Things We Learned This Weekend
Sherwood isn`t handling the pressure well
People management is a tricky concept because not all people are the same. Some require a rocket up the jacksy, others to have their hair playfully jostled and an arm around the shoulder, some people just want to be left the **** alone to get on with their jobs. The art of management is identifying the traits of the individuals you manage and applying them as necessary. It`s a complex science because there is no one size fits all approach, as Paolo di Canio has discovered. The task is made doubly hard for the manager because they also have to check their own emotions and be seen as a dependable presence for the people they are leading.
Sherwood`s decision to question the "gut" of his players following the 4-0 defeat to Chelsea doesn`t appear to have elicited the desired response. Whilst Jorge Jesus was probably a tad unreasonable with his goading of Sherwood on Thursday night, (the incident was no less amusing for that fact though) the Tottenham manager`s touchline antics on Sunday raise serious questions about his temperament for a job at the top level.
All managers lose their cool on the touchline from time to time, but Sherwood`s behaviour on Sunday represents an accumulation of events that suggests he is struggling to keep a grip. During his tenure, he`s shown an inability to turn a game around in Spurs` favour if it has begun to slip away from them. His frustration was evident in the 20th minute when he hurled his jacket to the ground in irritation (in fairness, Arsene Wenger has executed that particular manoeuvre in a North London derby himself).
That he effectively tried to pick a fight with Bacary Sagna by hurling the ball at him once again brought his angst to the surface. It was Sagna that remained in control of the situation, urging calm around him and offering Sherwood his hand added to the idea that Sherwood is struggling to keep control. When a manager has to be calmed by an opposing player, a junior figure in the football hierarchy, you know that all is not well.
Sherwood also bizarrely tried to impede Sagna a few minutes earlier. Szczesny`s goal kick sailed towards the touchline, aimed for Sagna`s head. It was touch and go whether the ball might go out of play as Sagna stretched to head it, but Sherwood immediately sprung to his feet to try and catch the ball without waiting to see if it was indeed headed for touch and thus ended up basically challenging Sagna himself.
His post match comments are becoming increasingly emotional, culminating in yesterday`s bizarre script that he had exposed "cracks" in Arsenal`s play. When probed as to which cracks those might be, he spluttered, "Well, they won." It`s difficult to see how this sort of chest thumping carry on is going to inspire confidence in his bewildered team. The "I`m proper passionate, me" shtick is unlikely to produce a response from the modern footballer, which is why the likes of Graeme Souness are no longer in work. Sherwood will learn that with time as his managerial career progresses, but at the moment, he looks every inch the greenhorn.
In fairness, Spurs played much better in the second half and closed some of the gaps that Rosicky and Chamberlain were ploughing into (the exact reason Wenger selected both in midfield, to break the lines of Tottenham`s pressure) and they had a bit more gumption in the second half. Yet the tactics were basic. Spurs have subtle, intelligent players such as Eriksen and Chadli, who are hardly going to flourish when the main tactic seems to be to get the ball to Adebayor as quickly as possible and toss cross after cross into the Arsenal penalty area.
This Arsenal squad "get" Arsenal
Being a football fan is a naturally pious business and we all think of our clubs as somehow unique or superior. I think it`s fair to say over the years Arsenal have had talented players but players that have not produced an affinity with the club. I`ll leave you to reel off the names. Arsenal`s improved defensive work and their ability to defend a lead is largely borne out of a more experienced squad with a better, more consistent level of performer. That tends to be what happens when your purse strings loosen a little.
Yet there`s something else on display here. At the final whistle, you could see what beating Spurs meant to the players. Per Mertesacker ran the length of the pitch to the away stand, his fists clenched, and his face contorting into a primal scream. Lukas Podolski jumped into the away enclosure. Wojciech Szczesny whipped out his phone and took an Ellen at the Oscars style "selfie" on the White Hart Lane turf, before turning his phone upwards at the travelling fans, filming their celebrations. These are experienced, international players born hundreds of miles away from North London. Yet they celebrated like we did.
On the pitch, where it matters most, players like Arteta (again quietly outstanding yesterday) and Rosicky provide what Wenger would describe as "technical leadership", much in the same way that I think Bacary Sagna does. But it`s difficult to deny as a supporter, with your sentimental side well nurtured by lifelong affiliation, there is something thrilling about watching your players enjoy their victory as much as you do and seeing the flicker of recognition that winning at Spurs carries extra meaning. Whilst Sherwood showed his "passion" on the sidelines; Arsenal kept cool heads on the pitch and waited until after the final whistle to surrender to their emotions.
The Old Trafford fear factor is a fading memory
If there is a regret in an otherwise good season to this point for the Gunners, it`s that we were probably the only side in the league this season to surrender to the fabled Old Trafford fear factor. At home this season, United have scored 18 goals (as many as Fulham have managed at Craven Cottage), have won as many points as Norwich (21) and only one more than Crystal Palace (stats via @oliverkaytimes). Liverpool`s consummate demolition job at Old Trafford not only put paid to United`s Champions League qualification hopes, but it revealed the extent to which visiting teams openly relish playing at Old Trafford now. The cat is away and the mice are playing.
Even the referees are no longer intimidated. It`s difficult to envisage a Premier League whistle tender awarding three penalties to a visiting side at Old Trafford in one game with Ferguson prowling the touchline. Moyes needs to reflect on why it was that United were in the position of making desperate challenges in their own area so often (Liverpool had two other penalty shouts too). Whilst it is true that Ferguson left a big rebuilding job behind, it is somewhat peculiar that a decades old force field has been allowed to disappear so meekly and so notably in such a short space of time.
There are any number of tactical failings that have exposed Moyes this season (that he can`t get the best out of his good attacking players, such as Mata and van Persie, an overly cautious, 'small time` approach), but surely the biggest question that must be asked of Moyes is his ability to motivate his players. Van Persie cuts a disinterested figure; Javier Hernandez posts cryptic messages on social media sites, hinting broadly at discontent. Though Rio Ferdinand seems thoroughly past it as a player, he appears to have been isolated which is always a dangerous thing to do to a senior player unless you`re just going to cut them loose. Nemanja Vidic is leaving; Juan Mata is being used as though he is Jermaine Pennant playing for Stoke. United`s heads seem to sink into their chests every time they go behind and it`s difficult to say that Moyes is doing anything other than a disastrous job of motivating them.
The top 4 is now a closed shop
Victories for Arsenal and Liverpool, defeating Spurs and Manchester United in the process, means that this year 4th place is actually going to be a wooden spoon rather than illusory silverware. The top 4 places are almost certainly cemented now; it`s just a matter of the order of the clubs in the cordon sanitaire. The exciting thing is that pretty much any order is conceivable. With it being a World Cup year, all four teams will be desperate not to face a qualifier in August.
Fulham are this weekend`s biggest winners
A meek capitulation away at Southampton means the writing could be on the wall for Chris Hughton`s men. Their last four fixtures read; Liverpool (h), Manchester United (a), Chelsea (a), Arsenal (h). Old Trafford represents their best chance of collecting any points from that run. Realistically they`re going to have to be several points clear of the relegation zone in mid April to survive. Considering they`ve been pumped by Villa and Southampton away from home recently, conceding 4 goals to each of those teams, the signs look rather ominous. Likewise Cardiff City look utterly bereft. Fulham`s victory this weekend has given Magath`s men a huge lifeline, especially with Palace and Sunderland having played out a 0-0 draw.