Ref analysis – Mike Dean (QPR vs. Arsenal 2011/12)

This article originally appeared on Debateable Decisions. Continue reading

Arsenal and the one-man team myth

Picture from Sky Sports

Saturday’s win at Carrow Road was Arsenal’s fifth straight Premier League victory and continued a fine series of games that has seen them look comfortable against teams who, a few weeks ago, commenters were saying they should be beating with ease.

They managed to finally break down Stoke and edged past Bolton before easing past West Brom and comfortably beating Norwich at the weekend – smashing Chelsea 5-3 in the middle of it all.

An early Per Mertesacker mistake could have derailed Arsene Wenger’s side on Saturday as Steve Morison scored after 16 minutes but two goals from Robin Van Persie secured the points for the Gunners.
Their last defeat came at the hands of rivals Tottenham at the beginning of October and, despite some defensive issues – Mertesacker should have coped better yesterday although, as many have pointed out, a shorter player could have dealt with the danger with more ease – the team, including the summer recruits, seems to be settling down.
The only side in the League who are in a better run of form than Arsenal are the unstoppable Manchester City. Arsenal, in the 12 games they have played this season, have scored 25 goals: only the two Manchester clubs have scored more.
Of course, a large proportion of those goals have come from one indomitable source in the shape of Robin Van Persie. 13, to be precise, taking the Dutchman’s tally for this calendar year to 31. Arsenal’s second top goalscorer in the League is Gervinho with two goals to his name.
Such a fantastic record has lead many to go down the slightly ignorant route of declaring that Arsenal are a one-man team, if such a thing exists. One would hope that, by this term, criticisers would mean that Arsenal are heavily dependent on Van Persie rather than a more literal kind of disapproval.
Arsenal are reliant on Van Persie, just as Liverpool are reliant on Luis Suarez, Manchester United are reliant on Wayne Rooney and Barcelona are reliant on Xavi (or Iniesta, or Messi). It is also true that Arsenal would be a worse team without Van Persie; of course they would be. Look at any club in the world, take away their best player and they will indeed by a team that isn’t as good as they were before.
But having one player who is the focal point of the team is not the same as being a one-man team, or even vaguely similar. Van Persie has scored more than half of Arsenal’s goals – but then someone has to give him the ball to score those goals.
Theo Walcott put in one of his best Arsenal performances on Saturday and is enjoying a fantastic season on the right-wing, while Gervinho – despite a wasteful showing at the weekend – looks a class act on the opposite wing. The attacking three behind Van Persie seems to be working well for Arsenal, with Aaron Ramsey also having a fantastic season.
It is Mikel Arteta, though, who proves to be just as key to Arsenal’s side as Van Persie does. His ability to hold on to the ball and rarely give away possession (an average pass completion rate of 90.5% over nine games) is almost dwarfed by the amount of defence-splitting, key passes he makes per game (2.3). He may not be a direct and all-conquering replacement for Cesc Fabregas, but Arteta is proving himself to be a superb buy at just £10 million.
Arteta has just the one assist this season but Gervinho has got five, with Ramsey getting four, as has Alex Song – usually something of a peripheral figure, sometimes a distinctly average defensive midfielder, but absolutely sublime against Norwich. 
Even players who were being ridiculed weeks ago are now showing themselves to be more than competent. Mertesacker clearly lacks pace but his ability to read the game at a Premier League speed is improving and his robustness in the air is something that has been required at Arsenal for a while now, especially with Thomas Vermaelen out injured.
The Belgian has now returned though and Lorient Koscielny also looks very impressive – all of a sudden, Arsenal have three excellent centre-backs. Add all of that to the fact that they also boast one of the best goalkeepers in the league in Wojciech Szczęsny and it makes the ‘one-man team’ argument look even more flawed.
Arsenal, like every other football club, rely on much more than just the goals of one player – but viewers of football see one player score a lot of goals and equate that with him being the only player who does anything. It’s how a player can score two goals but be outshone by the wizard on the wing – only to be awarded man-of-the-match after the game. Goals are not everything.

