Wenger: Hanging on for Grim Death

Making his début for Pele Confidential, Rich Ward looks at what might lie ahead for the beleaguered Arsenal manager.

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Red cards, injuries, dropped points, bans, fines and players heading out the exit. For Arsène Wenger and his Arsenal team, it is proving a very ominous start to the new season – certainly not what Arsenal fans want to be seeing after six trophy-less years. However, even the most cynical among them would surely not have predicted the total humiliation they suffered at the hands of Manchester United.

Their worst drubbing since the 19th century strongly underlined the championship winning potential of the new-look United and, with Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea all finding their feet after transitional periods, Arsène Wenger is facing a difficult task just to get in to the Champions League qualifying spots, let alone win something.

This is a damning indictment of how far Arsenal’s stock has fallen in recent years and, surely, a clear sign that fresh insight is needed at the Emirates. While Wenger’s long time foe Alex Ferguson shows a remarkable ability to keep regenerating his side to win championships – mixing new blood with experience – Arsenal have seen early-noughties domination dissolve into end-of-decade stagnation.

The fans have been told to keep the faith by Cesc Fàbregas, but his words sound pretty hollow given that he has just jumped ship to Barcelona. However, his sentiments are echoed by Alex Ferguson – who has criticised the media for turning on Wenger – and pundits like Alan Hansen.

 Frankly though, compared to the “no trophies and you’re  out” policy of Roman Ambramovich at Chelsea, Wenger has  already been given a generous amount of time to improve  the situation – and the scramble for signatures on deadline  day certainly looked like the desperate moves of a man who  knows his time is nearly up.

While inbound players such as Mikel Arteta look good on  paper, if they don’t have an immediate and necessary impact following the international break, whatever the protestations from fellow professionals, the Frenchman will be saying au revoir to the Emirates.

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Premier League Round-Up 14/12/10

Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool , Premier League 28/11/2010 Heurelho Gomes of Tottenham celebrates his sides win 2-1 Photo Marc Atkins Fotosports International 07783 913 777 Photo via Newscom
Manchester United opened up an ominous-looking three-point gap at the top of the table, after they beat Arsenal and Chelsea could only draw at Tottenham.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side could develop a real gap between themselves and the chasing pack with victory at Stamford Bridge next week, and have a game in hand against Blackpool to boot.

Park Ji-Sung’s first-half header was enough to see off the challenge of Arsenal, who failed to hit their stride on a pitch described by Arsene Wenger as ‘very poor.’

Meanwhile, at White Hart Lane it looked as though hosts Spurs would be made to pay for their profligacy in front of goal as Didier Drogba’s shot beat Heurelho Gomes and the Brazilian keeper then felled Ramires in stoppage time to give away a penalty.

But Gomes made his name stopping spot-kicks, as Lyon found out to their chagrin in the 2005 Champions League, and he stopped Drogba’s effort to keep Tottenham in touch with the top four.

The fixture list provided a great opportunity for Manchester City to put themselves forward as genuine title contenders, and with their rivals facing off against each other Roberto Mancini’s side ended the weekend in third place.

Their lofty position comes courtesy of a comfortable 3-1 win at West Ham, with Yaya Toure continuing to slowly prove his worth in the North-West.

West Ham, meanwhile, remain bottom after that defeat and manager Avram Grant must surely feel his time is nearly up.

If the Hammers are to replace Grant, one man who might come in is Sam Allardyce. The Blackburn manager was the latest victim of a shock sacking as the club’s Indian owners felt defeat against 10-man Bolton was one loss too many.

Owen Coyle’s Trotters continue to hold their own in the top six, with the team making light of Mark Davies’ dismissal to see off their opponents 2-1.

Fabrice Muamba and Stuart Holden scored the goals, either side of a Mame Biram Diouf effort, to leave Coyle’s side five points and seven places ahead of their managerless victims.

Speaking of managerial changes, this week’s incumbent of the St James’ Park hot seat – Alan Pardew – earned himself a stay of execution (only joking) with victory over Liverpool in his first game as Newcastle manager.

Joey Barton almost managed not to rise to fairly blatant Liverpool attempts to wind him up, and actually let his football do the talking, while Andy Carroll’s clinching goal in the 3-1 win will be the kind of thing he falls back on in a few years when his career inevitably goes the way of former North-East darling Michael Bridges.

