The dust is settling on the weekend’s football with most attention focused on Liverpool’s flop at Goodison Park. Jurgen Klopp confronted a ballboy (apparently) who frankly deserved a medal for sarcastically applauding the German off the pitch. If the lad got a snarling “F*ck off, you jug-eared twat” in response, he probably thinks it worthwhile. I know I would.
Martin Keown told the world this morning that “champions don’t bottle it”; I beg to differ. I remember Derby County and Wimbledon in 1989; we bottled winning the league at home. Displayed the steel need to win a title afterward but honestly, writing off Liverpool now is mad. Although I confess to laughing like a drain at the likes of Souness and Carragher – the professional Scousers – as the spittle flew threw the air.
Liverpool not winning the league in nearly 30 years still amuses me no end. I don’t know why given we’re 15 years and they are a damn sight closer to it. Actually, I do know why; I grew up in the era when they won everything, a bit like United and frankly if we weren’t involved in a tussle for fourth with them, their failures would amuse as well.
There ought to be a rule which bans clubs from sacking coaches during a season. Every summer, yes; in between times, no. You made your bed, you lie in it. I am deeply saddened by Mourinho’s departure because he was wrecking the club far more than any one man seemed capable of doing.
Sunday’s match does, however, come with added spice as a result of United’s upturn and the FA Cup exit. We know how Solskjaer will send his team out to play, the question is whether our master tactician can find the answer to countering their counters?
Meanwhile, Over at Arsenal…
Saturday saw promising signs the players understand what is required of them. It’s easy to be motivated and focused in big games, it’s the remaining matches which pose us bigger problems in that sense.
However, is it any coincidence we looked stronger at the back with players in their natural positions? Mustafi began life as a right-back and putting him back there relieved some of the pressure. Not all of it, he still contrived to concede a penalty. I’m not going there again.
Nevertheless, his dilettante defending cannot distract from the excellent performances of Koscielny and Sokratis in the centre. The transformation in the confidence in the defending generally which sprang from their command. Leno emphatically controlled his area for the most part with little sign of the jitters which surface in other matches.
Was it focus needed in a big match or the absence of Mustafi in front of him? I know what I think.
While the performance draws praise it means nothing if we don’t do the same against United this weekend. It was a great point but this Sunday, we must play on the front foot. That requires concentration and hard work in preventing United capitalising on our mistakes. We made few on Saturday with the midfield quartet working hard to shut Spurs down.
A repeat of that will be needed. Torreira’s red card solves the selection headache; Guendouzi plays against United and I hasten to add, Iwobi as well as Mkhitaryan. No Mesut Özil in the XI again with Ramsey, I thought, doing more than enough to retain his place. Two Europa League games suit the German better than the hardworking performance required on Sunday.
Therein is the danger of a good performance; we focus on the good individual performances and that of the team overall. However, we’ll need a different style on Sunday. We’re at home and will see more of the ball than we did at Wembley. United will try and inflict our own game on us.
As far as finishing fourth, I don’t think there will be many twists until mid-April with each of ourselves, United and Chelsea facing run-of-the-mill fixtures. But from the 14th of that month, Chelsea and United face tough fixtures, including each other, as long as we are in no worse a position than we are now, the prospects of a season of stabilisation and rebuilding being our best for a couple of years is realistic.
That certainly changes the summer from Emery’s perspective in getting shot of the expendables and bringing in the players needed to push us back into the title race in coming seasons.
The end of this season is certainly looking more interesting than it did six weeks ago.