Premier League weekend review: Superb form of Arsenal and Newcastle continues

Mikel Arteta celebrates (picture from Yahoo)
The main story this week was, of course, Sir Alex Ferguson’s 25th Anniversary as Manchester United manager. Sunderland’s (and former-United defender) Wes Brown gave Fergie the perfect present, heading into his own net from a Nani corner to score what proved to be the only goal in a dire game.

In truth, there were more important on-pitch matters this weekend in games that didn’t involve Manchester United.
For instance, yesterday saw Arsenal stroll to a comfortable victory which leaves them seventh in the table. Granted, West Brom sat back and offered very little but, as the old cliché goes, you can only beat what is in front of you. And, thanks to Robin Van Persie’s close-range finish (11 goals in 11 games, now), Thomas Vermaelen’s thumping header and Mikel Arteta’s drive from the edge of the box, they did.
The Vermaelen/Lorient Koscielny partnership may not have been really tested on Saturday but is, potentially, a brilliant pairing. Carl Jenkinson was also impressive at right-back, while Aaron Ramsey is beginning to become more of a Cesc-replacement than the man who was presumably brought in to do such a job – Arteta.
The win means that Arsenal haven’t lost a game since the start of October (the 2-1 loss in the London derby) and have only lost three matches since the 8-2 thrashing from Manchester United at the end of August. The Gunners have Norwich, Fulham and then a crunch match with Manchester City next – with Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League in between – but maybe, just maybe, Arsenal really have turned a corner.
If Arsenal have turned the corner, Newcastle have sped round a bend, accelerated past everyone on the motorway and then climbed the impossible hill at great speed – because their current form is magnificent.
Unbeaten in the League this season and currently sitting third in the table, the Toon squeezed past Everton on Saturday, with Fabricio Coloccini putting in yet another superb performance at the heart of their defence. Full-back Ryan Taylor scored a storming volley after John Heitinga’s own goal and, despite Everton pushing hard and getting one back just before half-time through Jack Rodwell, Alan Pardew’s side held on for their seventh win of the season.
As mentioned in the Sunday preview, Owen Coyle has been under some intense pressure recently after a string of poor results and performances. Wanderers, though, recorded their second victory in six games at home to Stoke as they smashed five goals past a clearly tired Potters side.
Asmir Begovic had a bit of a nightmare in goal but Chris Eagles – a player who has also come in for criticism from his own fans – put in a superb performance, scoring twice. Ivan Klasnic also scored two, while Kevin Davies notched his second league goal of the season. Bolton remain in the relegation zone but are the only team in the bottom seven to record a win this weekend. Stoke drop to 12th, with that away trip to Israel clearly adding extra fatigue to a squad which already looks quite stretched anyway.
Manchester City also seemed to struggle after their European game midweek, only just managing to beat QPR at Loftus Road. The two megabucks sides battled out what turned out to be the most entertaining game of the weekend for the neutral, with City lacking in creativity and Rangers flourishing with commitment and extreme desire.
Jay Bothroyd had given the Hoops the lead after half-an-hour but Edin Dzeko scored his 10th goal in nine League appearances just before half-time and David Silva just after it to restore normality. Heidar Helguson equalised from close range with twenty minutes to go but Yaya Toure’s goal, his 3rd in two games, gave City the three points.
Aston Villa haven’t had the most promising of starts to the season – despite, on paper, it appearing not the most challenging either – but another superb display from Gabriel Agbonlahor helped Alex McLeish’s side overcome a resilient Norwich.
The pacey winger made two assists – one from the left, one from the right, both of the highest quality – with Darren Bent the beneficiary, finishing well on both occasions. Agbonlahor also grabbed a goal himself, chasing down a poor back pass and slotting home with ease. Goals from Steve Morison and a stunning free-kick from Anthony Pilkington were not enough for the Canaries, who still sit 9th in the table after an impressive start. Villa are 8th.
With Arsenal proving to be so impressive in recent weeks the race for fourth now looks a lot more open. Swansea held Liverpool to a 0-0 draw at Anfield, with Kenny Dalglish’s side failing to win at Anfield for the 3rd successive game, thanks largely to a late wonder save from Swansea ‘keeper Michael Vorm.
Tottenham, though, stormed past Fulham, although a Jermain Defoe 90th minute goal was appreciated by Spurs fans everywhere after intense pressure deep into added-on time with the score at 2-1. Tottenham are 5th, with a game in hand, level on points with Chelsea and three ahead of Liverpool and Arsenal.
The real relegation contenders may have been sought out this weekend with Wigan and Blackburn putting in appalling performances against Wolves and Chelsea respectively. Neither side can defend nor does neither side look particularly promising going forward either. Chelsea, though, only managed to score one – a Frank Lampard header – while Wolves eased to a 3-1 win.
Dave Whelan said last season that he wouldn’t sack Roberto Martinez even if the club were relegated, presumably for stability reasons. He may want to re-think that, though, if performances carry on as they are – because, otherwise, Wigan could be down before the end of the January transfer window.
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25 years of Sir Alex Ferguson: My tribute to Fergie

