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Arsenal’s fluid midfield knocks Liverpool back to reality

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Arsene Wenger was a calm figure in his pre-match press conference Friday afternoon. Arsenal was in their darkest hour since their opening day defeat to Aston Villa, as they lost consecutive home matches to Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea in cup competitions.

However, the Arsenal manager didn’t show a sign of fear. He was confident his men would show up to the occasion. And a big occasion it was. Although Arsenal hasn’t encountered stern opposition yet, they hosted a Liverpool side in hot form. Liverpool’s success has been down to Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge’s great run of form, and Arsenal’s main goal was to keep them quiet.

While there aren’t many people buying into Arsenal’s great start this season, Wenger is confident that his men will prove the doubters wrong. He’s developed an ‘us against the world mentality’ within his squad that’s proved to be quite successful thus far. The media’s doubt in Arsenal’s title credentials has been Wenger’s fuel to motivate his men, and once again they produced a scintillating performance.

The Gunners’ superiority in midfield proved to be pivotal, as they aimed to get runners from midfield to attack space and latch onto the final ball. Their attacking midfielders dropped deeper to sustain possession, Aaron Ramsey continued to impress on both ends and Bacary Sagna is proving to be a sensible outlet on the right flank.

Similar to Olivier Giroud’s goal against Borussia Dortmund, Sagna got into an advanced position down the right flank, and delivered a wonderful cross towards Santi Cazorla – aided by Giroud’s movement, which dragged Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel out of position. Cazorla nodded the ball off the post, but quickly reacted and smashed the rebound into an open net. From an attacking sense Sagna’s role can become prominent with Arsenal fielding a narrow midfield, depending on his ability to consistently deliver quality balls from the right flank.

Liverpool did present Wenger’s men with a few scares, mainly through their direct play on the break between Sturridge and Suarez. In the early moments of the match, both men dropped deep to receive the ball and got past Mikel Arteta on a few occasions. But as the match progressed, Laurent Koscielny mirrored Arteta’s defensive responsibilities – as it was evident he needed assistance – and stayed tight on the forward that dropped deep.

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Ultimately this hampered Liverpool’s attack, as they lacked invention when Arsenal had players behind the ball.

Brendan Rodgers’ men were stifled when trying to play out of the back as Arsenal pressed higher up the pitch, winning possession in Liverpool’s third. Liverpool could have benefitted from pushing higher up the pitch as a unit, and getting their wingbacks forward, but they preferred to do neither, despite Jon Flanagan getting into decent positions.

Rodgers attempted to turn the tide in the second half, by reverting to a 4-4-2 and introducing Philippe Coutinho on the left. Although Coutinho looked a bit off pace – considering he returned from injury – Liverpool maintained a better shape without the ball. Coutinho’s impact on the match was less eventful from an attacking perspective – the Brazilian’s movement was positive, but he was unable to complete his precise passing in the final third.

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The tactical shift allowed Suarez more space to attack when he dropped into deeper positions, but it left Sturridge isolated. Suarez scampered around the final third causing mayhem with his intelligent movement, but his decision making let him down massively. With Ramsey pushing forward to join the attack, Arteta was left vulnerable, thus providing Suarez with more space to penetrate

Ramsey put the match out of reach when he received a clever pass from Ozil at the edge of the 18-yard box. The Welshman let the ball bounce and confidently struck it on the half volley past Simon Mignolet.

Liverpool failed to impress on their first legitimate test of the season, while Arsenal continued to focus on their superiority in midfield. Arsenal’s fluid, canny, relentless and patient, yet when you add in the improvement of Giroud’s overall game and their manageable schedule thus far, you can understand why the Gunners are top of the table.

Regardless of what their defensive statistic’s state, Wenger’s men still look vulnerable at the back, and it’ll be interesting to see how they develop in the latter months of the season. Nonetheless, this result should boost Arsenal’s confidence ahead of a week that sees them travel to Dortmund and Manchester United.

The Gunners have been imperious thus far, but we’ll get a better sense of their overall strengths next week.

Analysis

  • Chelsea missed an opportunity to go top of the table for a few hours, as they fell to Newcastle at St. James Park. Jose Mourinho’s men struggled to move forward a unit in the opening minutes, due to Newcastle’s early pressure. Chelsea’s fullbacks were quickly closed down, while Frank Lampard and Ramires were also unable to push forward.

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Lampard’s inclusion in away matches or against top class sides is quite bizarre considering his limited impact on the match. Due to Lampard’s inability to play penetrating forward passes, David Luiz proved to be a vital cog in Chelsea’s attack, as he played balls between the lines for Oscar and Juan Mata to receive. Newcastle was complacent in the first half, and despite Chelsea’s dominance in possession, the Blues were dull in the final third.

