Game Of The Weekend
Arsenal found themselves the big winners this week as they held on for three points against Swansea whilst both Spurs and Man City spluttered unexpectedly. As far as games for the neutral go, this was real juicy stuff with a full house of good, bad and downright ugly action.
Theo Walcott continued his domestic hot-streak with a couple of (fairly mangy) goals stabbed home from a combined distance of about 10 inches out, after various Swansea players failed spectacularly to clear their lines from within the six-yard box.
Granit Xhaka, keen to show he’s more than just a bruising red card machine, decided to dribble past Gylfi Sigurdsson 25 yards from goal. One cack touch later, however, and he’d handed the ball to easily the league’s most competent shooter from range, who beat Petr Cech no chance with a lethal curling effort.
Shortly after the break Arsenal finally netted a goal worthy of their reputation as esteemed fancy Dan’s. Santi Cazorla whipped a delightfully nonchalant ball out wide to Walcott who fed back inside to Alexis. The Chilean was afforded enough time to idly finish the Telegraph kakuro before looking up and picking out Mesut Özil at the back stick with a dream of a dig. Having sprung the offside trap the German proceeded to lump the bastard into the roof of the net with outrageous aplomb on the volley. Hands down the best shin-job since Rooney’s overhead kick against City.
3 points all sorted then? This is Arsenal remember dear boy and they proceeded to set up a juicy final 25 minutes in fairly inexplicable fashion as some incredibly lax defending saw Swansea’s record signing Borja net. Modou Barrow, who had Nacho Monreal on toast all afternoon long, got to the byline and squared to find the forward who neither Shkodran Mustafi or Laurent Koscielny fancied picking up despite him lurking in plain sight, 7 yards out in the middle of the goal.
Part one of Operation Bungle was soon followed by a vintage second act as Xhaka topped off his miserable afternoon with a red card having committed wholeheartedly to the idea of getting a yellow one. Barrow was about to embark on another drive at Monreal when the Swiss international decided that the half way line was a suitable place to stop all that nonsense with a well timed ankle clip. Cut referee John Moss, however, and he bleeds the beautiful game. This slice of undeniably calculated, but utterly run of the mill, cynicism clearly got right up his nose and the Arsenal man was issued his marching orders.
This sparked a thrilling final quarter where both sides had umpteen chances but no one was able to finish their dinner when played on goal. Walcott was particularly guilty in this respect as he managed to somehow disappoint despite netting a match winning brace. On that front you simply cannot fault his consistency.
Whilst they’ve not had the trickiest of starts, Arsenal, bar the aberration against Liverpool on the opening day, have looked pretty impressive – a definite improvement on last year’s squad.
With Sunderland and Middlesbrough to come next in the league, plus a double header against their weakest Champions League opponents Ludogorets, there is real chance for the Gunners to build up a bullish head of steam going into November’s crunch North London Derby.
Result Of The Weekend
West Ham’s grubby win at a resurgent Palace (5 unbeaten in the league) was a massive result, one that no doubt released great plumes of hissing steam from Slaven Bilić’s ears upon the final whistle.
In fact, the charismatic Croat deserves plenty of credit for the result after he bravely opted for a 3-4-3, a shape that had failed earlier in the season no less, in a bid to turn around his side’s fortunes. The took the lead in the 20th minute with a fine goal that saw Dimi Payet and Aaron Cresswell combine smartly down the right before the wingback fizzed over a low cross that Manuel Lanzini delicately carved into the far corner.
Angelo Ogbona afforded Palace an opportunity from the spot on the stroke of half time with a lunge in the box that displayed all the special awareness of a man absolutely leathered on horse tranquilisers. Fortunately for him, red hot Christian Benteke confidently strolled up and stylishly parked the ball high and wide into the Whitehorse Lane Stand.
The game’s major turning point however came midway through the second half. Having erroneously just booked West Ham’s left wing back for a dive in the area, when he was clearly rapped around the shins, Martin Atkinson then produced a second yellow, 55 seconds later for an utterly inconsequential brushing of Cresswell’s hand with Wilf Zaha.
The Eagles huffed and puffed but West Ham held firm to record their first away win of any kind since April and catapult themselves out of the bottom three.
Honourable mentions – Begrudgingly doffing a cap to Everton (9 times out of 10 that game ends 3-1 to City like…) for their hard earned point at the Etihad. Oh and Stoke. For finally remembering they’re not terrible.
Chap Of Steel
As Bournemouth took Hull City on an extended tour of the whup-ass canning plant this weekend, Junior Stanislas deserves the title of chief guide. The former West Ham man had a hand in four of the Cherries’ six goals in a display that ought to give Andrew Robertson nightmares for months to come.
Stanislas kicked things off by thumping a deluxe free kick off the frame of the goal from 25 yards, giving Charlie Daniels the chance to rattle home the rebound for the lead. His prowess with a dead ball again saw his side side claim the lead, this time as Simon Cook leapt highest to nut home a devilish free kick delivery from a good 45 yards out.
A cool spot kick extended his side’s lead on the stroke of half time before he later made it four, clinically converting at the back stick after Josh King had found Hull’s defence to be flimsier than your Mam’s understanding of Harambe gags.
