First Impressions and Second Thoughts - Super Bowl Weekend

Wow, what a weekend for football of all varieties.  The kind with the round ball started things off with a shockingly interesting match between Stoke and Sunderland and just kept getting better (or at least more entertaining) from there.  Top it off with the oblong football and the final game of the season that was competitive until the very end.  Throw in a great 40th birthday party for one of our original blog readers and teammates from our respective playing days that included a bunch of old friends that we don't get to see nearly often enough.  Cheers to Art and Jen for putting on a great party.  As you might imagine, I was somewhat less excited about the party that NUFC sparked in a variety of quarters with their epic comeback.  OK, on to the review of the weekend that was in the Prem:

  • The Vincibles - A great result for so many reasons.  First and most important because a few of our loyal Live Chat participants will be thrilled with the outcome (Chris Jones' dog was probably happier than anyone else with the outcome. Second, because we can dispense with the possibility that this crappy-on-the-road team could be compared to the Arsenal Invincibles - they deserve to be leading but they aren't good enough to be talked about among the best teams of all time. Third, this was a great outcome because of the impact at the top and bottom of the table - the races are on across the board.  Finally, it was excellent because it lifted my mood incredibly after the early high of Arsenal's 4-0 lead and the stunning deflation of the NUFC comeback.  
  • The Chokers - What can you say? You can explain it (Djourou injury).  You can make excuses (questionable penalty call).  But in the end there should be no way that even 10 football players as talented as the ones Arsenal has should ever give up a four goal lead to a team featuring exactly zero players who keep managers awake at night.  It reminded me of the night last April that Lionel Messi shredded Arsenal in the Champions League seemingly by himself.  Except this time, Arsenal conspired to make a mediocre-at-best NUFC line-up LOOK like Messi.  Inexcusable.  
  • The Rich Kids - In this case, I mean Chelsea who either squandered their momentum or had theirs trumped by the even greater momentum that is the Liverpool Revival.  The line-up was too narrow.  The insistence on playing Anelka over Malouda (who would have provided some width) seems obvious enough that I wondered about it before kick-off (how could someone like Anceloti who is paid to do this not have seen that coming?).  Even with United's loss, you have to think this eliminated Chelsea from the title race.  If this signals a return to Chelsea's doldrums then you have to say that the race for 4th with Spurs is on in a big way now.
  • The New Rich Kids - Big weekend for Citeh who gained points on everyone in the top 5 except Spurs.  With the Manchester Derby coming up next, they have it all in front of them.  Still, I can't fight the feeling that with Mancini as the manager they will play it too cautious and at best tread water by splitting the points this coming weekend.  If they can do better than that, then expect me to be much more bullish about their chances coming down the stretch - especially with ManYoo still having to play @CHE, @LIV, CHE, and @ARS.
  • Liverpool Revival - So here's an interesting question since Super Bowl weekend is a great time for hyperbole.  Can Liverpool make it a race for 4th? My initial reaction was the obvious "no" especially since they have played on more match than Chelsea and Spurs.  They have two things going for them as they give it a go - first, they have great momentum and more talent on the way as Suarez and Carroll come into the mix and second, their only road match against a "big" team the rest of the way is at Arsenal in mid-April.  They have United, Citeh, and Spurs at Anfield down the stretch.  Could be interesting.  I'm not saying it WILL happen but I'm at least willing to entertain the notion which I wasn't willing to do as recently as yesterday morning.
  • Spurs - Not a great win but a much-needed one on a weekend that those above them couldn't parlay mediocre play into three points so definitely a good weekend.  That said, I'm much more interested in the following strategic conundrum: Given injuries, schedule congestion, and their current position in the table (tied on points with Chelsea for 4th and trailing on goal differential), should Spurs prioritize the league or their high-profile match-up with AC Milan? The "instant gratification" crowd would certainly love a big win against Milan but would you still want it if it cost you a chance at 4th place and next year's Champions League (and associated ability to attract top players and pay for them)?  Spurs supporters, I open the floor to you.
  • Wolves - Why can't they play like that against the mediocre teams of the league?  If Arsenal could focus like that against the best teams, they'd win the league every year.  
  • The Newly Promoted - The stunning nature of NUFC's point aside, it wasn't a good week for the newbies with only one point from three matches.  Especially bad for Blackpool who were ahead briefly on Adam's goal only to collapse again.  Not a good trend for fans of all three of these teams who have done a solid job of entertaining this season.
  • Meireles - Jeremy already put up the post of his goal but if the league named players of the half season, you'd have to say that he is at or near the top of the list for "Player of the Second Half of the Season" so far.  Just a stunning turn of events.
  • Carew - Not so much from a reality standpoint but from a fantasy standpoint he was a great bargain this weekend at under 2.00 with a goal and an assist.  In the real world, he and Jones also present a very Stoke battering-ram like front line.  Both are streaky goal-scorers.  Will be very interesting to see how things work out.
  • Sturridge - Will be interested to track how many goals he scores post-loan move versus how many Torres scores for Chelsea using the roster spot that Sturridge vacated.
  • Rio - Safe to say that he'd better not miss any/many more games if United want to win the title.  The defense is championship caliber if fully healthy.  The attack isn't good enough to do it alone if Evans is a regular. And as we've mentioned numerous times in this space, the midfield just isn't very good.
  • Saha/RvP - If only they could stay healthy for full seasons at a time, how different might things look for their respective clubs?  They certainly showed their quality this weekend.
  • Diaby - Would I be over-reacting too much to suggest that Wenger just release him from his contract immediately? There's just no excuse for letting your opponent back into a match that way.  I know he's had injury problems related to reckless tackles before but if you're going to be part of a championship team, you can't let the Joey Barton's of the world get under your skin.  You wait until the 89th minute and retaliate when no one is looking.  Maybe you get suspended after the fact but you don't cost your team two critical points.  If this was his first offense, then maybe I'd understand but I don't see the upside that justifies keeping him around.  If he were going to be the "next Vieira" or even the "next Yaya" then I think we'd have seen it by now.  Time for him to move on and Wenger to buy a real alternative to Song in the holding midfield role.
  • Kelly/Walker - Coming on strong as fantasy options at the back in the second half of the season. Hopefully, you got one or both before their prices went up.  Always nice to have relatively inexpensive options at the back who tend to go forward a lot.
  • Szczesny - A four goal collapse that really can't be laid at the feet of the Arsenal keeper, hard to imagine but true. The bigger question is what his value is if Djourou is sidelined.  The match-ups aren't TOO daunting but if both Song and Djourou are out, he could look more like the -4 guy from this weekend even if he plays well personally.