The onus was on Mourinho to make changes in the second half, to give his side a slight advantage. However, it was Pardew who made the most of the personnel on his bench. Vurnon Anita was superb upon his arrival, allowing Yohan Cabaye to push forward, and the movement of Loic Remy improved massively in the second half. Remy dropped deeper to help Newcastle push forward – a feat neither striker completed in the first half – while Yoan Gouffran and Moussa Sissoko were threatening on the counter, as Chelsea pushed more men forward. Coincidentally, it was Gouffran who was on the receiving end of a wonderful Cabaye delivery, which gave Pardew’s men the lead.

Samuel Eto’o, Willian and Andre Schurrle were introduced in the second half, as Chelsea gradually improved, but their passing tempo was still slow and penetration was at a minimum. Loic Remy put the match out of reach for the Blues as they fail to end their week on a high note. Chelsea missed a great opportunity to keep pace with Arsenal at the top of the table, and they now sit five points behind the league leaders.

  • Manchester United won their fourth consecutive match in all competitions, as they easily dispatched of a poor Fulham side. United scored three goals in the opening 30 minutes to earn three valuable points ahead of a monumental showdown against league leaders Arsenal next week. Fulham’s overall shape without the ball was shambolic, as Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie found it relatively easy to receive the ball between the lines. United’s notorious strike force tormented Fulham’s makeshift centre back duo, as they played a key role in all three United goals. The Red Devils were in full control of the opening 45 minutes – Phil Jones was given time and space to dictate the midfield, whereas Fulham was dismal in central areas. There was a vast improvement in Fulham’s second half performance as United were content with the result. They now await a trip to Spain midweek, and host Arsenal at Old Trafford, in a match that can truly define their season. Moyes’ men can’t afford to lose another match at home, especially when it can put them 11 points behind Arsenal.
  • Tottenham and Everton wasted the opportunity to climb to second in the table as they played to a dire draw at Goodison Park.  Andre Villas-Boas’ men were dominant in the first half pressing Everton and preventing them from playing out of the back. Aaron Lennon, Jan Vertonghen and Andros Townsend were rampant down the flanks causing the Everton fullbacks nightmares. Villas-Boas’ men struggled to play out of the back in the early periods of the match, but relied on Michael Dawson’s cross-field diagonal balls to push the North London side forward. Yet, despite Spurs’ superiority in possession, Spurs didn’t provide Roberto Soldado with quality service.

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Nevertheless, the Spaniard was poor on the night, failing to connect with his teammates when the opportunity was presented, and his touches were dismal. Everton improved in the second half when Gerard Deulofeu and Ross Barkley sparked energy in Everton’s attack – with Barkley’s movement between the lines and Deulofeu’s pace. Despite Holtby’s positive outing in the no.10 role – pressing the opposition and playing positive passes – the German midfielder, like the wide men, failed to connect with Soldado, which has been Spurs’ major issue this season.

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While Spurs continue to be impressive on the defensive end, their inability to score goals is worrying. Soldado is top-class striker, but he needs service and players to work off of, hence why Christian Eriksen’s arrival was pivotal.

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He’s the only player in the Spurs side capable of playing incisive passes in the final third, and if runners aren’t getting behind Soldado, his ability to play defence-splitting passes will be significant towards Spurs’ and Soldado’s success.

  • Joe Hart was dropped from the Manchester City starting XI, thus handing Costel Pantilimon a spot in the City lineup. The Romanian goalkeeper didn’t have much work to do, as six different City players got on the score sheet in their impressive 7-0 victory over Norwich.
  • Steven Caulker’s second half header earned Cardiff City three points in the Premier League’s first Welsh Derby. It was a cagey affair that saw both sides nullify their opponent’s strengths in midfield. The main source of attack came from long diagonals behind the left back – it led to openings for Swansea in the first half, and the corner that led to Caulker’s goal in the second. Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay stated pre-match that his men had to get it right tactically to earn three points, and that’s what they did.

Results: Newcastle 2-0 Chelsea, Hull City 1-0 Sunderland, West Brom 2-0 Crystal Palace, West Ham 0-0 Aston Villa, Manchester City 7-0 Norwich City, Stoke City 1-1 Southampton, Manchester United 3-1 Fulham, Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool, Everton 0-0 Tottenham, Cardiff City 1-0 Swansea City

Weekend Stats

  • Cardiff City v Swansea City was the first ever top-flight fixture in England not to feature any English teams.
  • Spurs have only conceded one league goal in the first half of Premier League games this season, fewer than any other team.
  • Asmir Begovic’s goal 13 seconds into Stoke City’s match against Southampton makes him the FIFTH goalkeeper to score a Premier League goal and the previous fastest was in the 62nd minute.
  • Manchester United’s total of 14 points after nine matches is seven points less than they had at this point last season.
  • José Mourinho suffers his worst Premier League defeat as Chelsea manager since a 2-0 defeat at Aston Villa in September 2007.
  • Arsenal has lost 28 Premier League matches in the month of November, more than in any other month. Under Wenger, have lost 22 of 67 in November (33%).

