Sunday, August 15, 2010

What Fresh Hell Is This....

It's a new Premiership season


It struck me watching this game today, that there are a number of fascinating contrasts between Man City and Arsenal. Most would immediately think of the financial differences, but think of the managers' respective football philosophies, and how they are being evidenced at the moment.

Arsenal are in desperate need of at least one centre back- have been almost all summer- and Wenger seems reluctant to get the necessary done. They could also do with a more defensively-minded midfield understudy for Alex Song, but this does not seem a priority at all. The predominance of attacking midfield players- Fabregas, Arshavin, Rosicky, Nasri, Diaby, Wilshere, Ramsey- gives the squad a lopsided look.

City under Mancini have collected defensive players, particularly combative midfield players. James Milner- a competent but limited and grossly overrated winger turned midfielder- is not going to turn that trend around. Stephen Ireland, their only truly creative midfielder, has been deemed surplus to requirements. Their squad has a similar, but inverted problem, to Arsenal's.

And this reflects the personalities of the two managers. Both equally stubborn in opposing ways. Mancini refusing to adapt a pragmatic Italian attitude to the gung-ho English game, constructing a team so dour it makes Mourinho's Chelsea look like the Harlem Globetrotters. Fielding three holding midfielders, without one to pick a lock.

Wenger, also unwilling to adapt, but his aesthetic completely different. A blind adherence to attacking principles. Ignoring crippling deficiencies on the defensive side. Believing that if the other team score four, we'll score five.

Another interesting contrast is that City still, at time of writing, have the two best shot-stoppers in the league on their books; Arsenal don't have a single goalkeeper worthy of the name.

One thing I believe Mancini and Wenger have in common is that they will both win fuck all this season.

SPURS are in similar shape to last season. The question is, if they embark on a Champions League run, can they balance that with another top four challenge.

With varying versions of 4-5-1 in vogue, their continued use of 4-4-2, and sometimes without a dedicated 'holding' player, is refreshing. They are capable of some of the best football in the league.

A lot of Arsenal fans seem to think that, even if trophies remain out of reach, a top four place is safe. I don't think it's been acknowledged how dangerous that assumption is. For Arsenal to improve, a few far-from-certain things have to happen. A decent goalkeeper must be signed. A regular partner for Vermaelen, ready for the rigours of the Premiership. Fabregas has to keep dragging the team through games at times as he did last season. Nasri might have to find the extra level he's been threatening to. All that is mere speculation. But what's close to god-damn-certain is that losing William Gallas (possibly, if reports are to be believed, to Spurs) and not properly replacing him with equivalent experience will make Arsenal's defence even more porous than last season's infuriating vintage. What is also questionable is whether this team will suddenly pluck the character to win big games from somewhere.

What I'm driving at here is that a top four place is under serious threat. If we are to assume, and I certainly will, that Chelsea and United remain out of reach, then there are four teams- Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool and City- scrabbling for those other two places.

Which two have the most capacity for improvement from last season???

Based on summer dealings, there is reason to believe things could get worse before they get better. And with the squad starting the season in an already ravaged state, Liverpool tomorrow could represent a wake-up call to complacent fans and a complacent manager.

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