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Arsenal showing vibrant new life
Arsene Wenger said it best this weekend: The only thing predictable about the Premier League this season is that it is unpredictable. And after a weekend that saw his Arsenal open up a five-point gap atop the table, and my Newcastle beat Chelsea in spectacular fashion, I cannot disagree!
We do have to start at Arsenal where I thought the Gunners sent a big message. I said last week how I thought they were looking very efficient, but that they needed a response after losing their Champions League and Cup games at home.
Wenger got one, and you have to credit Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta alike for sparking it. Arsenal needed stability in the back with Mathieu Flamini out, and I thought Arteta did an outstanding job steering the back line and cutting off Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge from the rest of their team. Arteta was very good at closing down the gaps and recovering the ball, allowing Tomas Rosicky and Ramsey to get forward and force Liverpool back.
And when you let Ramsey get forward, he can hurt you. Ramsey may be the most improved player of the season so far: he always had promise, but last year it was clear he wasn’t fit. Now that he’s healthy, and is playing with confidence, you see what he can give you. That goal Saturday was a thing of beauty, but Wenger will be pleased also with how well he bossed that midfield.
This game doesn’t decide the league of course, but as I’ve said before, this looks a different Arsenal team than we’re used to. They look like a team enjoying their football, and they are a delight to watch. They look very professional, and maybe it’s the German influence now, but they also have a toughness about them that will serve them well.
Speaking of tough, Jose Mourinho called out his Chelsea team Saturday after they lost to my Newcastle, calling them soft. I don’t think that’s fair to the Toon: we got the tactics right Saturday.
Newastle needed a response after that awful loss to Sunderland, and the players stepped up. Give Alan Pardew credit: He slowed the game down in the first half, and let Frank Lampard wear out a little bit. Then, after the break, we stopped standing off Chelsea, upped the tempo, and took the game right to them. That was smart, because when Lampard tired out and Mourinho took him off, space opened up for us to move into.
Yohan Cabaye’s dead ball for Yoan Gouffran was superb, and it was great to see Loic Remy get back to his scoring ways. For me, the man of the match was Mathieu Debuchy: He closed down Eden Hazard, made that key block on Samuel Eto’o, and was tireless. I think the players can go back now and build on this as well. I’ve always said it’s going to be an up and down year for us, but a win like this gives you confidence, and maybe this is our turning point.
Mourinho is right about one thing: there is something wrong at Chelsea. The club has changed managers too often – often in the face of success -- and that’s created a very difficult environment. Mourinho also has been very vocal about certain players, good players like Juan Mata, and I think that has backfired. Chelsea have all the talent you could want, but they are not gelling. The problem may be Mourinho -- managers cannot always go back to their old clubs and work the same magic.
Asmir Begovic scored an improbable goal for Everton. (Photo: Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
Quickly, I want to mention Asmir Begovic’s goal. As a defender, I know how horrible it feels to give up a goal like that in such a situation. I credit Artur Boruc for coming right out, raising his hand and just getting on with it. Southampton showed a lot of maturity in coming back to draw Stoke after that, and that bodes well for them this year.
And both Manchester sides really impressed me. I fear for Norwich’s Chris Hughton – he’s a good man and a real student of the game, but the Canaries are in deep trouble. City simply took them apart, and the gulf in class may force the club’s hand. It’s no shame to lose to City – but losing 7-0 is a different thing altogether.
United were very assured against Fulham – that was simply a classic “old” United show. The final score line might fool you, too, but don’t let it. Fulham weren’t in the game. I wonder about Martin Jol, he’s been under pressure there for some time. I think Fulham is underperforming with the talent they have so I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a change there too.
We have some huge games for you this week Tuesday and Wednesday as we’re getting into the meat of the Champions League. Arsenal need a result against Dortmund in Germany and AC Milan face a very dangerous Barcelona side – even if Lionel Messi seems off the boil. Our coverage begins at 2 ET live on FOX Sports 1 – you do not want to miss it!
I love chatting with you guys, so do take a moment to follow me on Twitter at @WarrenBarton2. It’s a lot of fun to be able to banter with you guys all week! And don’t forget, you can always ask questions to us at @FOXSoccer or @FOXSoccerDaily. As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you again next week!