England's Favourite Premier League 3/3/10 – Them's The Breaks

Probably every team in the Premier League, save one, has pretty well said, “That’s the breaks, kids.” Of course, when referencing kids, there’s really only one place that can truly apply to, and, wouldn’t you know it, that’s the one side where they are saying, “F^(%!#& ingrates….”

In all fairness to the Gunners, one cannot really put Ryan Shawcross’s tackle up with the likes of Martin Taylor’s challenge with Eduardo, which was far more rash in its approach. 499 times out of 500, the player coming through would be given a rather nasty shin bruise, a card would be shown, and that would be that. This one instance, however, would be the exception as the swinger of Shawcross instead did a double to the leg of Aaron Ramsey. It is a terrible situation for the young Welshman who is only 19 and may or may not be adversely affected by this incident. Those that have suffered severe injury before at Arsenal have shown great spirit and determination in coming back from their injuries.

From all this, of course, is the sounds of Wenger damning the Premier League’s style of play, inducing that perhaps Arsenal would be the greatest team in the league if everyone would play nice and let Arsenal pass as they please. Instead, his side is labeled as “soft,” one that often irks many a side that are given the label. Does his point resonate more or less with this latest setback to his squad?

Sort of.

He’s very quick to forget that the squads that won him his trophies featured some rather indignant, though technically skilled, talent. Gilberto Silva, Patrick Viera and Tony Adams, amongst others, were skilled players but also had a backbone that now really only belongs to William Gallas and to a lesser extent, Thomas Vermaelen. Ramsey was beginning to show signs of that kind of grit and determination that wins titles in England, but this blow is a major set back to the side in that department, which, outside of a pure cold-blooded killer to lead the charge in the absence of RVP, is the only thing lacking from the side.

Why is that important? They can run and pass rings around most teams but their losses often come when the team they are opposed against often out-muscles them but also puts an attacking depth charge through them. The losses (@ United, @ City, @ Sunderland, Chelsea, United, @ Chelsea) have been instances where the cutting edge has either been lacking and the team has not physically coped with their opposition. Granted, United and Chelsea are the only two sides above them but trips to Birmingham, Spurs, Blackburn and a home return with City provide challenges that, while they have met and passed in some instances, are still the kind of hard pressed endeavors that they struggle sometimes to deal with. How they beat Liverpool both times this term in light of this really speaks more about Liverpool’s completely inept attack force sans Torres than Arsenal.

With ten matches left in the term, 20 points should be the absolute minimum that Arsenal takes. Burnley, Hull, Wolves and Wigan should deliver an easy 12 while West Ham, Fulham, Birmingham and Blackburn will put up stiff opposition but should also fall. That leaves the trip to White Hart Lane and the City repeat. Those two contests could very well shape the upper two races (the race for 1st and 4th) depending upon the outcomes. With any luck, there is a chance that RVP might be ready for the City match, though given the defensive midfield duo of De Jong and Barry (or Viera) risking him in a match that might mean the world to both squads may be suicidal for the Dutchman and his World Cup hopes.

Of all the top seven sides, Arsenal have the easiest run-out of the season, and could very well use the schedules and mishaps of United and Chelsea to make a late season smash and raid on the Premier League title. That will, of course, depend upon their ability to hold their will together and be ready to take on even more robust challenges as the desperate sides try to string a massive upset against what could be the dark horse in the title race.

February 27

In what was hyped as the biggest tabloid game in the universe (for the week, anyway) Chelsea and City decided to entertain the masses by showing up for the paparazzi in order to distract everyone from the defending of John Terry, which, if anywhere near as disastrous against Egypt as it has been recently, might give ol’ Capello a right mess of a problem in his defense. In all honesty, until Lampard scored the opener, no one was sure who was more entertaining, the players or the paparazzi themselves. Once that happened, only a man named Hilario could overshadow the day, and he did so in his own name-tacular way, making two abysmal efforts at saves against Tevez and Bellamy. Juliano Belletti, who had replaced a rather anonymous John Obi Mikel, then promptly took the “innocent” position while simultaneously trying to mountain climb Barry, hit the showers early and probably heard the euphoric City fans as Tevez hit his brace, only for Ballack to join him with a tackle that ought to have earned a straight red, but a second yellow would have the same effect. The rout was capped by the second brace of the day, this one to Bellamy, followed by Lampard’s extra time penalty, which, for my money, was doubly worse than the one Belletti committed and yet Barry was shown nothing for it.