Infostrada Sports (@InfostradaLive) provides all the stats in this recap.

Tune into the 2 Guys and a MIKE podcast as it returns this week. Subscribe to it on I-Tunes!

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2013 in EPL Notebook, Published Work

 

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Moyes’ Alterations Lead Manchester United to Community Shield Glory

ImageRobin Van Persie’s brace left Manchester United supporters jubilant at Wembley this afternoon. It was a sigh of relief for Mancunian’s around the world, but most importantly David Moyes, who smiled as his players celebrated their Community Shield victory.

Moyes faces the daunting task of living up to Sir Alex Ferguson’s legacy, but the Scotsman seemed calm in his post-match conference, and was keen on giving Ferguson full credit for his side’s victory.

“I class that as another piece of silverware for Sir Alex. I was in charge, but the ones

going forward will be down to me,” Moyes said.

This was not an impressive United performance, but Van Persie’s goal in the opening seven minutes was vital, thus leading to their dominance throughout the match. It’s become evident that besides Mourinho, Moyes will be vigilantly assessed, ridiculed and praised by the media throughout the season.

Yet, unlike most Community Shield encounters in the past, today’s match was somewhat important for Ferguson’s successor. It was the start of a new era, and with that came a different approach to United’s style. Now these weren’t monumental adjustments, but merely minor tweaks that showcased Moyes’ tactical prowess.

For instance, Moyes stuck with his preferred 4-4-1-1, which saw Danny Welbeck play behind Van Persie, seeing as Rooney wasn’t match fit. It’s a partnership that was rarely used last season, but did feature in United’s second leg match against Real Madrid, and was successful, despite the loss.

Welbeck, mostly in the first half dropped into midfield to link play with the midfield, giving the Red Devils an extra passing outlet, as they looking for openings in the Wigan defence. He also occupied the left flank when Giggs drifted infield and used his brute strength to shrug off defenders on the break. The England international was surprisingly reluctant to take his chances that were presented to him, but he did force Scott Carson to make a good save, and assisted Van Persie’s second goal.

The key element in the Welbeck/Van Persie strike force was their intent to lead the press higher up the field, aiming to close down James Perch and Leon Barnett. It worked successfully, and Owen Coyle witnessed his men concede possession in their half on numerous occasions. Although the decision to press high was logical, it will be interesting to see whether United continue to implement a pressing game in the near future.

United’s right-hand side was also an interesting feat in this match, but not for the right reasons. Rafael enjoyed the opening minutes, constantly bombing forward to combine with 20-year-old Wilfried Zaha. But a James McClean tackle left the Brazilian fullback in pain, thus injuring his hamstring, which resulted in his departure. This forced Moyes to introduce Chris Smalling, pushing Phil Jones to right back for a short period, before swapping positions later in the half.

Rafael’s injury benefitted Wigan as Zaha began to show his inexperience, and despite his numerous step overs he failed to get the better of Stephen Carney. McClean also began to flourish, often being Wigan’s main threat with his direct runs on the left flank. Towards the end of the first half, and the start of the second, the Scottish winger found space behind Smalling to penetrate – but his teammates were unable to connect with his deliveries.

Van Persie’s second goal of the afternoon secured the victory, and it came at a critical moment in the match, when it looked as if Wigan could potentially level the match. United were fortunate to double their lead, but the buildup was down to Patrice Evra’s excellent outing on the left flank – frankly producing an identical performance to Leighton Baines during Moyes’ tenure.

Ryan Giggs started on the left flank, and was replaced by Anderson in the latter stages of the match. Evra was free to get forward at ease when Giggs drifted centrally, ultimately dragging Emerson Boyce out of position – while Anderson sat in midfield during his time on the pitch. Giggs gave United an additional passing option, but he also ensured that United dominated the midfield, as Wigan theoretically had a numerical advantage.

Evra’s cross led to Van Persie’s opener, and his surging run down the left flank initiated the buildup to the Dutchman’s second. The Frenchman was by far United’s most influential attacking player, and he will be eager to showcase that he’s more than capable of being United’s first-choice left back – especially with rumours circulating that Moyes is keen on bring Baines to Old Trafford.

A new era has begun at Old Trafford, and we’re already beginning to see alterations in United’s approach. Ferguson was the reason United were at Wembley today, but Moyes’ philosophy won the match – albeit against an inferior side.

