TROUBLE IN NORTH LONDON: ARSENAL, SPURS STUMBLING
In the pouring rain in South Wales on Sunday, Arsenal suffered their second defeat of the season in damaging fashion following Swansea’s late comeback.
Arsene Wenger’s men took the lead through Alexis Sanchez in the 63rd minute, their one bright spark for much of this season, but late goals from Gylfi Sigurdsson and Bafetimbi Gomis gave the Swans a famous win as the Gunners were stunned for the second time in a week after more sloppy defending has cost them dear. After 11 games of the Premier League season the Gunners have now won just four times and the North Londoners are looking shaky at the back and lightweight in midfield. I know what you’re thinking: ‘Tell me something I don’t know.’ Or words to that effect.
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The fact that Arsenal are so woefully short of options in defense is not only down to a spate of injuries at the start of this season. Wenger’s inability to add more defenders in the summer transfer window has come back to haunt him and his entire team just aren’t willing to dig in and do the dirty things needed to grind out wins. That mentality issue that the two Robbie’s and Rebecca touched on in the video above is the biggest concern. Not matter what personnel Wenger buys or doesn’t buy, the way the Gunners play has to change if they are going to be serious challengers for the title and at the moment their perennial position in the top four is in jeopardy.
Calum Chambers had a torrid time at right back as Jefferson Montero tore him apart, especially on the game-winner, and left back Nacho Monreal playing center back proves how bad Arsenal’s injury issues are. But why not play Chambers at center back, where he has looked far more comfortable, and put either Monreal or Kieran Gibbs at right back? Just a thought.
“I thought we were mature enough to realize that when we have the lead to take possession and not get caught on the break… and that’s what happened,” Arsenal’s captain and central defender Per Mertesacker said after defeat to Swansea. “We lost the ball on several occasions and that was the problem today. We scored and then we thought ‘we don’t need to keep possession and our patience’ and then we struggled. That was our fault. We did the same on Tuesday [against Anderlecht] and today again. We have to think about it. Quickly.”
As we mentioned, Sanchez was the one bright spark for Arsenal but even his 12th goal of the season (his sixth in his last four games) couldn’t help the Gunners to the victory he promised. Swansea winger Wayne Routledge had some fun with a Tweet Sanchez had sent out before Sunday’s game…
Following Arsenal’s fourth defeat of the season, Wenger was asked if his side could catch London rivals Chelsea (who are now 12 points ahead of the Gunners) and if Jose Mourinho’s men can be stopped.
“If they keep that up nobody will touch them,” Wenger said. “It doesn’t look like anybody is capable of challenging them at the moment. Look at the season and Chelsea are on course for 105 points. Look at the number of points they have today and if they keep that up nobody will touch them, that’s for sure.”
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A bleak assessment for Arsenal’s boss and that dark cloud has been cast right across North London as Tottenham’s troubles continue too. On Sunday they lost at home to Stoke City with Mauricio Pochettino’s men suffering their third home defeat in four following a tepid display against the Potters which also had the new Spurs boss questioning the mentality of his players.
“We need to find the solution and I need to change the mentality for the players,” Pochettino said. “They know my feelings like I know their feelings. I have been here for four months, we know the players and the players know me. We feel the same, very disappointed and frustrated, and not happy because our performance was not good enough. It’s clear we need to improve a lot. We need to improve and this is clear to analyse. Always in football you need time, different methods and philosophy but we need to improve quick.
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Spurs have conceded five goals in the first 15 minutes of games this season, that’s the most in the Premier League. Their slow starts, sluggish play offensively and constant defensive errors — particularly from new center back Federico Fazio on Sunday — are a recipe for disaster. Chuck in the fact that this same group of players, who mostly arrived following the sale of Gareth Bale in September 2013, are still under-performing means that someone has to take the blame. Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood have lost their jobs due to poor performances from these players and now Pochettino is under pressure after just a few months in charge. Chairman Daniel Levy and Technical Director Franco Baldini made a lot of these signings, allegedly, and they must be held accountable for a large chunk of Spurs’ problems.
“We need to work hard, to change. We need to find a solution. This is my job,” Pochettino added. If his team continue to put in displays like this and carry on losing, it won’t be your job for much longer, Mauricio. Over to the guys in the studio to sum up Spurs’ woeful start to the Pochettino era, as they sit in 12th after 11 games of the season, just four points above the relegation zone.
“DIEGO COSTA IS BACK” AS IMPERIOUS CHELSEA ROLL OVER LIVERPOOL
When asked by the press following Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday, Jose Mourinho was quick to hail Diego Costa’s performance as the Spaniard bagged the game-winner and was a constant pest.
[RELATED: Imperious Chelsea can go unbeaten]
“He’s back,” Mourinho smiled. “Maybe the injury was good because that stopped him. When he became injured, he has to stop. He had time to recover step-by-step. In this moment he is in good condition. I think Spain made a fantastic decision [to not call up him for upcoming matches], not just for us but also for them, because in this moment he has 15 days to be on the top of his game. When Spain needs him they will have a good Diego. Not a bad Diego. I think they made a great decision.”
