Friday, 13 September 2013

Can The Moyes Era Gather Some Momentum?

For the first time since 2007, Man United have failed to score in back-to-back league games. It is a fact that will not have gone unnoticed amongs the traditionalists in the Stretford End. The main question being - would this have happened with Fergie in charge?

A quick look at the history books, not very far back, would give David Moyes a bit of relief. As recently as Fergie's penultimate home match in charge, Chelsea took all three points from Old Trafford, and that was with an unwanted manager, not with the 'Special One', who many believe will take the power back from the recent Manchester duopoly.

The Liverpool record is even less of a concern. Before last season, Fergie went four league visits to Anfield without success. Anyone suggesting Moyes is under any serious pressure to start winning games is under pressure themselves to attract readers, although victory tomorrow, and a first home goal or three, against Crystal Palace will do a lot to ensure the Scot sleeps that bit easier as he eases his feet under the table.

What most concerns many United fans is Moyes' lack of European experience, with his only taste of Champions League action coming in Everton's qualifier defeat to Villarreal in 2005. His first true 'acid' test will come on Tuesday night, with Bayer Leverkusen visiting in the first round of action. Victory, and a convincing one, against Palace, will ensure the challenge is greeted with firm optimism by most of the naysayers.

Robin Van Persie, the much-adored top scorer of last season will be hoping to pick up where he left off against Swansea, while Marouane Fellani will finally make his long-awaited debut. Although the big Belgian does not provide the midfield wizardry so craved at Old Trafford, he does perhaps bring a bullying threat from set-pieces, and more bite to the midfield - which could give the flair players more chance to shine. Michael Carrick's eye for a pass should not be underestimated, and Shinji Kagawa's criminally under-used craft could be a route to victory, particularly against the weaker sides who come to park the bus.

Fortunately for the neutral, Ian Holloway seldom parks the bus, even against the big boys. It is a high-risk strategy which did not bear fruit over a full season at Blackpool, but very occasionally paid off in thrilling style, such as in the 2-1 win over an admittedly ailing Liverpool. Tomorrow lunchtime will provide some clue as to whether he has curbed his enthusiasm - yet as is often repeated, to invite pressure against the big boys is often merely an exercise in keeping the scoreline respectable.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Arsenal's Warchest

Arsenal's unleashing of their self-styled warchest turned out to be the equivalent of an accidental round of fire with the safety off, rather than a carefully planned multi-staged assault. With the transfer deadline fast approaching, a monstrous bid was tabled for a player whose position no outside observer thought needed strengthening.

The £42.4m arrival of Mezut Ozil raised many an eyebrow on transfer deadline, representing the most expensive incoming British transfer of the summer. This was also the biggest transfer Arsenal had ever been involved in - absolutely shattering the £15m paid for Andrei Arshavin. With Arsene Wenger coming under increased pressure after an opening-day 3-1 humbling at home to Aston Villa, the focus naturally came upon their transfer activity, with the side requiring maintenance beyond the freebie of Yaya Sonogo.

However, was attacking midfield really the area in most need of attention for such a sum? Sure, Mathieu Flamini's re-signing on a free will represent a shrewd accquisition, but that is the best Arsenal could attract as a midfield enforcer? A look across at White Hart Lane, or even further afield to the Etihad Stadium would suggest that thee are plenty of midfield generals available (or at least there were before AVB snapped them all up).

Wenger has always been the most complicated of judges of a player. Ivan Gazidis, the Arsenal chief executive, probably puts it best when he says, "He is pretty blind to price tags, he looks at what he sees with his eyes and makes judgements based on that, not on reputations and prices."

But in today's era of directors of football and increasingly impatient fans, Wenger is putting his reputation and managerial future on the line by only trusting those instincts of his.

His apparent ignorance of central defence, which has never truly convinced since the departures of both Kolo Toure and then Gael Clichy, threatens to dwarf any magic at the other end of the park. Jack Wilshere, Ozil, Theo Walcott, and Santi Carzola provide a fearsome supply line of tricks and goals, yet if one of their moves breaks down and Flamini is either out-of-form or injured, what happens then? Counter-attack city, my friend. The defence needs a leader, an experienced head to gather round, not to muddle around and grow together as a group. By the time their flaws are ironed out, Arsenal may already have surrendered their top four spot.

As far as their front-line goes, well Oliver Giroud scored the vital goal in the North London derby, yet question marks remain over his consistency. Perhaps with Ozil's arrival, now is Walcott's time to finally prove his worth as the frontline goalscorer he so desperately craves to be. The nagging suspiscion remains however, that a reliable replacement for Robin Van Persie would have been a better use of the Ozil money.

The future does look bright at Arsenal. However, the brightness, as ever of late remains slightly hazy. The Gunners look set to remain as easy as ever on the eye, but with that fatal soft centre gaping ever wider at the heart of their midfield and defence. I suppose someone has to provide the entertainment - but can Wenger provide the trophies his fans, and Ozil himself, expect?