Afterwards, Birmingham took a penalty to the three point dance against Schizoid Athletic, Bolton finally grabbed a three spot after downing Wolves, Pompey effectively told the world that Burnley is coming with them to the Championship after winning 1-2 at Turf Moor (remember when United lost there way back at the beginning of the season? Me too neither.) and the already aforementioned headliner finished with Arsenal pulling it together after Stoke initially looked to give them all they could want and then some, taking a 1-3 decision at the Britannia. It is a testament to the mental toughness of the side that they were able to put behind them the horrific scenes they had just witnessed (not to mention not having to contend with Shawcross any longer) to get the three-bagger.

February 28

The Sunday buffet nearly started with a repeat of a past life when Spurs came dangerously close to blowing a second 2-0 lead against Everton, only for Landon Donovan to do his first wrong, missing an open goal which would have tied the contest late, allowing Spurs to get a vital three points, which was the only result that would have done justice to the second goal for Spurs, Modric being aided by the woodwork unlike the week prior against Wigan. And, funny enough, Pavlyuchenko scored. Again.

What the hell has Redknapp been watching for the last few months, again? Yes, Defoe has been a scoring monster, but Pav has practically matched Crouch’s goal total. In four contests.

Sunderland and Fulham played to a rather ignominious draw while Liverpool beat out a bitchy Blackburn side that, for the perceived lack of footballing ability, actually gave the Reds multiple fits throughout the contest. Had Paul Robinson not gone for a quick stroll on a ball he was never going to get anywhere near, it might have ended a draw as Torres simply slid home a Maxi dirt-devil into an inviting net.

Of course, there was this little Carling Cup final going on at Wembley between United and Villa at the same time, so little attention was really being paid to the two aforementioned affairs. The game started off with instant controversy as Nemanja Vidic nearly gave bookies everywhere a heart attack when hacking down Ashley Young in the box, but escaped with no booking at all. Referee Phil Dowd did himself no favors by then making the first booking of the match against James Collins and the second against Stewart Downing for ticky-tack tackles while United was able to get away with some serious muggings. Captain Opportunity struck to level the contest only for his super-hero powers to later be drained by his kryptonite: hamstrings. Enter super-sub and hero of Roonchester United, Rooney, who hit yet another headed goal to kill off the contest as Villa lost the steam to fight onwards after it. While a 85 minute 11 v. 10 situation might have benefited Villa, remember, this is the same team that had an hour of 11 v. 10 earlier at Villa Park and looked tepid and reserved, so it’s probably not farfetched to say that United had this one in the bag either way.

The New Week

Pesky internationals dominate the mid week, so their is little to comment about until you get to the next weekend…where the F.A. Cup quarterfinals steal away one of the most important conflicts of the weekend, a City v. Spurs contest. Spurs are still involved in the most compelling Saturday, (and maybe this week) traveling to Craven Cottage to fight for a semi-final spot against then Cottagers. Pompey and Birmingham will get real familiar with one another as they play Saturday in the Cup and Tuesday in the League, both times at Fratton Park. Arsenal/Burnley, West Ham/Bolton and Wolves/United make up the rest of the Saturday affairs (wonderful….) while Sunday is no better League wise as Everton/Hull is the only one scheduled. Reading/Villa and Chelsea/Stoke cap the Sunday Cup go-round.

Schizoid Wigan and Liverpool will grace the Monday scenery (depending on how graceful you apply your palm to your forehead), with the already mentioned Pompey/Birmingham second screening accompanied by Sunderland/Bolton on Tuesday.

Fear not, though, as the Champions League will return Tuesday of the same week. This way, you can keep yourselves from ramming your head into the wall until you can’t feel it anymore.

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