1. Per Mertesacker makes a differenceWhen you’ve conceded your last three league goals directly from set-pieces, Upton Park is hardly the ideal place to visit. West Ham’s aerial threat, spearheaded by Andy Carroll, was always going to ask a lot of questions of Arsenal’s defence. But in Per Mertesacker, Arsene Wenger had the answer to most of, if not all, the questions. Andy Carroll won 68% of his aerial duels, but of the aerial duels won by Arsenal, over 50% were won by Mertesacker. Following shaky defensive performances against Chelsea and Olympiakos earlier in the week with Laurent Koscielny at the back, the German’s return to the starting line-up and Arsenal’s robust defensive display were no coincidence.
2. Anti-heroes Luis Suarez and Steven GerrardStatistics may show that Liverpool had 64% of the ball against a physical Stoke City, but there was little evidence of Brendan Rodgers’ controlled style of football. After his brilliance at Carrow Road, Luis Suarez put in a more familiar performance characterized by brilliance in creating chances, no composure in front of goal, plenty of moans at the referee and an utterly ridiculous dive. On the other hand, Steven Gerrard put in his worst performance of the season, which in itself says a lot. The skipper had the highest involvement in the game (maximum touches on the ball), attempted the most number of passes but had an abysmal pass accuracy of 73% - the worst among Liverpool’s outfield players. From one step forward at Carrow Road, this was two steps backward at Anfield.
3. Mancini’s pecking order needs sortingLast season, Mario Balotelli’s sending off at The Emirates was an indirect catalyst for City’s title charge. It forced a stubborn Mancini to unleash the pairing of Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero. The Italian manager, though, doesn’t seem to have learnt his lesson. Balotelli started on the left of Mancini’s 4-2-3-1 on Saturday and produced another of his lethargic displays.
Before the hour mark, he was replaced by Aguero who took only four minutes to make an impact on the score-sheet and whose introduction made City look at least twice as threatening. It’s a pity that Balotelli stormed down the tunnel after being taken off. Had he stayed on the bench and seen Aguero’s display, he would have been grateful that he had been allowed that much time on the pitch.
4. Chris Hughton’s best weapon seems null and voidIf there was one thing that you could have counted on with Chris Hughton at the helm, it was his defensive organization. Hughton’s teams are usually disciplined; Newcastle and Birmingham being prime examples. Birmingham City conceded an average of only 1.1 goals per game in the Championship last season. Norwich City, under Paul Lambert, conceded an average 1.7 goals per game in the Premier League last season. This season, though, Norwich have conceded an average of 2.4 goals per game. Only Southampton have conceded more, but the Saints have much more ammunition in attack to make up for it.
5. Disgraceful chantsIt isn’t just some of the English players like John Terry, the English football culture as a whole leaves a lot to be desired. “Sit down, you pedo!” chanted Upton Park as Arsene Wenger got up in the dugout. That can still come under the umbrella of football banter. But at The Hawthorns, chants of “There’s only one John Terry” were directed towards QPR’s Anton Ferdinand. Isn’t that a subtle form of the 'r' word in itself?
6. Generous SaintsGoing into the weekend, Southampton had dropped the highest number of points from winning positions this season (9). Defeats from winning positions against the two Manchester sides and high-flying Everton were excusable and to generalize this as a habit would’ve perhaps been too early. But the way Fulham grew into the game and Southampton faded away after the Saints took the lead at the St. Mary’s, the habit of going in front and ending up behind is becoming a major worry for Saints manager Nigel Adkins.
7. United’s diamond sparklesSir Alex Ferguson unleashed a sparkling diamond midfield at The Sports Direct Arena to take advantage of a makeshift Newcastle defence. The Magpies were missing first-choice players Tim Krul, Danny Simpson, Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini, which explains why the home side struggled to deal with United's set-pieces.
Sir Alex’s diamond, though, was an interesting tactical feature. It had Michael Carrick at its base, Wayne Rooney at its top, Shinji Kagawa on the right and Tom Cleverley on the left. Robin Van Persie and Danny Welbeck were the two strikers at the head of the pack. While Newcastle were blown away, the formation remains untested against more astute opposition. United, though, are clearly the most flexible side in the title race.
8. Chelsea’s super trioFernando Torres should feel blessed. He had been complaining about Chelsea’s style of play last season, but he has no reasons to be disappointed. In Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar, Torres can hardly ask for a better midfield to support him. The positive effects are already visible as Torres looks to have regained some of his lost touch, while Lampard seems to be enjoying holding back in a more defensive role and laying the ball forward for the trio to entertain. This Chelsea side looks worthy of being European champions, which is quite an irony.
9. Lambert 0-2 Darren BentHad Darren Bent been on the pitch for Aston Villa, Tottenham wouldn’t have run away with a win. Paul Lambert repeated his bizarre decision of benching the prolific Villa striker in favour of Christian Benteke. Last week, savior Bent came off the bench to equalize against West Brom and help earn a point (Lambert 0-1 Bent). This week, Benteke missed a couple of gilt-edged chances at 0-0 and you can’t help but think that Bent would have converted at least one of those.
10. Clarke upstaging the England managerWest Bromwich Albion have won their first four home games of the league season for the first time since 1919. In only his first managerial stint, Liverpool and Chelsea’s former number two Steve Clarke seems to be in the process of upstaging Roy Hodgson. He let go of six players from Hodgson’s era and brought in six of his own, of which defensive midfielder Claudio Yacob and left back Goran Popov have been the most significant ones. The Baggies now seem to have the right mix of combative qualities and flair. While he had inherited a squad that was disciplined under Hodgson, Clarke’s team have been able to express themselves more on the pitch – the best example of which was their neatly crafted third goal against QPR. Clarke certainly doesn’t seem to be feeling any pressure of filling the shoes of England’s current manager. Perhaps, that’s because England ought to have a better manager?
Do you agree with the above points? Is there another key observation you’d like to add on from the weekend? Tweet to @Akarsh_Official to discuss further and the most insightful observations and tweets could appear in the next column.
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