7 truths: Sack Arsene Wenger, criticise Louis van Gaal and the smartest owner in football
1) It’s obvious. Arsenal need a change. Wenger must go
Winning the FA Cup last season may have been the worst thing to happen to Arsenal. Instead of finally bidding farewell to Arsene Wenger after another predictably miserable campaign, there was a renewed sense that next year could finally be the one they secure a first league title since 2003/04. The emphatic Charity Shield victory over Manchester City only raised expectations.
"17 - 17 points from 12 games is Arsenal’s worst ever start in the Premier League. Flat.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 22, 2014"
But the truth is this: Arsenal have drastically regressed under Wenger. How many times have we seen that exact game against United? The Gunners dominate the early stages, inexplicably spurn a host of simple openings before conceding in calamitous circumstances. Only Arsenal could bottle the opportunity to win that sort of match – and it’s happened with alarming regularity over the past five seasons. Wenger built the Invincibles, but has now dismantled that memory before repair. He must go.
2) Paddy Power were right – Chelsea won’t bottle it
It might have been a publicity stunt, but Paddy Power can rest easy after their decision to pay out on Chelsea winning the Premier League title. While title rivals Manchester City laboured to victory over Swansea, the Blues were dismantling West Brom before seeing out maximum points in the most comfortable fashion.
Jose Mourinho can give all the interviews he wants about complacency. The title is Chelsea’s. They have the best players, strongest squad and most cohesive unit. And it’s hard to see who can halt their fantastic start to the Premier League campaign. The new Invincibles? It's looking increasingly likely.
3) Forget the result, Louis van Gaal’s 3-5-2 system was a joke
Imagine if David Moyes had plumped for a back three as inexperienced as Chris Smalling, Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett. He would have been crucified. But for some reason Louis van Gaal appears to be immune from criticism. Yes, United ended up beating Arsenal and yes, the Dutchman had limited defensive options at his disposal, but it was evident from the opening 20 minutes that it was a flawed strategy.
They were only spared embarrassment by their opponents’ profligacy. Arsenal’s ability to repeatedly bottle it in front of goal was laughable – especially given the United defence’s willingness to gift them chance after chance. If LVG takes that line-up to Stamford Bridge, his side will be annihilated.
4) Manchester City need to click soon… Or Pellegrini’s walking
When are Manchester City going to start destroying teams? Last season’s November international break signalled a run of devastating results – they collected 16 points from six matches, scoring 23 in the progress – as talk of an unlikely quadruple surfaced.
This season they’re struggling to keep pace with Southampton. The sluggish 2-1 win over Swansea confirmed they’re a long way away from their best and it’s hard to see how Manuel Pellegrini can hold onto his job when his side are floundering on both domestic and continental fronts. A decent performance against Bayern Munich on Tuesday in the Champions League is vital.
5) Mike Ashley: the smartest owner in football
Newcastle’s resurgence is staggering. Just 54 days ago, they succumbed to a 1-0 defeat at Stoke that appeared to be the final nail in Alan Pardew’s coffin. In pretty much any other job in the Premier League, that would have been the end – but owner Mike Ashley elected to keep faith with his man and is now giddy as a result.
The hordes of Newcastle fans that (probably justifiably) backed the #PardewOut campaign must now admit they would be mad to change their manager. Saturday’s 1-0 win over QPR – their sixth straight success – moved them up to fourth in the table prior to United's clash with Arsenal. Just let that sink in. If they strengthen in January, the Toon have a chance of snatching an unlikely European berth. None of us saw that coming on September 29 at the Britannia.
6) Every outfield United player owes David de Gea a drink
David de Gea might be considering his future if the Manchester United defence continues to implode around him. The Spaniard was superb again at the Emirates (bar Olivier Giroud’s late strike which he might have stopped) – his anticipation to deny Jack Wilshere one-on-one of particular note. He looks certain to be Spain number one for years to come.
When he first arrived in England he was branded too flimsy, but he’s bulked up and established himself as one of the finest – if not the finest – goalkeepers operating in the Premier League. The problem for United fans is that while he continues to put in impressive displays, Van Gaal may be tempted to continue with his return to a three-man defence. And that will only end in disaster.
7) Burnley are NOT doomed
Ever encountered a goalkeeper with a case of cramp? Burnley were so under the cosh against Stoke City that Tom Heaton's legs gave way at the Britannia Stadium and had to get a team-mate’s assistance to heal his aching limbs. Chances are his fall to the turf was a slice of gamesmanship, but it served to highlight how desperate the Clarets were for their first away victory.
Not many people from the world of football gave them a chance of survival at the start of the season, but back-to-back victories – sparked by the return of Danny Ings to the attack – have transformed the relegation picture. Suddenly their chances of beating the drop have improved from impossible to implausible. It's on (sort of).
Ben Snowball - @BenSnowball