Where to begin?
Let’s start with some wisdom from Spurs’ manager Harry Redknapp, who quite rightly asserts that Chelsea and Arsenal are “handing the title” to one of the worst United sides in recent memory. Although, it must be said, the timing of Redknapp’s comments is a little strange, seeing as they were uttered after Spurs’ toothless nil-nil draw with West Ham at White Hart Lane. The truth contained in them is fairly apparent, but what do they say about Chelsea and Arsenal.
The Gunners fought back from a two goal deficit on the road to salvage a 2-2 tie with Roy Hodgson’s improving West Brom side. I don’t think that result is as bad as it seems (in a vacuum). But it remains to be seen whether or not this side has the leadership, mental strength and character needed to fight through the obvious hangover resulting from all of their recent and numerous soul-crushing, tournament-ending defeats. I’m not sure they do, especially now that they have to rely on Manuel Almunia in goal. But Arsene Wenger stepped forth with some strong words to the contrary after the match, stating:
“Still, I feel we showed great spirit and commitment to get back into this game and when you are 2-0 down away from home with 20 minutes to go, a point has to be viewed as a good result.”This performance proves we are ready to battle and we are up for this fight.”
Wenger also said “We will win our game in hand and beat United, which will be enough to make us champions.” When I look at Arsenal, I see a team that could and should be superior to United on the pitch, in the standings etc.–but in 2 matches so far this year the tally between them reads: United 3, Arsenal 0.
Chelsea actually looks like a better bet to challenge for the title at the moment, as they are going in the opposite direction of the sputtering, demoralized Gunners. The Blues earned a huge 3 points by beating Manchester City 2-0 on the strength of a crucial goal from their highly touted, hugely influential new signing…Fernan…no…David Luiz, who also threatened United (ala Wenger) after the game. According to former Blues defender Scott Minto, some aspects of Torres’ struggles can be attributed to his attempts to fit into the 4-3-3 formation that Chelsea has employed since the beginning of the Mourinho era. The awkward, on-the-fly realignment of Chelsea’s attacking shape to accommodate Torres has also seemed to hamper the momentum of Didier Drogba (who was a force late in yesterday’s match) and Florent Malouda. Still, the Blues have energy, momentum and leadership to draw upon, whereas Arsenal seems bereft and adrift.
Does the weight of United’s legacy translate into lucky breaks sometimes? It sure seems like it. I watched the whole eternal match with Bolton and things like Jussi Jaaskelaine’s fumble just seem to happen almost supernaturally for United against the spooked, cowed teams playing them at Old Trafford. And, of course, Berbatov was there to barely nudge the ball over the line. In all honesty, though, United seemed to accelerate after Johnny Evans was sent off for his violent, absurd tackle on Stuart Holden (I wonder if Sir Alex will run his mouth about that tackle the way he did about Carragher’s challenge on Nani). The ten man United played the last 10 minutes of the match with a ferocity and purpose more in line with what I expected to see from Bolton. So it wasn’t all luck and they deserve credit for their win. It was, however, aggravating to see.
Update: Classy move by Evans. I hope Holden is back on the pitch as fast as possible
More soon on the bottom half of the Premier League table and the weekend in Serie A.
Berbatov image courtesy of PA Photos