North London clubs came up short

North London clubs came up short

Published Jan. 16, 2012 12:00 a.m. ET

The beauty of the Premier League is that it gives you so many different ways to grade your favorite team's progress. You know when in you’re in the hunt for the title. You know when you’re sniffing around for a place in Europe. You know when you’re scrapping for mid-table respectability, and you know when you’re in trouble at the wrong end of the table.

And the standard way of gauging where your team is the ‘marker’ matches.

These are the matches that are either against clubs of a similar stature or versus clubs that ordinarily you should beat but for some reason or another they pose a different problem in a particular season.

This weekend proved a prime example of the ‘marker’ match theory as all the top teams, bar faltering Manchester City, were involved in matches that would allow them to make a statement. These statement matches always give us a chance to grade where clubs are at this most crucial phase of the campaign where the games come thick and fast.


Paul Scholes rolled back the years by putting Man United ahead against Bolton, but other aspects of his game still leave a lot to be desired. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Manchester United A+ After bungling their last two league matches United were nicely primed to be upset and to be fair it looked as though the script had been written after Wayne Rooney blew it from the spot once again (fourth miss in last eight). This is United though and the reason they win the title so frequently is that they find a way to win these matches when not at their best.

It also showed that Paul Scholes, after almost eight months out of the game, is still unable to tackle!

Tottenham D- After putting together a trademark United run Spurs fumbled the one match that they couldn’t afford to against a Wolves team that was begging to be beaten. The result screams volumes about where Harry Redknapp’s team really is.

Title contender is a phrase that only a few teams can wear with self-assurance, and on Saturday Spurs demonstrated that they’re not quite ready to clothe themselves with championship material. Yes, I know Wolves have proved to be a bogey team of sorts in the last few seasons but they are a team in desperate straits with a manger who has just received the 'vote of confidence'.

This was Tottenham's opportunity and they failed miserably. Harry Redknapp can squawk long and loud about his impending court appearance and how it has little to no effect on his squad. I disagree, something looming this large impacts on every aspect of the manager's life and they can't help but pick up on that.

Chelsea A+ How Chelsea are still in the conversation is something of a mystery to me but they did answer the question that was asked. Against Sunderland, a team that spanked them at the Bridge last season, they weren’t at their best but they did the most important thing in the game by grinding out the win.

What impressed me the most was that the team ethos appeared more collective than at any other time this season. However, I’m still not convinced by Andre Villas-Boas. The amount of coaching he does on the sidelines makes me believe he does very little work during the week as he’s so frantic during the ninety minutes.

I mean, have you ever seen a coach deliver as many instructions as the Portuguese gave Michael Essien on his return to action? This is a player who has appeared in World Cups, UCL finals and won multiple titles, but he is given more orders than an AYSO parent.

Thierry Henry cut a frustrated figure during Arsenal's 3-2 degfeat at Swansea. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Arsenal F The result against Swansea is a disaster of epic proportions no matter how you spin it. You just can't drop points in this kind of fashion if you have any designs on being taken seriously. Right now, Arsenal are becoming something of a laughing stock in my opinion.

Arsene Wenger has screamed youth for the past six years, but has brought back old timer Thierry Henry and persists with the enigmatic Andrey Arshavin. Wenger has forgotten that it's these matches that win titles and earn places in Europe. To behave so recklessly in an environment where only United have taken maximum points earns you an ‘F’.

Arsenal fans will no doubt feel stupid having been suckered into believing that their club had turned the corner only to be slapped in the face.

Manchester City With only one victory in their last five City, who play Wigan on Monday, face their biggest match of the season. The wheels are wobbling and Roberto Mancini will be well aware of what this marker match means to all his rivals.

Anything less than three points against a team they usually beat would signify to all and sundry that the pressure has reached boiling point at the Etihad and that City are ready to hand the initiative back to their cross town rivals.

At 5pm Eastern time, they’ll have their grade. Any win is an A+, anything else has to be a whopping F.

Marker matches, the name says it all, because you can tell exactly where you are.