This article was originally posted on The Football Front.

Man City rule Manchester, but do they rule the Premier League?

It is the shift of power that was always going to happen. Manchester United and Chelsea continued to ignore the flaws in their respective sides. Manchester City were always going to power through with their deep pockets and reach the very top.

The Manchester derby scoreline was surprising but the result was not a shock. A cynic would suggest that City should be at the top given how much money they have spent;. A general view of opposition fans is that City are buying there way to the Premier League title.

But that doesn’t take away the fact that Roberto Mancini has the strongest squad in the top tier. A sad reflection on the state of world football that in football, the team with the most money – as long as they are run and managed well – will win. It is barely a relevant criticism to say City are buying the League and therefore devaluing the competition. This has been the case with various teams since 1992, and City are utilising this method to great effect – both on and off the pitch.
Last season the main disparagement with Mancini’s side was that they were too defensive, that they refused to release the handbrake. This season, City have kept the defensive resoluteness but added full-throttle attack.
Sergio Aguero (10 goals this season), Edin Dzeko (9) and Mario Balotelli (6) are strikers who would fit into any of the top sides in Europe on their day. Samir Nasri and Adam Johnson are players deserving of more recognition than a spot on the bench. Indeed, Man City have the best player in the Premier League: David Silva. An average of 3.6 goals per game this season doesn’t even tell half of the story; when Manchester City attack, they look like they’re going to score every single time.
An all-guns-blazing attacking force would usually result in weaknesses at the back. But this is a Mancini side. When City defend, they defend as a unit – and this is a unit that has been built over a short period of time, despite the fact that all defensive components look comfortable with one-another as they if they have been playing together for years.
Joe Hart must now be seen as one of the top goalkeepers in the world. The way in which he can command his area, distribute early and cleanly – not to mention his excellent shot-stopping – which is majestic at times.
In Micah Richards and Gael Clichy Man City have wonderful attacking full-backs who can defend as competently as well. While in the middle the supreme Vincent Kompany keeps them all in line, while the ever-improving yet always-mocked Joleon Lescott looks a lot more comfortable than he has done in recent years.
It is easy to laugh at Gareth Barry. But the defensive midfielder’s ability to play an unspectacular role is sometimes confused with ineffectiveness; the England man is vital to City’s efforts.
Yaya Toure was restricted to a more subdued role on Sunday to sure up the defence further, while James Milner appears to have converted himself into a first-class central midfielder. Both must be seen as two of the most in-form midfielders in the world right now.
Sunday’s derby was hardly a thrashing in the traditional sense, though. 3-1 would have been a fair reflection on the game but, nevertheless, a fantastic last few minutes from City and an appalling showing from United meant that three more goals were scored.
There is not a gulf between the two Manchester clubs. But there is sizeable gap between the two.
United need a creator in the middle; Tom Cleverley could be the man to fill this role but it is simply not possible to rely on such a young and inexperienced player, nor is it logical to depend upon the inconsistent Wayne Rooney to ignite a spark into any match. Patrice Evra has endured some torrid form for quite a while now, while Rio Ferdinand seems to edge closer towards the MLS with every passing minute. No empire is permanent. It seems as if the domination of Manchester United is coming to an end, either through fault of their own accord or the sheer relentlessness of their closest rivals.
City’s other main challenger has major problems too. Chelsea’s defence is weak, with John Terry and Ashley Cole struggling more as age catches up with them, while David Luiz still shows signs of rawness. Strikers Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba still aren’t the deadly forwards that they once used to be.
Whatever one’s views on the way in which City have reached their current position, their effectiveness and, at times, glorious football is undeniably brilliant. They score team goals that would fit into any end-of-season highlight packages but they also have the individual brilliance that every top team needs.
Manchester City are Premier League title favourites. At this early stage, that may seem a little hasty, especially when City had a similarly impressive start to the season last term. But this season looks to be different, even if it is just on paper. This season, City are not just a team of incredibly talented individuals – they are a ferocious, stunning team.