  1. Chris Jones5:11 PM

    Good stuff Neal; Joey the Dog was cheering as loud as I was at the final whistle! CJ.

  2. Anonymous7:39 PM

    It was indeed a game of two halves. In the first, Newcastle showed that they couldn't play Association Football. In the second, Arse showed that they can't play Rugby Football. The officials proved that they can't enforce the rules for either. It is interesting that a report out of France is claiming a heavy betting pattern, mid-game, and is blaming Arse for throwing the game. Given two dodgy penalties, two disallowed goals, and Newcastle finishing the match with all eleven players, perhaps they are pointing the finger in the wrong direction. Oh, well. To paraphrase; it was magnificent entertainment but it was not football.

  3. Anonymous12:59 AM

    Absolutely right about Diaby. For someone who rarely gets a start, he sure let his team down last week and his contributions even when fit are marginal. Koscielny was poor as well. Wenger needs a couple of solid acquisitions to strengthen the spine of the team from central defense to holding midfield. The naivety of the squad is too painful to watch sometimes..

  4. @ Anon 7.39PM: well one goal disallowed incorrectly was for newcastle, which sort of ruins your argument (and RVP was offside for his, incredible finish tho). I only wonder whether the officials were aware that they had incorrectly ruled out a goal incorrectly when deciding the 2nd penalty, cos that was the softest penalty I have ever seen. As for Newcastle finishing with eleven players...they managed it against spurs too, and Tiote made 5 (no exaggeration) clear yellow card fouls in the first half.

  5. Anonymous10:49 AM

    @josh: Merely suggesting that the French report was wrong in claiming that Arsenal 'threw' the game. If you are Arsenal you have to believe that "just because we are paranoid doesn't 'They' aren't picking on us". It is very well to castigate Diaby for "letting his team down" - which he undoubtedly did - but it was not solely his conduct that brought about the result. What would have been written about Nolan if he had squandered the advantage and had been sent of - as he so justly deserved? What would have been written about Diaby under the same circumstances? What separates Diaby's performance from that of Barton, Nolan, Dowd or Massey is that he is the only one held to account.... As far as the officials are concerned; never attribute to malice what can equally be explained by incompetence. You're right - if they were attempting to stage manage the outcome they nearly screwed that up too. If you want to start a conspiracy - Mr. Dowd has refereed four Arsenal games this season and Arsenal has not won any of them. (You heard it here first.) ;~)

  6. Can't teams refuse particular referees????

    I've never ever been so upset with a football result as I was last Saturday. As an Arsenal fan I'm usually ready for anything... BUT to be 4 goals up into the 68th minute AND lose all your advantage is unthinkable for a side that was challenging for the EPL title - Mr. Stupid Dowd or not...