Wayne Rooney’s future has yet to be decided, but Moyes reiterated post-match that the English striker is not for sale. Moyes realizes the importance of keeping Rooney and selling him to a rival will surely damage their chances of retaining their league title.

More so, Moyes will embark upon sturdier opposition in the near future, but the Scotsman has taken his first step out of Ferguson’s shadow and into Manchester United’s history.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2013 in EPL, Published Work

 

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2 Guys and a MIKE – Barclays Premier League Podcast April 29th

Tyrrell Meertins and Hugo V breakdown all the action that transpired in the Premier League this weekend. They discuss the relegation battle, the fight for Champions League football, and are vocal about their problems with the PFA Awards.

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2013 in Podcasts

 

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Manchester United and the WWE go hand in hand

Sunday night I decided to tune into the WWE Royal Rumble for nostalgic purposes. Growing up I was a big wrestling fan, but now I prefer to watch the Road to WrestleMania, because WrestleMania is equivalent to a Champions League final. The Pay Per View overall was quite poor and the main event saw The Rock defeat CM Punk in his first match in 9 months. May I remind you that CM Punk held the title for 434 days, and the manner in which he lost the title was an absolute farce.

Moving forward, what caught my eye was the traditional, “30 Man over the Top Rope” Royal Rumble match. This is where I realized the WWE and The Barclays Premier League have a lot in common. I mean the final five men in the match were predictable and there were only two possible winners, Ryback or John Cena. These two were the only men in the match who had a chance of main eventing WrestleMania, as the other wrestlers are substandard to them.  It’s similar to our modern day Premier League that from opening day had only two legitimate title contenders in Manchester United and Manchester City.

The Premier League is the most watched soccer league in the world with arguably the largest fan base. The league gets more popular as time passes with the help of TV deals and an influx of foreign talent choosing to play their trade in England.

I mean the Premier League has to be the best league in the world right?

When was the last time you saw a title race go down to the final whistle?

Who won the 2012 Champions League in Munich?

The BPL has to be the best considering the “white Pele” plays there opposed to leagues that consists of two horse races or a league like the Serie A, in which Juventus is a class above the rest – hyperbole.

When you think of Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson, history and trophies come to mind. United is the most successful team in the Premier League era winning 12 Premier League titles, including a treble winning season in 1999.

Last season they conceded the title to their noisy neighbours on the final day of the season via goal difference. A 94th minute Sergio Aguero winner had denied United from claiming their 20th league title. It was a trophyless season, which saw them crash out of the group stage of the Champions league and get played off the park by Atletico Bilbao in the Europa League.

In any sport, the aim is to get better and fix the flaws that you possess. When you’re a team like Manchester United, a trophyless season is unacceptable. United, like many Premier League teams, had various issues to address over the summer if they wanted to be legitimate contenders not only domestically but also in Europe.

But on Friday August 17th 2012, they showed their domestic title aspirations as they acquired Robin Van Persie for £24m from Arsenal. Many questioned the signing, as Ferguson ignored two key areas he needed to address. However, we’re half way through the campaign and as the days go by it looks like Ferguson made the right decision.

Van Persie has netted 22 times this season and is arguably the reason why United, with a game in hand, are four points clear at the top of the Premier League. The Dutch striker scored 36 goals last season for Arsenal is also a key factor in United’s FA Cup and Champions League run.

United have made their best start to a season since the three point rule was introduced, obtaining 55 points from 66 in the opening 22 games.  It’s a remarkable stat and if they were to continue picking up 2.5 points a game they would match the 95-point record set by Chelsea in 2004-2005.

Theoretically to win a soccer match you need to outscore your opponent, which is what United are doing. Although they have major weaknesses, their luxury in attack has covered up their flaws.

Javier Hernandez, Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck have scored approximately 62% of United’s goals in all competitions and 60% of their goals in the Premier League. Also, with Patrice Evra and Jonny Evans having their best goal scoring seasons, United have scored a league high 57 goals.

Despite their fantastic start to the season, if United reclaim the Premier League title, they’ll do so with the worst defensive record in the last decade. The most goals conceded by a champion over the last decade were 37(Manchester United 2010-2011) and United have already allowed 30.

This season United has given up several goals from set pieces, and have been exposed when teams take the game to them. In fullbacks Rafael and Patrice Evra, they have great options going forward but defensively they’re good, but not reliable. David De Gea has had a few shaky moments this season; he’s a great shot stopper that lacks a physical presence but will only get better with experience. In terms of centre backs Evans and Rio Ferdinand have been efficient, and are at their best when United sit deeper. With Chris Smalling and Phil Jones they have young English talent that have potential to be top Premier League defenders in the future. Lastly captain Nemanja Vidic is a massive boost when in the line up, but there are concerns in whether he’ll ever recover his best form.