Manchester City aspire to end the repetitive cycle that has seen only three teams crowned Premier League champions since 1995.
This article originally appeared on The Football Front.

Diego Maradona is a Dickhead

‘Look at me – I’M EL DIEGO!’
When I was growing up, there was always one name, one footballer in particular that really riled my Dad. This man’s name, when mentioned, was always accompanied with the word “cheat” – along with other, quite colourful phrases – so I pretty much grew up thinking that this man was the footballing-equivalent of Satan. Continue reading

My Perfect Player

If I could create a footballer…

Head: Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo may not be the most likeable of footballers, and his heading ability maybe isn’t his best asset, but his quality in the air can be staggering at times. He’s not only got an impressive leap; the power that the Real Madrid forward can put into his headers is astounding. Ronaldo can run into the box from either wing and slam home a header or ingeniously flick a header past a flapping goalkeeper – one of the best header-ers of a football you will ever see.
Brain: Filippo Inzaghi
287 goals in 614 club appearances over a career spanning twenty years, and still going – Pippo Inzaghi should be showcased as one of the greats of the modern era. His killer instinct is second-to-none; it is said that that somewhat-frustrating (for the opposition) ability to be in the right place at the right time cannot be taught, it is natural. He may have been born offside, but Inzaghi could read a football match – at least in an attacking sense – like a book. And a relatively simple book at that.
Eyes: Xavi
This man gets a lot of plaudits, and rightly so. His passing is supreme and, with that, his vision to make that pass is, at times, quite unbelievable. Clearly the Spanish midfielder needs the movement of others around him to allow him to pick the pass, but it’s the way in which he is always looking, eyes darting everywhere to try and find a player in space or, if not, space for him to run into that always amazes me. He does most football-y things better than most – and using his eyes is certainly one of them.
Lungs: Ji Sung Park
Pretty simple this one (and quite a popular choice, I would imagine) – he’s not called ‘three lungs’ for nothing ya’know. Park just runs and runs and runs and runs and.. well you get the picture. The South Korean’s stamina is just incredible and, while his quality was doubted in his early Manchester United days, he is now seen as a valuable asset to the squad. And his lungs will be a valuable asset to my perfect player.
Mouth: David Beckham
I was unsure for who to pick for this body part, so here’s my thinking: what do you want from a footballer’s mouth, or rather how would you prefer the player to use his mouth? Loud, abusive and ‘passionate’ to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition? Or perhaps a quiet player who reserves judgement unless it is needed, showing respect for his fellow professionals and generally getting on with his job without mouthing off? To be honest, I wish that footballers would shut up most of the time, both on and off the pitch. So I’ve gone with someone who always seems to say the right things and, although it’s probably all PR-peddled rubbish, at least he’s not a loudmouth. David Beckham – not a loudmouth.
Left foot: Alvaro Recoba
I used to love this man growing up and I can still sit and watch him on YouTube for hours. A deadball specialist but much more than that, the attacking midfielder has an absolute wand of a left foot. In fact, that doesn’t do it justice. What’s better than a wand? A lightsaber? Alvaro Recoba has a lightsaber of a left foot. This video sums the man up better than I can ever wish to.
Right foot: Juninho Pernambucano
You can have your delicately curled free-kicks into the top corner from a certain former-England captain who isn’t a loudmouth – I’ll take 30-yard-plus rockets into the top corner every time. Juninho can hit freekicks from anywhere and indeed everywhere. There are so many highlight reels of the Brazilians’ freekicks you’d think it would have become tiresome by now – but it hasn’t, and it never will. Here’s the best one. Smack!
So, my perfect player would consist of the head of Ronaldo, the brain of Inzaghi, the eyes of Xavi, the lungs of Park, the mouth of Beckham, the left foot of Recoba and the right foot of Juninho.


This piece was originally published on Chronicles of Almunia.