Twenty-five years is a long time. 1,057managers have left English clubs since November 6, 1986 – the day that Sir Alex Ferguson was appointed manager of Manchester United.

For anyone born either shortly before or anytime after that date, English football will, largely, seem as if it has always been dominated by the red side of Manchester. When Ferguson retires, the Premier League will be missing a manager that has, as said on BBC Radio 5Live on Thursday night, become something of a reference point.
The argument over who is the greatest British manager of all time serves no purpose and is hugely demeaning to the greats over the years. There have been many fantastic football managers – Clough, Paisley, Shankly, Busby – and they were all great in their own, mostly unique ways. How is it possible to determine who is the greatest?
But Ferguson is one of the greatest. The domination that he and Manchester United have had over English and at, at certain points, European football is just staggering, looking back. From the twelve Premier League titles to twice winning the Champions League, Ferguson could either be loved or hated depending on club loyalties – but always respected and admired.
This past week, everyone has been having their say, from former players to journalists who have had run-ins with the manager. They’ve all mentioned his fierce tongue but added caveats such as his dedication to knowing every little detail about his players, the fact that his door is always open for a chat and, of course, his determination to not only win in the present, but win in the future too.
The mere thought of Ferguson not being in complete control of a situation is alien to someone who was born just under six years into Fergie’s reign. It has got to the stage now where “it won’t happen, because Fergie won’t let it happen” is almost considered a well-reasoned phrase.
I don’t see the signings of Massimo Taibi, the selling of Jaap Stam or his various rants at the press as mistakes. They are examples of Ferguson giving other contenders a chance, or thinking they’ve got a chance – before yanking the chance back again and, most probably, laughing at everyone in the process.
The Scot is always in control. He not only controls the playing staff, but also the staff at the club as a whole. He can even control other managers at times: his mind games are as notorious as they are effective, sometimes simply putting a seed of doubt into his opponent’s mind to force them to reconsider their own side’s set-up. Sometimes he goes one better and gets a destabilising reaction.
One of the things that I admire most about Sir Alex Ferguson is his ability to come back from a defeat. He is a bad loser, but then all the best winners are. Ferguson doesn’t see a defeat as a one-off and then moves on as if nothing has happened: losing means there are improvements to be made. Whether it’s a sound-beating in a Champions League final or a thrashing in the derby, Ferguson’s sides always come back.
You can take a dislike to his general demeanour in dealing with the press and match officials, you can be jealous of his success: but you cannot but admire and appreciate what Sir Alex Ferguson has done for football in this country.
His ability to protect his players when he needs to is commendable while his ruthless awareness of the right time for a player to leave the club is astonishing in an era of overpaid, arrogant stars. He maybe does have his flaws, but they are inconsequential.
Sometimes journalists do need a good telling off. The same goes for refereesand football officials. I’m sure even David Beckham would agree that to hit someone in the face with a boot with one swish of the foot shows nothing other than supreme talent. I can even look past the fact that, after almost 53 years in football, the man still cannot celebrate without looking incredibly awkward.
Like with all the footballing greats in times gone by, you must be thankful for living in an era of one of the greatest football managers of all time. You’ve lived in Fergie Time. Lucky you.