In the midfield you have deep lying players in Michael Carrick (whose been fantastic this season) and Paul Scholes who like to control the tempo of the game, but also struggle when pressure is applied to them. In Anderson and Darren Fletcher you have runners who provide energy in the midfield but both struggle to stay fit. Then you have Tom Cleverley, who is by far United’s most technical midfielder. Cleverley is a very versatile midfielder that tends to play higher up the pitch and is direct when United have possession.

What United lack in their midfield is a physical presence – a box-to-box midfielder. United struggle to take control of games and against sides that possess highly technical and physical players in the midfield, they lose control of the game and get overrun. Juventus has Pirlo, Marchisio and Vidal, Barcelona has Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas, Real Madrid can rely on Khedira, Alonso and Modric, and Bayern Munich has Martinez, Schweinsteiger , Kroos and Gustavo at their disposal. There’s a gulf in class in the midfield between world football’s elite and England best and that is quite alarming.

The question most will ask is with defensive frailties at the back and the lack of a dominant box-box midfielder, how are United still at the top of the Premier League?

Well that’s down to the decline of quality teams in the Premier League over the last two seasons. The Premier League is filled with many inferior sides when matched up to the clubs from Manchester, which explains why they succeed despite possessing major blemishes. Neither side has a tactical identity, but they have an abundance of attacking players, and a few world-class players. Their ability to outscore several inferior sides is the answer domestically, but has been their downfall in Europe.

The WWE has gone from the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin, Undertaker, Triple H, Brock Lesnar, Chris Benoit, The Rock, and Kurt Angle to John Cena, CM Punk and Sheamus. Once upon a time Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal were elite European sides that also made the Premier League competitive. Now there’s a distinct gulf in class between the two clubs from Manchester and the rest of the so-called top Premier League sides, as there is with the top stars in the WWE.

Since the recent decline in the Premier League, Manchester United has made it past the Champions League semi-finals once, in which they were outclassed by Barcelona at Wembley. That year they faced Marseille, Chelsea and Schalke 04 to make it to the finals, teams that are good, but not great. The year prior they were knocked out by Bayern Munich and last season they failed to get out of the group stage, and were played off the park by Atletico Bilbao in the Europa League. It’s not only Manchester United, but the other top English sides have failed to make a mark in Europe, other than Chelsea’s fortuitous Champions League victory last season. Prior to that they were knocked out of the round of 16 by Inter Milan, the quarterfinals by Manchester United, and the group stage this season.

Frankly, one can argue that United’s success this season isn’t due to how good they’ve been but is simply an indictment on the league as a whole. But it leaves us to ask one question, why hasn’t Ferguson attempted to fix these issues? It looked like he was keen on doing so after being humiliated at Wembley, but it’s possible he felt his side would be able to bounce back from that.

Half way through last season Paul Scholes came out of retirement as a short-term option to bandage the issue. He did a great job, but United falling short to City has made Fergie determined to reclaim the Premier League title, and has once again overshadowed the problem. The signing of Robin Van Persie was the answer to his problem, and thus far it’s been a success domestically. With a Champions League tie against Real Madrid looming, we’ll get to see how United fare against an elite side.

The WWE in general has a handful of elite stars and through watching the Royal Rumble Sunday night, I’ve come to a conclusion that like the WWE, The Premier League and Manchester United have suffered a major decline in terms of quality.

Nevertheless, in terms of points total, this can be the greatest Manchester United side in the Premier League era.

With some saying, we’ve yet to see the best from United this season, it’s possible that this might be as good as they get. Its time to accept what United are, and what the Premier League has become.

United is not an elite side and The Premier League is not the best league in the world.

Furthermore, United is a good side that has possibly created a new cliché in modern day football.

That being, offense wins championships, in the Premier League.

Tyrrell Meertins

Follow @ TEEWHYox

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2013 in EPL

 

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Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool

Match in a sentence

It was a game of two halves that saw Manchester United dictate the first half, and Liverpool change their shape in the second half, to nearly earn a draw.

Analysis

  • Sir Alex Ferguson’s men lined up in a 4-4-2 with Danny Welbeck just behind Robin Van Persie, leaving Ashley Young and Shinji Kagawa on the flanks. Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand also started together because Jonny Evans was unavailable due to injury.
  • Brendan Rodgers opted for a 4-3-3 with a front three consisting of Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Stewart Downing. Andre Wisdom was handed a start at right back and Daniel Sturridge started on the bench.
  • In the first half, Liverpool was having trouble getting into United’s final third and getting service into Luis Suarez. Liverpool was sitting in a 4-1-4-1 without the ball and Suarez found himself isolated around the United backline, who calmly dealt with the Uruguayan striker.
  • Along with lack of movement off the ball, United pressed Liverpool high up the pitch, which prevented Liverpool from playing out of the back with ease. It disrupted Liverpool’s attempt to play their fluid possession based football, and it forced them into several errors in their own third of the field.
  • United took the lead in the 19th minute when Patrice Evra drilled a ball into the box that Van Persie hit first time past Pepe Reina.
  • United could have been up by a few goals at half, but surprisingly only led by one. It’s not often that a two man midfield dominate a midfield three, but Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley were able to do that in the first half. Joe Allen was unable to close down Carrick, Steven Gerrard was sitting too deep and it gave Cleverley the license to roam and complete passes at ease.