Costa was unstoppable on Saturday after recovering from his persistent hamstring issues which have plagued him since April. His personal duel with Martin Skrtel saw him come out on top as he bullied the entire Liverpool back line and delivered the hammer blow 20 minutes from the end with his 10th PL goal in his first nine games.
His ripped shirt demonstrated the grappling match he undertook with every Liverpool player who came in his path, while his hunger, desire and willingness to run the channels was evident as you can see from the heat map on the left which shows him popping up out wide while also frequenting the box with his predatory instincts that ultimately won his team the game.
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Each time Chelsea lofted a ball towards him in the air, Costa has a knack of not even jumping but still winning the ball. He uses his body to block off opponents and then lays the ball on with his head or chest. Costa does this, and many other things, superbly and having him fully fit was a big reason behind Chelsea’s comeback win. If Costa can stay healthy, there’s no stopping Chelsea. So, just how good are Chelsea and can they go the entire season unbeaten? Nope. Not according to Mourinho, anyway.
“No. I think it is possible to be champion,” Mourinho said bluntly. “We put ourselves in the line immediately before the season started that we are title contenders and that we wanted to play for that. But in modern football and especially in the Premier League. I don’t believe in an unbeaten run.”
BREAK-DANCING HOWARD, AUSTIN’S MAD-MOMENT
Over the weekend we saw two truly bizarre moments take place in the Premier League involving goalkeepers.
The first occurred on Saturday as QPR’s Charlie Austin was flagged for a clear offside after heading home against Manchester City. Okay, fair enough. But from the resulting free kick City’s ‘keeper Joe Hart fluffed his kick, kicking the ball with first his left foot and then his right as the ball broke straight to Austin in the box who slammed home his second goal in a minute. But his ‘fluffy-chicken’ celebration was interrupted once again, and rightly so.
While on Sunday, USMNT ‘keeper Tim Howard was involved in a truly unique moment too. With Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher bearing down on Everton’s goal with the score locked at 1-1, Howard came rushing out and was out of his box. Uh oh. The New Jersey native then jumped on the ball, without using his hand, before doing some break-dancing on the size 5 Nike before getting up and clearing the ball to safety.
He didn’t use his hands, so it wasn’t a foul, but did Howard stop a clear goalscoring opportunity by obstruction? Probably. Referee Lee Mason looked just as confused as the 40,000 plus fans inside the Stadium of Light as he waved play on. Howard may have got away with one there, but his quick thinking cleaned things up. Sort of.
BURNLEY WIN, RELEGATION PICTURE TAKING SHAPE
The Clarets have done it! 11 weeks into the season Sean Dyche’s boys have their first win.
It has taken 990 minutes of PL action and 83 days for the Lancashire club to taste success but a hard fought 1-0 win over Hull City on Saturday, courtesy of Ashley Barnes’ second half goal, have the home fans the victory they craved.
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With those vital three points, Burnley have now dragged plenty of teams back into the mire as the relegation picture begins to take shape.
They are still bottom on seven points, but other newly-promoted teams QPR and Leicester City occupy the final two spots in the relegation zone and Burnley are a win away from jumping over Crystal Palace and out of the dreaded bottom three.
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With the Eagles struggling to adapt under Neil Warnock following the sudden departure of Tony Pulis this summer, they are being sucked right into things, while QPR are looking much better but Leicester are heading in the opposite direction after five defeats in six since beating Manchester United in September. Burnley’s win shows they cane compete with the midtable to lower ranked teams in the PL, giving the Turf Moor faithful plenty of hope they can do something they’ve never previously done: survive for more than one campaign in the Premier League.
FIVE OF THE BEST
We weren’t inundated with goals this weekend in the Premier League, just 21 in 10 matches, but we did have some absolute crackers. Here’s five of the best from Week 11 in the video below. Go on then, what was your favorite? I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours (in the comments section below, obviously).
We’ve already spoken about Howard’s maverick skills in Everton’s 1-1 draw with Sunderland, but another USMNT ‘keeper put on a fine show of his own. Brad Guzan doesn’t get much help most of the time from Aston Villa’s defense but the American stopper helped his side to a shutout draw at West Ham on Saturday to halt Villa’s six-game losing streak. The Chicago native came up big in stoppage time as he acrobatically tipped away Andy Carroll’s header after somehow shifting his weight from left to right. Well done that man. Elsewhere Geoff Cameron came on as a ninth minute sub for Stoke at right back as they beat Tottenham 2-1 at White Hart Lane to move up to ninth in the standings. Huge win for the Potters. While Jozy Altidore missed out on a reunion with Howard as he warmed his cheeks on Sunderland’s bench for the full 90 minutes, once again.
Altidore is expected to be named in Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. squad for their game vs. Colombia on Friday at Fulham’s Craven Cottage. At ProSoccerTalk we will have coverage of the USA’s upcoming friendlies all week. Visit this page for all the latest.
Premier League Playback comes out every Monday as PST’s Editor and Lead Writer takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.