at for Martin O’Neill, the burn-out of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Young last season was evident in the destrucitve dip in form plus, John Carew and Emile Heskey; good as they are, do not have age on their side.
That allows a club such as Fulham to take the place of the Villans. Just as Redknapp at Spurs, Roy Hudgson as been able to manage the Cottagers well enough. Same can also be said of Steve Bruce at a new look Sunderland which has seen the arrival of striker Darren Bent, Lorik Cana from Marseille and Frazier Campbell from Manchester United to add to the likes of Kenwyne Jones and Kieran Richardson, hopefully the new era would bring better luck over the season for the Black Cats.
The exit of Emile Heskey mid last season to Villa plus Valencia to Man. United and manager Steve Bruce to Sunderland, Wigan Athletic has itself an uphill task of matching its 11th place finishing of last season.
Over at Upton Park however, Gianfranco Zola can work his relatively young West Ham United side higher up the Premier League cadre owing to a good first season in Premier League management though managing a young squad burdened with a league, Cup and Europa League programme could be the undoing of the London club.
It would be interesting to see how Portsmouth fares this season, especially if it is finaly bought by…you guessed it, a stinking rich Middle Eastern. But all the money comes to nothing when it is not matched with performances on the field of play and manager Paul Hart has a wealth of experienced players at his disposal but a bit more speed and youth would do a lot of good for the south coast club, the loss of Glen Johnson to Liverpool though…not a good sign for an already tired defence.
At Ewood Park, Sam Allardyce looked like he was still getting used to the change of environment from neighbours Bolton Wanderers evident in Rovers’ indifferent form over last season. The exit of Roque Santa Cruz to Man. City can be well managed knowing the sort of manager Allardyce is and he would be hoping his Croatian recruit along with Franco di Santo on loan from Chelsea till January help with issues upfront.
Bolton meanwhile found the ride even harder than Rovers and manager Gary Megson probably is not looking forward to the upcoming season with few key players lost last season and main striker Johan Elmander still getting accustomed to the Premier League after a very disappointing first season on arrival from Toulouse.
Even more disappointing however was Hull City. Then newly promoted, the Tigers were contenders for the Premier League title a quarter games into the season but a severe dip in form saw a reverse in aspirations and it had become a dg fight against relegation which the KC Stadium outfit achieved on the final day last season; a far less reliance on part time preacher Geovanni would go a long way in retaining the club’s Premier League status at the end of this season.
Finally, Wolverhampton Wanderers leads the newly promoted clubs into the Premier League, the others being Birmingham City and Burnley. And really, much cannot be said of newly promoted clubs…Hull were title contenders at the start of last season, by the end they were desperately fighting off relegation.
A word though on Burnley, it took Tottenham extra time to knock the club out at the semi-final of the League Cup last season after three Premier League clubs, including Arsenal and Fulham, had failed to do same in earlier rounds.
The season begins on the weekend of August 15 with Arsenal’s visit to Everton the star match of the opening weekend alongside the reverse north London-Merseyside clash between Tottenham and Liverpool at White Hart Lane. Champions Man. United begin at home to Birmingham while Chelsea also start at home to Hull and Mark Hughes takes his star studded Man. City to old club and Lancashire neighbours Blackburn Rovers.
Opening weekend – Saturday, 15 August
Aston Villa v Wigan
Blackburn v Manchester City
Bolton v Sunderland
Chelsea v Hull
Everton v Arsenal
Manchester Utd v Birmingham
Portsmouth v Fulham
Stoke v Burnley
Tottenham v Liverpool
Wolves v West Ham