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  • Kagawa was also an important asset to Carrick and Cleverley because he’d often drift into central areas to provide a passing outlet for Carrick and Cleverley to dictate the game. Whenever Allen got near Carrick, Kagawa or the unmarked Cleverley were available outlets for the United midfielder. Carrick is at his best when he’s allowed time on the ball to spread passes around the field and Rodgers’ tactics benefitted Carrick.

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  • Rodgers changed Liverpool’s shape at half time and he went with a 4-2-3-1 introducing Sturridge for Lucas. Suarez played behind Sturridge and Gerrard and Allen were the two holding midfielders.
  • United doubled their lead courtesy of some poor marking from Glen Johnson, which allowed Evra’s header to bounce off Vidic and past Pepe Reina.
  • Minutes later we saw one of the effects of Rodgers’ tactical change. Gerrard dispossessed Michael Carrick and he took a shot that David De Gea stopped, but his rebound fell to Sturridge who scored his first Premier League goal for Liverpool. Liverpool was now applying pressure to Cleverley and Carrick and they struggled to dictate the tempo of the match.

 

  • The change also allowed Suarez to become more involved in the game. He was able to pick up the ball in between the lines or in the midfield and run at the United defenders. With Sturridge pegging United deeper, it opened up space for Suarez that forced Carrick and Cleverley to sit deeper as well. Not only did it benefit Suarez, but also Gerrard was able to stamp his mark on the game.
  • The Sturridge and Suarez combination looked promising, as they were able to combine and pick each other out on several occasions. Unfortunately Liverpool was unable to find an equalizer through the two strikers. Ferguson noticed Suarez’ influence in the second half and brought on Phil Jones to monitor his movement and the space he was presented.
  • Rodgers got his tactics wrong in the first half, but made the required changes in the second half to nearly earn his side a valuable point. United were superior in the first half, but were unable to impose themselves in the second half as they looked nervous in the final 30 minutes of the match. Jose Mourinho was in the Old Trafford stands watching this clash, and I can assure you he left with a smile on his face. Nevertheless, United remain seven points clear at the top as they travel to White Hart Lane next week to play an in-form Spurs side that beat them at Old Trafford earlier this season.

Tyrrell Meertins 

Follow @TEEWHYox

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2013 in Match Recaps

 

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Arsene Wenger : Time for Change

Arsene Wenger, who is also known to fans as Le Professeur is about to embark on his 17th consecutive season as Arsenal manager which is a tremendous achievement. Along with being idolized worldwide, he is also regarded as one of the best managers in Arsenal and Premier League history.

Wenger has been a revelation for Arsenal over the last 16 years, winning three Premier League titles and four FA Cups. Wenger was also the first manager born outside of England to win a cup double in 1997-98 and then 2001-02, go a whole Premier League season undefeated in which his team was labelled as the Invincible’s, and guide Arsenal to their first Champions League finals appearance in 2006.

They’ve been in the top four for the past 13 years and have reached the knockout round of the Champions League 11 years running, which makes it hard to believe that a man with such a resume could be the catalyst to the slow demise of Arsenal Football Club.

Now here’s a question, what do Ashley Cole, Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri have in common? If you’re stumped I’ll answer this for you; they all left Arsenal in their prime to pursue trophies during the Arsene Wenger era. There are others such as Gael Clichy, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor & Matthieu Flamini who also left and won trophies, but they slightly differ from the four men named above.

These three world-class talents and Nasri were at some point the face of Arsenal Football Club, but decided to move to another club that had title ambitions. The life of a modern day footballer is short and although some of the exits were ugly in the case of Nasri & Cole, you have to understand these players play to win trophies, not to be loyal to us fans.

Here we are in 2012, and another world-class player in his prime wants out. Robin van Persie turns 29 this summer, and during is eight year spell at Arsenal has ONLY won ONE FA Cup. The striker has found it difficult staying fit for a whole season throughout his whole career, but this year was different.

Van Persie’s ability to stay fit allowed him to transform into a world class striker last season, in which he scored 30 Premier League goals in 38 games and 37 goals in 48 games in all competitions. He won Arsenal countless games this season through his individual brilliance, and was an integral piece to the Arsenal attack where majority of the buildup would go through him. Without Van Persie this season it’s fair to say Arsenal might’ve not qualified for the Champions League.

