Premier league review, weeks 3 and 4: Madchester far from insane
One month in and the season is proving the most unforgiving in recent memory. Arsenal’s 8 – 2 loss and Chelsea’s stuttering start exemplify how, this term, prevarication is being punished whilst decisive strategy bears reward.
For Wenger, his failure to add depth and experience came home to roost. The claim that injuries stripped Arsenal of a competitive first eleven was alarming rather than comforting. In all, there were six players 22 or younger in the Arsenal team. The average age of Manchester United’s side was, in fact, younger but they had considerably more experience. However, debutising 20 year old Francis Coquelin against the Champions due to a mere 2 midfield injuries and the suspension of Frimpong, served to expose Arsene’s blighted outlook. Why loan the comparative veteran Denilson without finding an adequate replacement? A similar fate befell the defensive unit, 19 year old Cark Jenkinson deemed appropriate cover for Sagna, despite playing non-league football only 6 months ago. Further, the inconsistent central pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou remained the only alternatives to replace the injury ravaged Thomas Vermaalen. The most visible symbol of the squad’s inadequacy, aside from the scoreline, was the substitutes’ bench: the collective worth of Ignasi Miquel, Gilles Sunu, Oguzhan Ozyakup, Henri Lansbury, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Marouane Chamakh incomparable to Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, Ji-Sung Park, Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez. Yet, most unforgivable were the performances of the experienced players, namely Arshavin and Rosicky, who offered little in the way of desire, confidence and belief, leaving Robin van Persie to fight an unwinnable battle. The extent of the damage proved siesmic enough to jolt Wenger into the transfer market, causing a flurry of last minute activity involving the capture of Per Mertesacker, Mikel Arteta and the loan signing of Chelsea’s forgotten man, Yossi Benayoun. The new trio all played their part against Swansea, an understandably nervy affair, but one providing the Gunners with a crucial first victory – a watershed moment for the post-Fabregas era. Still, one can’t help but feel this transfer window became an opportunity missed. There must have been a time, long before the window closed, where it was clear Fabregas and Nasri would be leaving. At this point, locating adequate replacements should have been a priority. In short, Arsenal must shoulder significant blame for the desperate situation that developed. Similarly, Chelsea, who spent all summer confidently chasing Tottenham star Luka Modric, found themselves scrambling to sign 28 year old Raul Merieles after Daniel Levy held firm. Admittedly, he is by no means a bad player, as emphasised by his fantastic assist for Sturridge’s audacious winning goal against Sunderland, but he is hardly the injection of youth and creativity initially envisaged, or required, in central midfield.
Indeed, the recent comments by Torres about Chelsea’s ageing players, unable to offer ‘paced and vertical football’, are indicative of the new brutal reality facing clubs so accustomed to dominance. This shift has undoubtedly been accelerated by the scintillating form of the Manchester clubs, who have come out the blocks flying. My first week doubts about City’s team chemistry have been invalidated by some fantastic flowing football. It says everything about the present strength of the City squad that they could leave rest Dzeko, the season’s most potent striker behind Rooney, only for Ageuro to take his place and execute a fine hat-trick against Wigan. Silva remains the driving force and creative hub, now partnered by the equally impressive Nasri, but it has been the dynamism from defence to attack that has taken City to the next level. At present, the only team comparable are Manchester United with Ferguson’s youthful revolution showing no signs of stagnation as Bolton were demolished 5 – 0. United have scored 15 goals in their three opening fixtures and the return of Hernandez to competitive action will only make them more dangerous. This weekend should offer a clearer indication of how many contenders are in the title race as United face Chelsea. Another interesting fixture will be Liverpool against Tottenham, both sides are capable of reaching the top four but have so far lacked the required consistency. Despite having started the season strongly, the Merseysiders succumbed to Stoke’s early penalty after failing to convert on numerous occasions – Henderson most notable, firing straight at the keeper after being sent clean through. Nonetheless, Downing continued his recent excellent form and the club remains in an immeasurably better position than this time last year; stable off the pitch and competitive on it. Conversely, Tottenham found the weekend far more fruitful, producing a 2 – 0 win in which Adebayor and Parker combined to immediate effect.
Elsewhere, Aston Villa and Everton played out an eventful 2 -2 draw, full of contentious refereeing decisions which could have swung the game decisively for either side. Ultimately though, both managers can be happy with what they saw. Moyes will be especially encouraged considering the off-field problems and the sale of Arteta. In spite of the financial problems, some loan signings were managed; Drenthe, for instance, could be a fantastic prospect, but the team will need Cahill and Osman to remain fit to ensure some level of consistency and stability. At the bottom Fulham, Norwich and Blackburn remained frustrated, the latter two should be particularly worried: Norwich because they do not have the resources to compete and Blackburn because Steve Kean already appears a dead man walking.
In conclusion, the opening month has seen the rest of the league struggling to compete with Manchester, specifically United’s unrivalled long-term strategy as mentioned in week 1. City’s finances have allowed them to bypass many stages of this process but in the final analysis, what will define the following months is how both these team battle adversity and whether those below can take advantage.
Which team do you feel has made the best of the transfer window? Let me know who you think have been the best and worst buys and i’ll include them in my transfer review at the end of this weekend.