WITH ARSENAL, REASONS FOR DOUBT THINNING OUT
It’s not just that Arsenal’s winning. It’s how they’re winning.
Though the Premier League’s leaders are merely second in their league
both goals scored and goal difference, there’s an element of control to
their game that transcends those rankings. We’ve seen it during their
not-so-glamorous (but still good) performances against Tottenham and
Swansea, and now we’ve seen it when they really click it into gear: their 4-1 win over Norwich City.
Granted, it was only Norwich, who have struggled to seven points
through their first eight matches, but against that type of competition,
Arsenal gave the type of performance you want to see from a
title-contenders. They got an early goal from Jack Wilshere,
and after making it to halftime without building on their dominance,
scored early in the second half. After Norwich delivered them a wake-up
call that halved their lead, the Gunners pulled away. Come full time, it
It was Arsenal’s largest win of the season, and along with a
still-missing victory over another top-of-the-table power, it was one of
the pieces missing from their title-contending résumé. We still need to
see them knock off a Manchester City or Chelsea (or Liverpool, for that
matter), but we also need to know they won’t get nickle-and-dimed by
the bottom of the table. When they play a bad team, they need to treat
them like a bad team. They need to put them beyond the reach of a late
penalty, random corner, or other variables that sees better sides pulled
back by lessers. They need to dominate.
Arsenal showed they may have moved beyond, and while there are still
questions about their title-contending case, the doubts are diminishing.
The Gunners continue to improve.
2. ARISE SIR ANDROS, THIS WEEK’S NEXT-LATEST STAR
When Gareth Bale left for Real Madrid, it was assumed Erik Lamela
would be the man to pick up (some of) the slack, the 21-year-old
Argentine’s $41 million price reflecting talent that produced 15 goals
from wide in last year’s Serie A. Instead it was Gylfi Sigurdsson, once thought surpluse, who filled the immediate void. Now, carrying over his international form, Andros Townsend
is setting up on the other side, giving Spurs the direct option their
attack desperately lacked while sputtering through the start of the
By direct option, we don’t mean hitting long balls down the right for
Townsend to run onto, though given the England international’s current
confidence level, that would probably work. Instead, what we mean is an
option that allows Tottenham to go directly at a defense, try to win a
one-on-one battle, and score a goal without having to relying on them
tapping their way through a slowly manipulated seem. Only 22 and seeing
his first regular action with Spurs, Townsend gives André Villas-Boas something that can work when tactics and approach don’t.
He’s nowhere close to Aaron Ramsey‘s level, but like the Arsenal midfielder, he has a chance to be one of the season’s breakout stars. Add Ross Barkley to that list, potentially Adnan Januzaj, Ravel Morrison (of course) and keep in mind the likes of Dejan Lovren,
even if he’s a bit older. Regardless, there’s a group of players
exerting themselves early, impacts on the Premier League – a selection
of talents few were touting as impact players two months ago. Barkley
led the pack at the onset. Then it was Zanuzaj’s turn.
This week, it’s Townsend. Who knows who’s next, but odds are, more
players will fill the void the previous generation’s left behind.
Townend’s just our latest treat.
3. CHELSEA’S SPECIAL DISTRATION
Sometimes you wonder if we like the spectacle more than the
competition. Case and point: After Chelsea’s win on Saturday, more
people were talking about José Mourinho than his team’s lopsided result.
You’d think like Arsenal’s, a 4-1 win would be something to trumpet,
and it was, but when your manager is Mourinho, the broader press is
always going to dwell on the Special One.
They should be dwelling on Eden Hazard,
the Belgian international having the type of influence fans hoped to
see on a regular basis when he was lured from Lille last year. Though
Cardiff’s poor defending (goalkeeping lumped in) played a huge part in
the result, Hazard had a hand in each goal, his most clever
contribution being the off-the-ball run that prevented Kévin
Theóphil-Catherine from being in position to close down Oscar ahead of his goal.
Perhaps more encouraging than Hazard, however, was Samuel Eto’o,
who played a part in two goals before coming off. His first
contribution was controversial, with Cardiff still seeking an
explanation why he was allowed to poke the ball away while David Marshall
attempted to bounce it. (Why? Why not. Don’t bounce the ball, man.) But
like Hazard, the important thing isn’t so much the how as the how many.
Eto’o's involvement’s increasing, giving fans reason to think he may
yet fill their void up top.
But all of that was overshadowed by Mourinho, who (in getting sent
off) put himself at the center of attention. Of course, he’s not the one
that writes the articles or produces the television segments, but he is
the one who sokes it all in. This is all part of the package you get
when you toss him the keys.
It’s annoying, if you look at it through your grandfather’s monocle,
but the act mostly ends up being helpful (even if it bit him during his
last days at Real Madrid). Contrary to popular assumption, most athletes
don’t want microphones in their faces all day. Mourinho lures them
away, but not so much that the attention-seekers can’t find an attentive
lens. During the lulls in the season, this ends up being a good thing,
as Mourinho can deflect attention while the team focuses on their jobs.
On weekends like this, though, he might detract from a 4-1 win, if only a little.
4. DAVID MOYES: THE ANTI-FERGUSON
Supporters will complain it’s unfair to compare David Moyes
to his predecessor, but he signed up for the job. Whomever followed
Alex Ferguson was destined to jump the icon’s shadow, and given United’s
coming off a title-winning season, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect the
Red Devils to persist near the top of the table. It’s not like the team
thinned out when Fergie went to his stables.
All this needs to be reiterated because some will see Saturday’s result
as acceptable in some broader, charitable sense, and those bleeding
hearts may be right. One point from Southampton may not only be a decent
result but eventually be cast in the greater context of Moyes’ success
story. The middling results that have characterized the start of this
season could be the momentary transition between two successful bosses.
But with Saints snatching a late equalizer at Old Trafford, it’s
impossible to ignore another point of contrast. Alex Ferguson’s teams
were famous for those results – the last minute, little stabs that
ripped results from their opponent’s hearts. Manchester United are the
ones that are supposed to be snatching late equalizers, not their
Maybe those days are gone. Maybe it’s just the Manchester United of
Ferguson that could defy the odds. Moyes’s Devils are already proving
much more human