It looks like it might be another heart breaking summer for Arsenal fans as they’ll start another season possibly losing another star player due to their lack of title ambition. Over the years Arsenal has slowly become a selling club, and are slowly falling behind the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea.

“I can understand why some players might be frustrated and thinking of leaving, they want to win things and we haven’t done that for six years,” stated Arsenal winger Theo Walcott in a previous interview.

With these names leaving the club it’s only time before the Wilshere’s, Vermaelen’s, Song’s and Koscielny’s follow in the same footsteps. This leaves one to ask, maybe it’s time for Arsenal football club to go in another direction and part ways with Wenger.

It seems evident that modern day football has passed Wenger by, and he’s not the master tactician many thought he was, but is it fair to say that Wenger should be held responsible for Arsenal’s downfall in recent years? With the likes of Rafa Benitez, Juande Ramos, Sven Eriksson, Felipe Luiz Scolari and even the “special” Jose Mourinho being sacked during Wenger’s tenure as Arsenal manager. Is it possible that his exit has been long overdue?

His teams in the past have been known for playing the most attractive football in the country but have lacked that cutting edge and were always looking for the perfect goal. Wenger’s team lined up in a fluid 4-4-2 formation during his glory years that saw his wing backs in Lauren and Ashley Cole surge forward and provide natural width, while his wingers were more direct and took on defenders at ease. His CM duo in Petit-Vieira and Gilberto-Vieira were hardworking, defensively superb and very athletic which decreased the defensive duties of the four men in front of them.

Wenger’s 4-4-2 that he inherited came to an end permanently during the 2005 FA Cup Final against Manchester United when he worried his midfield would be far to open against superior sides. As the years passed he lost key players that were essential to his system such as Patrick Vieira, Gilberto, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp which is why he stuck with a 4-5-1.

Wenger’s 4-5-1 is supposed to see the midfielders interchanging positions to link up with the lone striker and draw defenders out of position. This formation suited Arsenal and it led them to their first Champions League final in the clubs history. Wenger’s sides intend on holding a bulk of possession which is why this formation suited his team. It allowed them to add an extra body in midfield when they play teams that are superior or far more physical.

They became more stable defensively and were able to dictate games as teams had to deal with that extra midfielder they didn’t have prior. Over the years we’ve seen many variations of this formation. During Cesc Fabregas’ rise to becoming a world-class player the team was built around him in a 4-3-3 that at times was a 4-2-3-1, in which he excelled in an advanced role behind the CF.

The departure of Fabregas and Nasri saw the emergence of Van Persie as Arsenal reverted to a 4-5-1 that looked like a rigid and disjointed 4-3-3 when going forward. This left Van Persie up front alone with about a 20 yard distance from the five man midfield attempting to support him. Arsenal tend to be quite predictable when attacking and they seem to struggle to break teams down as the opposing teams feel confident sitting deep and countering on the break.

Most teams field a physical, yet crowded midfield to startle and disrupt the free flowing football that Arsenal try to express. It’s easy for teams to play Arsenal now because their 4-3-3 is at times robotic and static. There are a lot of factors that separate Arsenal from being at an elite level as Barcelona and one main factor is their movement off the ball.

Barcelona players have the technical ability and are instilled with the tactical prowess to interchange positions and are always moving, compared to Arsenal in which their positions seemed fixed. Over the years, Arsenal’s movement off the ball has become very stagnant and predictable, which is why teams allow them to pass the ball freely until they reach the final third because they believe Arsenal don’t possess the creativity to break them down.

His naive approach in the transfer market has also seen his rivals surpass them in the table. Wenger has always relied on the likes of his youth players rather than splashing the cash in the market. The problem with this is teams such as Manchester City and Chelsea have gotten better over the past decade due to the amount of money invested in their squads. Arsenal have slowly turned from being title contenders to fighting for European spots.

Whether it’s Theo Walcott, Denilson, or Per Mertesacker, this team is filled with players who didn’t live up to their transfer price, high expectations and are simply not good enough to take Arsenal to the top of English or European football.

The excuse “they’re still young” and “they’ll eventually mature” has been overused over the last eight years and some of these players have been living off these labels throughout their entire career. To be fair Wenger has done well bringing in the right players, but he’s failed to get the best out of these players by playing them out of position. Wenger has also failed to take the club as a whole to the next level. That’s the problem.

Tactically he’s stalled players development and you can make a firm argument that he’s ruined a few careers along the way. The likes of Nasri, Arshavin, and Walcott are players that like to penetrate through the middle of the pitch, and excel as a free number 10 or deep-lying role in the midfield.