Aston Villa/West Bromwich Albion Premiership 11.12.10 Photo: Tim Parker Fotosports International Gerard Houllier manager Aston Villa during the game Photo via Newscom

Another boss who remains under pressure – if reports are to be believed – is Aston Villa’s Gerard Houllier, and that will make his side’s victory over West Brom on Saturday all the more important.

The 2-1 triumph came courtesy of goals from Stewart Downing and Emile Heskey, while Paul Scharner’s consolation did little apart from costing me a handful of fantasy league points.

Albion’s Black Country rivals Wolves secured a priceless victory in the second Midlands derby of the weekend, with Stephen Hunt’s second goal in black and gold (the black and gold of Wolves, that is, rather than the black and gold of previous club Hull) enough to see off a painfully disappointing Birmingham outfit.

The only other goal of the weekend came at the Britannia Stadium, where Blackpool continued to confound their doubters with victory over Stoke.

DJ Campbell was the hero for Ian Holloway’s Seasiders, as he has been many times in the past, although the visitors had the woodwork to thank for keeping out Stoke on multiple occasions.

Few could have predicted ‘Pool sitting four points ahead of Everton at this stage in the campaign, but that is exactly where they are after the Toffees failed to break the deadlock at home to Wigan.

David Moyes side missed the creative energy of Mikel Arteta, and fans will hope American international Landon Donovan returns in January for a second loan spell after impressing last season.

The final game of the week was played at Craven Cottage, and involved Fulham and Sunderland.

That’s about as much as I can tell you: I was at the game, and nothing actually happened over the course of the 90 minutes. The ‘highlight’ (if it can be called that) was Ahmed Elmohamady curling into a foetal position after a football-in-the-groin moment which puts Hans Moleman to shame.

Team of the week (4-2-3-1) Foster (Birmingham); Ricketts (Bolton), Vidic (Man Utd), Cuellar (Aston Villa), Ward (Wolves); Yaya Toure (Man City), Barton (Newcastle); Ashley Young (Aston Villa), Vaughan (Blackpool), Holden (Bolton); Campbell (Blackpool)

Premier League Round-Up 22/11/10

Arsenal v Newcastle United, Premier League 7/11/2010 Arsenal Manager, Arsene Wenger clasps his hands to his face as the fourth official shows four minutes of injury time  Photo Marc Atkins Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

When summing up this week’s Premier League programme there is only one place to start.

Not that long ago it looked as though Arsenal had banished the fragility which has plagued them in previous seasons, but their capitulation at home to Spurs suggested nothing has really changed.

Credit to Harry Redknapp for inspiring the second-half comeback which earned Spurs a first win at the home of their fiercest rivals in 17 years, but the game was really about Arsenal snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

They should have been home and dry by half-time but – in scenes reminiscent of their visit to Wigan’s DW Stadium last season – once the fightback begun there was no sign of the Gunners arresting their slide towards defeat.

One team without such fragility issues is Bolton, and Owen Coyle’s side continued their march up the table with a crushing 5-1 win over Newcastle.

Neither Johan Elmander nor Kevin Davies has been particularly prolific while ploughing a lone furrow at the Reebok, yet by bringing the duo together Coyle has formed one of the most dangerous strike partnerships in the league.

Both struck twice on Saturday, with Chung-Yong Lee – one of the most underrated players in the top-flight – getting the other goal for the Trotters. Andy Carroll’s eighth of the season gave the visitors a glimmer of hope but ultimately proved academic.

Just as impressive was Manchester City’s 4-1 win at Fulham. Roberto Mancini’s side have received their fair share of criticism for negative displays but attack was the order of the day, with even the much-maligned Yaya Toure breaking forward to get on the scoresheet.

Mark Hughes’ side, on the other hand, will be nervously looking over their shoulders after the early-season unbeaten run is now starting to look like, well, just loads of draws.

Fulham are now just one place above the relegation zone, thanks in no small part to Birmingham’s surprise win over Chelsea.

While Lee Bowyer scored the goal, taking advantage of a centre-back in Alex whose pain-killing injection seemingly had side-effects of drowsiness, the star of the show was Ben Foster.