In Stanislas, Ibe, Wilshere and Wilson, Bournemouth slotted six goals with an entirely English attack – and a young one at that. A better hack than myself would go away and work out when the last time that happened was. Due to deadlines and the like I’m going to make an educated guess of ‘it has been a good few years’.
Honourable mentions – Martin Stekelenburg’s outrageous display at Man City, making 7 dashing saves, including two from the penalty spot, deserves a hearty round of applause. Fellow glovesman Ben Foster also earned his side a point over at West Brom with a similarly obdurate showing against Spurs.
Finally, Joe Allen. A man in real danger of tarnishing his cult status by being a bit too good.
Chump Of The Weekend
Aitor Karanka was quick to bemoan Watford’s timewasting tactics yesterday as his side slumped to a 7th game without a win and a 4th loss in five, yet the Spaniard would do well to look a little closer to home with his finger pointing.
The problem is clear for all to see. Despite a very respectable goals against column (just 11 conceded), Boro have the 2nd worst attack in the division, netting just 7 times in 8 games. Only Burnley manage fewer shots per game than the Smoggies right now, something exacerbated by the fact that they’ve spent just 44 minutes this season with two centre forwards on the pitch. ACCIDENTALLY WINNING GAMES ISN’T A THING IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE.
A student of Mourinho, Karanka’s risk averse approach worked well last season but it’s strangling his team’s chances this term in a league where chances are very rarely handed to you on a plate – goals must be earned.
Boro’s current 4-2-3-1 actually shows plenty of the hallmarks of Luis van Gaal’s nightmarish final days at Manchester United. Attacks built at a truly glacial rate amongst the back four with a chronic lack of pace throughout the side hampering any fanciful dreams of playing a counter attacking game.
As we have seen this weekend with victories for Chelsea and West Ham, there is a huge amount to be said for being pro-active and changing things in a bid to break out of a rut. Whilst Karanka’s refusal to experiment with his shape or tactics from the off is damming, his refusal to act when actually losing beggars belief. On Sunday with Alvaro Negredo enduring a stinking afternoon, it took the Spanish manager till the 88th minute to throw a second centre forward on. This was in a home game, against a deeply average Watford outfit who were not at the races in any way.
To quote the late, great Nigel Pearson, Mr Karanka, ‘you are an ostrich’.
Dishonourable mentions – Literally everyone at Hull is deserving of a mention here for their omnishambles at Bournemouth. Special shout out to Sunderland though. As if their 6th defeat in 8 games wasn’t depressing enough, fans had to endure the indignity of Paddy McNair floundering around at the base of the midfield for 55 minutes.
A measly 21 touches, 7 of which (33%) saw him lose possession, whilst chipping in with a lone tackle, 0 interceptions, 0 blocks and 0 blocks. Truly indomitable.
The only thing more depressing than those figures are the fact that when he was finally put out of his misery, 84-year-old Steven Pienaar was the man wheeled on in his place. Trying times on Wearside, indeed.
Goal Of The Weekend
Oooh mama, there was plenty to appreciate about Everton’s smash and grab effort at Man City. Phil Jagielka stopped conceding stone wall penalties for just long enough to make a fine, lunging interception in his own box before Brian Oviedo proceeded to mug Kevin De Bruyne off down by his own corner flag. A long ball up-field was then impudently flicked round the corner by Yannick Bolasie to find Romelu Lukaku roaming free on the half way line.
Faced with nothing but Gael Clichy between himself and the goal the Belgian brute simply shifted the ball to one side and cruised past him before slapping an unerring finish into the far corner. Thrilling stuff.
Honourable mentions – Jose Holebas’ swirling thriker mercilessly lit up Boro v Watford with a brief ray of quality.
Worst Goal Of The Weekend
I’ve been led to believe Charlie Austin’s opener against Burnley was something putrid but seeing as MOTD 2 wasn’t on last night, I haven’t got a flaming Scooby Doo what it looked like. In light of that scheduling shambles, I’m going to have to give it to Theo.Whilst Walcott’s first against Swansea was no oil painting, his second hummed to high heaven.
Ignoring the counter attacking finery that had led to the corner, the set piece was swung over and Jack Cork, marking Walcott, managed to fall over whilst letting the ball slide off his face. The loose ball rebounded back off the unwitting Sigurdsson for Walcott to lash home from three yards out. It was a goal so smelly Özil outright refused to celebrate it. I for one stand with him.
Assist Of The Weekend
Serial loanee Nathaniel Chalobah christened his second appearance in a Chelsea shirt with an outrageous slice of skill as he fed in Victor Moses for their third goal. Played into feet and with a defender rapidly closing in from behind, the versatile whippersnapper spun his man whilst simultaneously backheeling a reverse ball into Moses’ path for the Nigerian to slot first time.
Class Knobhead Of The Weekend
Here’s Ross Wallace enjoying a little windup during Sunday’s Yorkshire derby as Sheffield Wednesday picked the pockets of high flying rivals Huddersfield 0-1. What is he like?
Meanwhile in Australia…
National hero Tim Cahill has finally returned to his homeland to play league football, 19 years after he left to forge a career in England. It’s safe to say the wait was worth it…