There has been a massive overreaction to Rooney swearing

Rooney: Not right, but not wrong either.
Wayne Rooney should not be punished by the FA for saying a naughty word.

First of all, let me just make something very clear: I am not a fan of Wayne Rooney. In fact, I dislike him very much. I don’t care how good a footballer he is, I don’t like how he hounds referees, treats other professional and generally acts on a football pitch and, although this has nothing to do with football, I can’t help but be disgusted by what he has done in his private life. However, putting that to one side, I’m actually going to defend ‘Wazza’, to an extent, on this occasion.
Now, the reaction to Rooney looking down straight down a camera whilst saying a naughty word has been slightly mixed; some have labelled it a “’disgusting’ foul-mouthed rant” (take a wild guess at where that link takes you) whilst others have taken a more relaxed approach, with The Telegraph’s Mark Ogden wading into the ‘footballers are role models’ debate.
Is it just me or does the bloke next to the 
cameraman look pretty darn happy?
Footballers are, of course, in the spotlight at all times, especially on the football field. Every single step is prodded and poked, every facial expression described and analysed. Rooney has, this season, been a frustrated footballer. While I have no sympathy for him whatsoever (his problems are of his own doing) I can understand that he is frustrated. His performances, on the whole, have been poor. Manchester United have been poor. Yesterday, they went into half-time 2-0 down against a side battling relegation. West Ham are enjoying a late burst of form and will probably stay up, but Rooney, and the rest of the team, must have been pretty hacked off with their own performances going into the dressing room. Rooney then came out in the second half and scored three goals (a free-kick, a wonderfully taken volley and a penalty), all-but ending the title race as a contest. Rooney knew that that third goal pretty much sealed the title for United.
Frustration alone, of course, does not mean that is socially acceptable to go around F-ing and blinding. But, for me at least, it’s explicable. When Rooney plays, he’s not thinking about kids sat at home watching, and nor should he have to. He’s thinking about winning; thinking about scoring goals and getting back to the unstoppable form that Manchester United fans are crying out for.
Yes, because footballers are in the limelight they will be seen as ‘idol’ material. However, once a footballer does something ‘wrong’, it is up to the parents to tell their kids that that is wrong. If a child was set at home yesterday, watching the United game, and promptly turned round to his father and told him where to go after seeing Rooney do what he did, it’s up to that parent to tell the child it’s wrong. Some would say that the parent shouldn’t have to (and, actually, the role model debate is the only debate out of all of this that I can actually, sort of, sympathise with) but I would argue that if parents are still allowing their children to idolise Wayne Rooney, then that’s their own fault.
I’ve seen many, many (MANY) people over the weekend say something along the lines of “If I earned what Wayne Rooney earns, I’d learn to control myself”. That’s very easy to say when you’re not actually in the situation. In this instance, I don’t care how much Rooney earns; he’s still a human being, he still gets frustrated, he still feels the intensity of a football match and he will probably swear. Like we all do. The idea that, if a person earns £200,000 a week they will immediately stop swearing is ludicrous – unless it’s in his contract, of course. The amount of money that Rooney earns is completely irrelevant. As is the Respect campaign in this case – who exactly has Rooney disrespected?
Some have complained that the outburst was before 9pm, the watershed, and so, somehow, that makes it much worse. As Liam Blackburn has noted, this isn’t a television drama, it’s a football match. Football shouldn’t change just because there are cameras. Football would be just fine without the cameras. A football match is played by real people in real life in real time. Footballers can’t afford to be thinking about the cameras or the millions of people sat at home, they need to concentrate on the task at hand.
“Wash your mouth out, son”
Rooney has, I’m sure you’ll remember, got previous in this kind of thing. “Nice to see ya own fans booing ya” didn’t include any taboo words but actually did disrespect the fans that paid obscene amounts of money to go out to South Africa and watch another pathetic English attempt at doing something (ANYTHING) at a World Cup. That outburst, as well as the general public’s (understandable) dislike for Rooney, means that Saturday’s episode has been blown out of all proportion. Rooney can hardly be seen as a victim but, in my eyes, he’s done very little wrong on this occasion. I’m sure Chelsea fans will point to the fact that Didier Drogba was punished for swearing to a camera in the Champions League; but that was completely different. Drogba called the ref a disgrace. “He brought the referee’s integrity into question”, as a footballing organisation would say.
And here’s why: there is, on the whole, a massive overreaction to swearing in general. Why is “fuck” a swear word? Who sat down one day and decided that, actually, certain words weren’t allowed?
Look at the word “crap”, or “bastard”. Ten years ago, these words would have been seen as highly offensive. Now, they are seen as words that are somewhere in the middle between acceptable language and swearing. The word “crap” is often used to stop yourself from swearing, like “bugger” or “shhhhhhhugar”.
In a few years, the word “fuck” will have changed its status. Swear words don’t actually mean anything. The youth of today, rightly or wrongly, swear. I’ve often wondered why swear words are seen as swear words. Maybe this article should have been given the headline “There’s a massive overreaction to swearing in general” (as well as WARNING: RANT ALERT), but the headline is not important. My point is: Rooney should not be punished for saying the word “fuck”. Oh, sorry, has that offended you? Of course not. It’s a word. Move on.
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Rooney has, to his credit, apologised for his ‘outburst’:
 “I want to apologise for any offence that may have been caused by my goal celebration, especially any parents or children that were watching.”
As Alan Shearer said on Match of The Day on Saturday night – he’s apologised, so let’s move on. 