After his unconvincing display for England on Wednesday, Foster proved he is still a viable contender for the national side by keeping out everything Chelsea threw at him and earning his sixth clean sheet of the campaign.

As Birmingham are on the up, their west midlands neighbours are all heading in the opposite direction after defeats this weekend.

Aston Villa, missing several key players, were nonetheless outclassed by a Blackburn side comfortable from the moment Morten Gamst Pedersen put them into a first-half lead on Sunday.

The spirit remained from last week’s draw against Manchester United, but Gerard Houllier’s side lacked a cutting edge in the absence of Marc Albrighton.

That result leaves Villa a point ahead of West Brom, who are in freefall with one point from four games.

West Bromwich Albion/Stoke City Premiership 20.11.10 Photo: Tim Parker Fotosports International John Walters Stoke City celebrates 2nd goal with team mates Photo via Newscom

Stoke were the beneficiaries of some generous defending this time around, Jon Walters adding to Matty Etherington’s penalty with a second-half brace in the Potters’ biggest away win since their return to the Premier League.

But the situation remains far from desperate for the Baggies, which is more than can be said for local rivals Wolves.

A fourth successive defeat leaves them on a paltry nine points, although any side would have been hard-pressed to respond to the opening goal from Blackpool’s Luke Varney.

Varney’s effort, a volley from way out which arced over a helpless Marcus Hahnemann, conjured up memories of Hugo Rodallega’s goal of the season contender last year.

On the subject of Rodallega, the Colombian striker did not enjoy quite as fruitful an afternoon at Old Trafford on Saturday.

A two-footed lunge saw him sent off, after team-mate Antolin Alcaraz had seen red just minutes earlier, and Manchester United’s margin of victory could have been far greater than 2-0.

Defeat for Wigan saw them slip into the bottom three, where they have Wolves and West Ham for company.

Saturday’s defeat at Anfield was comfortably the Hammers’ worst performance of the season, which is really saying something given their record of seven defeats and just one win in their opening 14 games.

Liverpool barely needed to break a sweat, racing into a three-goal lead before half-time, and one gets the feeling they could have not turned up for the second half and still scored a couple more without reply, had they so wished.

Monday night’s game was one of the most exciting since Richard Keys returned to out screens on a weeknight, Everton and Sunderland sharing the spoils in a pulsating 2-2 draw.

Danny Welbeck made up for the absence of Asamoah Gyan by scoring both goals for the Black Cats, sandwiched between efforts from Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta.

But both sides missed golden chances to win the game in stoppage time: first Welbeck snatched at his shot when well-placed, then Everton substitute Jermaine Beckford prodded wastefully over after being put clean through on goal.

Team of the week (4-4-2): Foster (Birmingham); Eardley (Blackpool), Gallas (Tottenham), Johnson (Birmingham), Evra (Man Utd); Holden (Bolton), Meireles (Liverpool), Pedersen (Blackburn), Silva (Man City); Tevez (Man City), Elmander (Bolton)

Premier League Round-Up 18/10/10

This week we had to wait until Sunday for the pick of the games, with Manchester City’s 3-2 win at Blackpool one of the early highlights of an at-times-underwhelming season.

The game was already exciting enough by the time a seemingly-offside Carlos Tevez flicked past Matt Gilks in the ‘Pool goal, but after that it really began to catch fire.

Marlon Harewood glanced in an equaliser before a fortunate deflection helped Tevez get his second, and David Silva’s curler sealed the points before a late consolation from Gary Taylor-Fletcher.

Roberto Mancini will be happy with his side’s attacking intent after switching to a 4-4-2 formation, but the centre-back pairing of Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott looked suspect as the hosts created plenty of presentable chances.

City’s local rivals Manchester United squandered a comfortable lead for the umpteenth time this season after Javier Hernandez and Nani had put them 2-0 up at home to West Brom before half time.

Somen Tchoyi

First Chris Brunt’s free-kick went through a paper-thin wall and deflected in of Patrice Evra, and then a howler from Edwin van der Sar allowed Somen Tchoyi to grab his first goal in Baggies colours.

While the draw was the result of individual errors, the United of old would not have surrendered leads on so many occasions.

Both United and City will be thankful that Chelsea failed to extend their lead at the top, although it was not for want of trying.

