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Things We Learned This Weekend

Things We Learned This Weekend

Arsenal love a 2-0 and it`s not a coincidence

Cardiff City, Fulham, Hull City, Liverpool, Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur, Fenerbahçe, Marseilles, Napoli and now Crystal Palace. A list of the teams that have come to the Emirates this season and that have lost by two goals to nil. That represents more than 50% of the Gunners` home games this season. Of the 20 goals accrued in those games, 12 have been scored in the second half, 9 of those arriving between the 46-75 minute mark.

Arsenal have had a clear game plan this season that has involved keeping teams at arm`s length. They tend to begin games quite cautiously and don`t over commit. Hence why there always seems to be such a disparity between their first and second half performances. Between 45-75th minutes, they tend to 'release the handbrake` to adopt Wengerist parlance, before again retreating and closing the game out at 2-0.

This was embodied against Palace on Sunday by two goal hero Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, who became the 7th different Arsenal player to score a brace this season. In the first half, Chamberlain played a deeper midfield role alongside Mikel Arteta. It meant Arteta had an out ball and Chamberlain saw a lot of the ball, but did so in deeper areas of the pitch with the Eagles` well erected defensive wall in the way.

In the second half, Chamberlain played much further up the pitch (with Özil sometimes dropping in to play alongside Arteta). Chamberlain, like Rosicky and Wilshere, has the ability to drive at defences with the ball at his feet and his direct running paid immediate dividends, as Cazorla`s beautifully clipped ball found Chamberlain`s undetected run to the back post. Interestingly, Chamberlain`s second came from a slightly deeper position, as his flick beautifully found Rosicky and he drove on to collect Giroud`s pass (illustrating perfectly why Giroud is such an important component of the team).

The win against Crystal Palace was the culmination of a well-executed plan against the bottom 12 or so teams. Keep at arm`s length for the first half, don`t concede the first goal, raise the tempo at the beginning of the second half, and then retreat when the game is safe. If Arsenal are drawing with one of the league`s lesser lights 0-0 at half time, I urge patience and so did the manager after the Fulham game. "The crowd is more patient with us now. Last year the crowd would have become impatient with us in the first half."

Chelsea look to be favourites now

For all of his churlish "little horse" talk, Jose Mourinho and Chelsea made quite a statement last night in becoming the first team to stop City scoring at home for over 3 years and the first away side to come away from Eastlands with the points since biblical times. The victory was more emphatic than the 1-0 score line suggested, with Chelsea hitting the woodwork three times in total. Matic and Hazard were standout performers in a consummate victory.

Chelsea`s performance is a reminder that personnel isn`t always an indicator for how you`re going to play. On the face of it, a midfield of Ramires, Matic and Luiz looked set to stifle, especially with the industrious Willian starting ahead of Oscar (who, in fairness, is no slacker). But Chelsea`s game plan to counter attack with runners from deep left City exposed time and time and time again. In fairness, Mourinho`s plan was aided by injuries to Aguero, Fernandinho and Nasri, three of City`s key performers. This meant the ageing Martin Demichelis moved into midfield alongside Yaya Toure, who neglected his defensive duties all evening, allowing Demichelis to be triple teamed by Chelsea`s flying V of counter attacking midfielders. City were forced into 16 errors as Chelsea strangled them in midfield.

Arsenal`s fixture list for the next 6 weeks is well acknowledged. City still have to visit Everton, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. Chelsea`s only engagement away from home at one of the top 7 comes at Anfield. At home, they welcome Arsenal and Everton. They have played both Manchester clubs twice, picking up ten points in the process. Mourinho`s side conceded 13 goals in 9 games between October and December and gently suggested that his team needs to tighten up defensively. Since that remark, his side have shipped just 2 goals in 9 games. Despite Mourinho`s public proclamations, his side have to be considered clear favourites now.

More money doesn`t seem to be making the lower sides better

There has been much talk of extra television revenues in the Premier League this season. Shared equally amongst the 20 league clubs, the team that finishes 20th this season will receive more television money than Manchester United did last season. There was some suggestion that this cash would make the league more competitive. Southampton signed Dani Osvaldo for close to £13m. Sunderland attracted Italian international Emanuele Giaccherini, West Ham were able to finance a permanent deal for Andy Carroll, Norwich broke their transfer record for Ricky van Wolfswinkel Aston Villa signed Christian Benteke up to a new contract and Swansea did likewise with Michu.

Yet, at time of writing, just 6 points separate the bottom 10. Games between teams in the bottom half are rarely tolerable affairs. Could it be that the cash has made clubs less ambitious? Many are stopping just short of kicking the ball into their own net in F.A. Cup fixtures so they can exit as quickly as possible and get on with the thrilling business of hanging on grimly for 17th place or above. Swansea`s drop in form since qualifying for the Europa League will mean teams would probably deliberately abort any attempts to qualify for Europe in the unlikely event that a winning run made that prospect remotely probable. More money hasn`t made the league more fun and the more you scratch the surface, the more you begin to suspect that it`s actually made it much less fun. OR maybe the clubs in the league`s depths are just really bad at spending it? LD.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