Nani could leave Manchester United in the summer


Manchester United midfielder Nani is reportedly contemplating a move to Italy’s Serie A, according to The Guardian.

Nani, it is stressed in the article, is not unhappy at Manchester United or with Sir Alex Ferguson, but the possibility of a move to Italy, both from a personal and professional point of view, merely intrigues the former-Sporting Lisbon midfielder.
As Daniel Taylor explains: “His thinking is not based on any serious discontent with his current employers, with Nani relatively settled in Manchester and enjoying his new status as one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s more important players.
But he is coming to the end of his fourth season in England and has started to believe it might be time for a different challenge, if not this summer then almost certainly next.”
United are on course to claim a treble this season, with the English Premier League, the FA Cup and the Champions League all within reach for the Red Devils.
With this in mind, it is thought that, if Nani were to claim his second European Cup medal at the end of this season, he would see little purpose in staying for a further season.
And so, the move to Italy becomes a real possibility and a real worry for United fans. Nani has scored nine goals this season and is the top assist maker in the League with fifteen in total. The ability to use both feet has been vital for United this season as the Portuguese midfielder has been found on both wings this term – his versatility is something that Ferguson’s side would certainly miss.
There were murmurs last week that Nani was unhappy with the Manchester club, feeling let down after the club failed to comment (and, therefore, defend him), during Ferguson’s media blackout, after that challenge from Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher, although it is unclear as to whether this was a serious problem.
The rumours surrounding Nani’s future have sparked further claims that Manchester United could go in for Aston Villa’s Ashley Young. The English winger is similar to Nani in that he can use both feet and has the ability to put a deadly ball into the box, but news of another important United player (after Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009 and then, nearly, Wayne Rooney at the start of this season) looking to leave the club will be a huge concern to Red Devils everywhere.

This article originally appeared on sports website Sports Haze, which is now unfortunately defunct.

Ferguson: Chelsea are out of the title race


Sir Alex Ferguson has written off Chelsea’s chances of winning the English Premier League – claiming that it is now a two-horse race.

 

Chelsea have twelve more games to play this season, with the Blues facing United on Tuesday night and, with twelve points separating Carlo Ancelotti’s side and the current League leaders United, Ferguson believes that the title race is now between his side and Arsenal.
“Normally two teams break away when you come to the end of the season – that’s the way it’s looking,” Ferguson said. “I think either Arsenal or ourselves will win it.”
Ferguson has become a master of the mid games in his twenty-plus years as manager and so it is no surprise to see the Scot adding some spice to the pre-match build-up to Tuesday’s game.
Ferguson also rejected Chelsea captain John Terry’s claims that United could falter under the pressure of being at the top of the Premier League table:
“I said some time ago, the team that is most consistent would win the league. That is why I stress that we have to keep our momentum going and get that consistency. But it won’t be easy [for Chelsea] to come back from that kind of points deficit.”
United face Wigan this weekend and it is widely expected that Ferguson will rest key players such as Wayne Rooney in preparation for the Chelsea game. The Red Devils will be without captain Rio Ferdinand but Michael Owen and Ryan Giggs could both feature having returned from their respective injuries. It is expected that Javier Hernandez could start for United, alongside Dimitar Berbatov in a 4-4-2 formation.
United were boosted with the recent news that Antonio Valencia, who suffered a broken ankle in September in a game against Rangers in September. “He’s in contact training now and has been taking part in all the sessions” Ferguson revealed. 