Branislav Ivanovic and Nicolas Anelka both hit the woodwork as Carlo Ancelotti’s side knocked at the Aston Villa door to no avail.

At the other end the Blues were grateful for some profligacy in front of goal from Gerard Houllier’s men, with Stephen Ireland and Nigel Reo-Coker failing to test Petr Cech when given a good sight of goal.

After their recent struggles, Arsenal got back to winning ways at home to Birmingham, although the visitors made it difficult for them.

Nikola Zigic gave the Blues a first-half lead after Alex McLeish’s men rode an early Arsenal storm, although a disputed penalty – converted by Samir Nasri – brought the hosts level.

Marouane Chamakh, the man felled by Scott Dann for the penalty in question, finally made the breakthrough just after the break, and they had chances to extend their lead before a red card for Jack Wilshere meant the game ended on a sour note.

Another player who saw red late on was Bolton’s Ivan Klasnic, who followed his late winner for Bolton against Stoke with two even later bookings.

Rory Delap

Lee Chung-Yong’s classy opener was cancelled out by a rare goal from Rory Delap before Klasnic’s volley on the turn earned Bolton all three points.

Tottenham remained in touch with the top four after a contentious winner helped them see off the spirited challenge of Fulham.

Diomansy Kamara gave Fulham an early lead, but the Senegalese striker also missed a host of chances and Spurs were allowed back into the game when Roman Pavlyuchenko tapped home after Rafael van der Vaart’s deft chip came back off the bar.

Tom Huddlestone’s low 20-yard strike clinched victory for Tottenham, with Fulham claiming William Gallas was offside despite the Frenchman making no contact with the shot.

The four sides occupying the bottom four places faced off this weekend, but Everton are the only ones who can be completely happy with their afternoon’s work.

David Moyes’ men saw off a tame Liverpool side with surprisingly little resistance, Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta with the goals in the Toffees’ most comfortable game this season.

Even with Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Joe Cole in the starting line-up, Liverpool barely posed a threat in attack as they slipped to 19th in the table.

The only side below them are West Ham, who will blame referee Mark Clattenburg for wrongly disallowing what should have been a late winner from Frederic Piquionne.

Mark Noble earlier cancelled out Matt Jarvis’ opener from the penalty spot, before Piquionne was wrongly adjudged to have handled en route to slotting past Marcus Hahnemann.

Fabricio Coloccini

Fabricio Coloccini’s first ever Premier League goal helped Newcastle come from behind to draw with Wigan, in a game where Charles N’Zogbia came back to wreak revenge on his former club.

The French winger put the Latics 2-0 up inside the first 25 minutes with a couple of well-taken goals, but Shola Ameobi bundled the ball in to give Newcastle hope with 18 minutes remaining.

Then, deep into stoppage time, Andy Carroll headed a Jonas Gutierrez goalwards and Coloccini stooped to nod past Ali Al-Habsi and level the scores.

The Monday night game between Blackburn and Sunderland was a drab affair, perhaps made even less of a spectacle by a red card for Christopher Samba right on half-time.

Blackburn’s Congolese centre-back saw red for a professional foul on Danny Welbeck, but a tired-looking Sunderland side failed to capitalise on their one-man advantage.

The best chances of the game fell to Darren Bent, rushed back after injury kept him out of England’s draw with Montenegro and still looking short of fitness.

Team of the week (4-2-3-1)

Cech (Chelsea); Coleman (Everton), Cahill (Bolton), Distin (Everton), Assou-Ekotto (Tottenham); Stilyan Petrov (Aston Villa), Barton (Newcastle) van der Vaart (Tottenham), N’Zogbia (Wigan), Holden (Bolton); Zigic (Birmingham)

Premier League Round-up 13/09/2010

This weekend showed once again why the Premier League is so popular, with one of the most thrilling encounters of recent years being played out at Goodison Park.

Manchester United were without Wayne Rooney for the trip to Everton, but – whatever Henry Winter tells you – his absence did not lessen their capacity to win the game. Dimitar Berbatov led the line well and scored the third goal which seemingly clinched victory for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, but Leighton Baines’ crosses caused havoc in the United box, allowing the hosts to score two injury-time goals and salvage a remarkable 3-3 draw.