It leaves one to believe Wenger buys players that he likes rather than ones that would fit his system. The wingers in Wenger’s system are made to stay wide and hug the touch-line as a natural winger such as Antonio Valencia, Angel Di Maria and Gareth Bale do. Which leaves us to ask why did Wenger prefer to purchase these players and stick them on the flank rather than actually buy natural wingers?

These players that have played on the wing over the years aren’t natural wingers and if stuck on the wing would prefer to play as an inverted winger; the problem is this has caused these players to be caught out of position numerous times and cause little to no threat going forward in big games.

Over the years we’ve seen his top players leave the club, but he has failed to find players of their class to fill their void. To make matters worse, he still implements them into the same system regardless if they fit or not. This leads to a drop in quality but also pushes the progression of the team back.

A prime example is Mikel Arteta who joined Arsenal last summer in what most will call an “emergency buy” to replace Cesc Fabregas. Arteta operates deeper in the midfield, whereas Fabregas prefers to be in an advanced role closer to the striker, which is a key reason why Van Persie saw a lack of quality service compared to recent seasons.

Another example is Alex Song, the Arsenal holding midfielder has to fill the boots of Petit, Vieira, Gilberto and Flamini. These were commanding midfielders that possessed tactical discipline, and also held the midfield together. Song, like many Arsenal players are good footballers and he built a great partnership with Arteta this season. Going forward in attack he has excelled, notably setting up Van Persie numerous times this season, but his defensive duties has been one of his few flaws.

Against the elite in England and Europe he tends to lose possession easily when pressure is applied and he tends to be caught out of position often. Players are able to drop in the hole far too easily which allows the opposition to cause a threat in their final third. The likes of Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have exposed his defensive flaws this season.

Arsenals frailties at the back are still the same, they’ve been poor when defending set pieces and have failed to find a legitimate replacement for Jens Lehmann. The fitness of Vermelean and Sagna has been a blow, but due to these injuries we’ve seen the rise of Laurent Koscielny this season.

Unfortunately, the rest of the defenders in the side have proved they’re not good enough and that is down to Wenger’s training and his ability to find class defenders. A solid defensive unit is what leads teams to titles, we see this in Mourinho, Guardiola and most recently Conte’s Juventus team this year. Arsenal’s defence has weakened over the years and there is only one man who you can be held responsible for this.

Now the real question is who do you blame for this era of mediocrity? Most of the blame is rightfully put on Wenger, but have you ever thought the fans can also be held for the slow demise of Arsenal FC. The club is financially stable and from a business stand point they’re successful, but this is a football club that should be filled with supporters that desire and demand silverware.

Some might feel it’s unfair to attack the fans as they don’t play the game, but they have a part to play as well. Arsenal used to be a legitimate title contender, but in the last decade they seem to be playing to qualify for Champions League football. Their fans seem content with this, which is an absolute shame.

Managers in today’s game are fired for finishing second, some even for claiming a league title, but Wenger has always found a way to keep his job. In the last eight seasons, apart from finishing third twice, Arsenal have finished fourth six times in the past eight years.

At any other club Wenger would’ve lost his job, but Arsenal fans have kept faith in a man who once possessed a team that struck fear in the hearts of teams around England. If Arsenal fans are content with third or fourth place every year and a Champions League spot then one can understand the situation, but this is a club that demands silverware and if these fans really cared about this club they would be demanding change.

Wenger appeared a genius when he was Manchester United’s only competition for the Premier League, however as time passed players began to leave, those players weren’t properly replaced and the new players are less imposing. Whether its financial reasons or a change in the club philosophy, Arsenal has slowly become a legitimate contender for Champions League spots, whereas Manchester City and Chelsea have surpassed them and rivals Newcastle and Tottenham are fairly close.

It’s quite scary for Arsenal fans that in an eight year span their team has taken massive steps backwards. It’s fair to say that majority of the blame should be put on Wenger. A manager’s job is to find the right mix of players, implement a winning system that fits his team well, be able to adjust to different tactics, motivate his players, have his players believe in his philosophy and get the best out of them.

During this era, he has failed to meet these requirements and it leaves one to believe that it’s certainly time for change. It doesn’t matter if Wenger is fired or he steps down, but the Arsenal board need to address this issue immediately. He can certainly take up a role behind the scenes or higher up in management but the longer he stays as manager the worst it can get for Arsenal.

What’s certain is that Wenger has endured his highs and lows during his tenure, but is it possible that he’s the cancer in the progression of Arsenal Football Club? As memorable and historic as his recent successes have been, you have to ask yourself one question, is Arsene Wenger still capable of taking Arsenal Football Club to an elite level ?

Tyrrell Meertins

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2012 in EPL

 

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