Writer:Tim Stillman
Date:Tuesday February 4 2014
Time: 9:53AM


The league certainly is more competitive down at the bottom - and the top . The bottom 5 teams have all got more points than the bottom 5 at the same stage last season. The points gap between the top 5 teams is much tighter this season too. Chelsea are one of the two favourites for the title, as they have been all season, and they are capable of grinding a result as they did yesterday (though City were never too far away from scoring themselves) but they are also capable of dropping points as they did against West Ham when they don't manage to sneak a goal.
04/02/2014 11:02:00
I think with regards to City & Chelsea dropping points. City will/are more likely to drop points against decent teams away from home. They play Liverpool, Everton & Us away. Chelsea I see as more likely to drop points against the weaker teams. I expect Chelsea's dropped points to be shock results like at Stoke and West Ham.
No 10
04/02/2014 11:27:00
The legue has contracted, but the gap is getting wider between the top half and the bottom and it's got wider again this year. (Everton qualified for the Champions League with 61 points in 2005-05 and West Ham went down with 42 in 2003). I think, subjectively, there's a kind of desperation to the games between sides in that area of the table, I don't remember many being anything other than pretty dull- with the odd thrashing here and there- Hull v Fulham for instance. All teams at the top will drop points yet and all of us will drop points that we oughtn't to as well. I just see Chelsea doing it quite a bit less than us and City, simply because we've both got plenty of games left where you wouldn't be surprised if we did. Chelsea have had good fortune with injuries so far too, remains to be seen if that continues of course. If Hazard and Oscar get cut down for instance, then they could be in trouble.
Little Dutch
04/02/2014 13:35:00
I think the mid table teams might be getting squeezed a little but I see that as a consequence of the top 5 or 6 sides being closer together and the bottom sides also being closer. Certainly the bottom 5 sides have picked up more points collectively than at the same stage last season. I'm not sure you can tell a great deal looking at points tallies from one season to another though but it's only in the last 10 years or so that the points tally by which the title winners have won the league has been as consistently high - above the mid 80's usually towards the 90s mark. In the first 10 years of the PL it wasn't unusual to take the title with 80 points or less. I think this reflects the competitive disparity brought about by the moneyed clubs that will only be better balanced as and when some of this excessive distortion is removed.
04/02/2014 15:04:00
Man u has had rooney, van persie, and most of their defenders out injured. Mancity. Have had aguero, kompany, nasri, fernandinho out injured . Arsenal have had giroud, podolski, ox, walcott, merts, ozil, arteta, flamini, Wilshere out injured at various times. Liverpool have had suarez(suspended), sturidge, agger, gerard, johnson, coutinho, sakho, lucas out injured. Chelsea have not had any of their back four injured except ivanovic(shortly), hazard, willian, ramirez, eto, Oscar are yet to have injuries. Safe to say chelsea are lucky with injuries so far.
04/02/2014 18:45:00
Chelsea may have knocked City's confidence a bit as well, they showed the flaws in the defensive side of Manchester City's game especially in a few short periods where they looked bereft of ideas and on the ropes. They didn't play anywhere at the level they have shown at home whilst Chelsea I think exploited this.

Looking forward to our run, undoubtable there will be dropped points by us. Hope the other two horses do likewise. Or should I say one horse and one poor little horse who is struggling along desperately chasing the other two, in need of a £1billion pound cash injection.

04/02/2014 19:05:00
"More money doesn't seem to be making the lower sides better," I think it is too early to draw this conclusion. If the money flow gets bigger and the distribution model is kept the only missing piece for real parity would be how effective the FFP becomes. Plugging shut the free and the unaccountable transfers from oligarchs etc. would boost the lower sides' effective spending and make them more attractive to players and their agents. Since the NFL (American Football) adopted such approach not a single team has been able to win the Superbowl (ultimate championship) back-to-back. Obviously there are other factors accounting for this but in the end management of resources is cited as the most powerful predictive variable for winning.
05/02/2014 00:07:00
I think what it looks to have done is made staying in the league even more of a priority, which has led to teams playing some pretty desperate football and instead of using the extra squad depth they could accrue to compete, they’re jacking in the cups in favour of hanging on for somewhere between 12th and 17th. That desperation has led to some really dull spectacles. I can’t recall too many exciting games between those teams when they play one another this season. Villa v West Brom was one. I think, and I appreciate that enjoyment is a subjective measure, that about 70% of the league is more dull than it’s ever been. But yes of course there is also a point about overall competitiveness. (Which I think is a key point in the reduction of atmosphere too, a lot of the results are very predictable and the big teams expect to win and the not so big teams expect to lose, so there’s a lack of spectacle or motivation). Ultimately the breakaway Premier League sowed those particular seeds and the oligarchs have compounded it.
Little Dutch
05/02/2014 09:36:00
Hmmm. If the expectation was that more money in the league would make for a "level playing field" for the 'erstwhile' smaller teams, this may fall flat on its face as inflationary pressures would only impact the fees/price for top players, which brings us back to the status quo, almost. Anyone else observed how the fees for average players have gone up recently, once England based teams get involved in the pursuit for such players' signatures? Agents know the EPL sides are desperate to match up and inflate the values while using social media to create a siege mentality for the teams, as they smile to the banks.
05/02/2014 14:29:00
The CIES Football Observatory has posted figures which show total transfer fees paid for the current squads of the teams in the 5 major european leagues. Clubs in the EPL paid substantially more than Spain & Italy combined and also as much as Spain, France and germany combined. Apparently UK teams paid €2.7bn, Italy €1,2bn, Spain €1.13bn, France €951m and Germany €849m
05/02/2014 15:28:00
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