Ferguson – who later saw his son’s team Preston throw away a similar lead to lose 4-3 at Burnley – must be concerned at his side’s failure to close out games, and he might begin to question the concentration of stand-in defenders Gary Neville and Jonny Evans. While the two are at opposite ends of their respective careers, they are perhaps equidistant from the pinnacle of their abilities.

Michael Essien

United’s late collapse allowed Chelsea to move four points clear at the top of the table with a comfortable 3-1 win against West Ham. Early goals from Michael Essien and Salomon Kalou meant the champions barely had to break sweat, as they sat back and allowed their hosts plenty of possession.

It is difficult to judge Chelsea’s start to the season based on the opposition they have faced so far, but you can only beat what is placed in front of you – something Manchester United have failed to do twice now.

While their rivals continue to hog the headlines, Arsenal are going about their business quietly yet effectively. The odd defensive hiccup remained in their 4-1 victory over Bolton, but Arsene Wenger’s side adjusted well to the loss of Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie.

The scoreline was harsh on a Bolton side very much in the game until the laughable dismissal of Gary Cahill, but Owen Coyle’s side needed to capitalise more on their concerted spells of possession and take the chances presented to them. If you don’t do that, Arsenal will punish you.

The ‘big three’ were joined in the top four by Blackpool, who continued their fairytale start to the season with a surprisingly-comfortable 2-0 win at Newcastle’s St James Park.

Ian Holloway’s men were reliant on goalkeeper Matt Gilks to preserve the lead given to them by Charlie Adam’s first-half penalty, before DJ Campbell sealed the win in stoppage time. Toon Army manager Chris Hughton may be regretting his decision to leave new signing Hatem ben Arfa on the bench, with the midfield trio of Nolan, Smith and Barton failing to provide the necessary creative spark.

Elsewhere Fulham saw off a spirited but indisciplined Wolves outfit at Craven Cottage, in a game which will be remembered for a distressing injury suffered by Bobby Zamora. The England man’s leg snapped under a challenge from Karl Henry, bringing back memories of former Arsenal striker Eduardo’s horrific break in January 2008.

Moussa Dembele

But unlike Arsenal on that fateful day, Fulham were spurred on to record a hard-fought win, Moussa Dembele’s double placating Mark Hughes’ misery somewhat. His opposite number Mick McCarthy, meanwhile, will be concerned that Christophe Berra’s late red card is one of three which could have realistically been awarded against his side.

Another player to see red on Saturday was Sunderland captain Lee Cattermole, who did not even last half an hour against former club Wigan. Two yellow cards in the space of five minutes brought an early end to the combative midfielder’s afternoon for the second time this season.

£13m man Asamoah Gyan still came close to securing an unlikely three points for the 10 men of Sunderland, but his well-taken volley was cancelled out by an instinctive finish from Antolin Alcaraz, who turned in Tom Cleverley’s wayward shot for his first goal in Wigan colours.

1-1 seemed to be the scoreline of the weekend, with Manchester City’s tie against Blackburn and Tottenham’s trip to West Brom both ending in the same scoreline.

City will rue defensive errors and attacking complacency, as they made a meal of coming back into the game after Joe Hart gifted the opener to Nikola Kalinic. Roberto Mancini’s men had 20 shots on goal to Blackburn’s 4, but could not find a way past a determined Rovers back-line.

Chris Brunt

And Spurs were similarly guilty of gifting a goal to their opponents, with a static defence failing to respond when Marc-Antoine Fortune’s shot looped up and spun towards the back post, allowing Chris Brunt to equalise with a rare headed goal from all of a yard out.

Sunday’s televised game was not one for the purists, with Birmingham and Liverpool playing out a dull goalless draw. The hosts had the better chances, but Pepe Reina was equal to everything thrown at him by the Blues, while at the other end an uncharacteristically-negative selection from Roy Hodgson left Fernando Torres feeding off scraps for the most part.

Team of the week (4-2-3-1)*:

Reina (Liverpool); Kaboul (Tottenham), Jones (Blackburn), Dann (Birmingham), Cole (Chelsea); Song (Arsenal), Scharner (West Brom); Arteta (Everton), Fabregas (Arsenal), Adam (Blackpool); Berbatov (Man Utd)

*Team selected ahead of Monday night game between Aston Villa and Stoke

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