This article originally appeared on sports website Sports Haze but is now unavailable due to the site closing down.
Picture from The Sport Review

Ryan Giggs signs new Manchester United contract


Manchester United winger Ryan Giggs has put pen to paper on a one-year contract extension which will see the Welshman stay at United until at least the end of the 2011/12 season.

 

That will be Giggs’ 21st season with United, a remarkable feat for the player who made his club debut back in 1991, before the English Premier League was even formed.
Giggs has played more than 850 times for United and recently made his 600th appearance in the Premier League, but the Welsh Wizard still feels he can contribute to the team who are currently top of the table.
“It is great to know I’m contributing to the team’s success. I feel I’ve still got a lot to offer. All I’ve ever wanted to do is play for United and I’ve been lucky enough to do that for 20 years. This is an exciting time to be involved with so many good young players coming through”, Giggs told manutd.com.
Giggs has, of course, only ever played under one Manchester United manager – Sir Alex Ferguson. And the Scot described his delight at the new contract:
“You run out of words to describe Ryan Giggs. He is a marvellous player and a wonderful man. To have the desire and the ability to play at the top level in such a physically demanding position at his age requires a special person. He is still turning in man-of-the-match performances and his experience is so vital for the younger players in the squad.”
Giggs has won eleven Premier League titles, four FA Cups, four League Cups, eight Community Shields, two Champions League titles, one Super Cup and one World Club Cup, as well as twice being named PFA Player of the Year and being included in the PFA Team of the Year nine times. And, it seems, Giggs doesn’t want to stop there.

This article originally appeared on sports website Sports Haze but is now unavailable due to the site closing down.
Picture from EmerandSam

Gary Neville announces retirement

Former England right-back Gary Neville retires from football with immediate effect.

Manchester United defender Gary Neville has chosen to retire at the age of 35 with immediate effect.

The English right-back recently made his 602nd appearance for United, the club he joined as an apprentice in 1991.
Neville made 85 appearances for England and was the first choice right-back for ten years making his debut in 1995, at the age of twenty, in a friendly against Japan under then-manager Terry Venables.
 “I have been a Manchester United fan all my life and fulfilled every dream I’ve ever had,” Neville said. “I am disappointed that my playing days are at an end, however it comes to us all, and it’s knowing when that time is and for me that time is now.”
“Red Nev”, as he is affectionately known by United fans, was part of the side that included David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. That side went on to win FA Youth Cup in 1992, but the honours certainly didn’t stop there for Neville.
Eight Premier League titles, three FA Cups, two League Cups and one Champions League medal have all found their way in to Neville’s trophy cabinet, and the former-United captain was certainly reminiscent in his official statement:
“I have played in the most incredible football teams, playing with some of the best players in the world as well as against them and I have been lucky to be a part of the team’s achievements and the club’s great success. There are so many people I want to thank and of course top of that list is Sir Alex Ferguson.”
Neville has been plagued by injuries in recent years and the retirement comes as no surprise given concerns over his fitness. Many will remember Neville for the wrong reasons (his feelings towards Scousers in particular) but it should not be forgotten that Neville has not only been a fine servant to Manchester United but also to English football.
“Gary was the best English right-back of his generation” says Ferguson, who Neville says gave him “so many opportunities and countless support over the last 20 years”.
“He is an example to any young professional; hard-working, loyal and intelligent. As a United fan born and bred, his fantastic career at Old Trafford has cemented his place in the affection of the club’s supporters everywhere”, continues Ferguson.
Neville has always been a hard-working, determined player and his loyalty and commitment to Manchester United will never be forgotten. He is not only a legend of Manchester United, but a legend of English football too.