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Weekend Review: (25th-26th February) Ten Talking Points

Monday 27th February 2012
This is going to be the first of many weekly posts looking at the weekend's action and cramming them into ten simple talking points. And what a weekend to start with. This weekend has seen a thrilling derby, Liverpool winning the season's first silverware and Manchester United's scorers having a combined age of 75.

1)       Arsenal surprise everyone with derby day victory

Okay, hands up. Who expected that result? Not many of you I expect. After having a torturous week in cup competitions with lacklustre displays at the San Siro and Stadium of Light, Arsenal hosted Spurs in a highly anticipated encounter. Arsenal fans may have feared the worst with Spurs in scintillating form and they would have felt even worse after seeing the team-sheets. Man of the moment Oxlade-Chamberlain was surprisingly on the bench with Rosicky and Benayoun (who both have been average in their Arsenal career) starting in a weak looking midfield.

The game couldn't have started much worse for Arsenal. The defence was nowhere to be seen as Saha raced through with his deflected shot looping over the line. The gloomy feel around the Emirates was made much worse when Adebayor (who stayed cool with his celebration this time) converted a dubious penalty. Two-nil down after half an hour, Wegner looked glum as his team failed to do show anything to cheer up the quiet Emirates crowd. An hour later, Wegner couldn't stop his smile beaming across his face.

The astonishing comeback started with a bullet header from Sagna and then a delicious finish by the ever reliable Van Persie. Moments after the restart, Rosicky who hadn't scored for two years wheeled away in delight after converting the ball past the helpless Friedel. A quick fire double by Walcott, who had previously been non-existent in the game, ensured victory over stunned Spurs, who had Scott Parker sent off late in the game.

The result would have pleased the Arsenal faithful, who had lately raised the question about Wenger's future at the club. Not only do Arsenal fans get the bragging rights until next time, they also saw something off the eleven men which hasn't been seen for a long time: character. The effort the players put in to make the perfect comeback shows that Arsenal has the team spirit to help push up in the table. It was a complete contrast from the sorry sights of the players trudging off after the hell at San Siro. If Arsenal play like they did in the second half, there is no question that Arsenal could try and secure the much needed fourth place. However, as the season so far has shown, the team do have the ability to self-destruct so the victory today may have just been a one-off. Next week's tough test at Anfield will just show what the players are made off.

2)       Got to be Frank: he's still got it

It's been a tough year for Lampard. With AVB talking the realms at Stamford Bridge, Lampard found himself sitting on the bench not getting a sniff of the action. For many people, this was evidence that it was the beginning of the end of the Lampard era. And what an impressive era it has been. After notching the third goal in a routine win over Bolton, Lampard became the joint third in the all-time Blues scoring charts. It was his 150th goal in his Chelsea career with 125 of them coming in the Premier League. For a midfielder, his record is outstanding. His cute finish against Bolton meant that he became the first ever player to score double figures for nine years running. Even at the grand age of 33, Lampard still has the brain to be in the perfect positions, something every young midfield should try and aspire to. Lampard himself has said that his relationship with AVB isn't the best, which could means that his career in the Premier League could be over.  If it is, he will be sorely missed.

3)       O'Neill's honeymoon ended with a bump

If the season had started in December, there can only be one winner of manager of the season so far. Martin O'Neill took over the deflated black cats after being stuck in a horrid run of form under Steve Bruce. Since then, O'Neill has transformed the team into an energetic, exciting and efficient team, winning five times as many games this season then Bruce. This includes the last gasp winner against Man City, goal of the season contenders against Swansea and a convincing FA cup win against Arsenal.

The Black Cats at the weekend travelled to The Hawthorns, where West Brom had failed to win at in 2012. And straight from the kick off, Sunderland looked second best as they crashed to a 4-0 defeat against the impressive Baggies. The performance was the worst under O'Neill's reign, conceding more than two goals for the first time this season. The defence looked vulnerable and Sessegnon playing as a lone striker looked isolated.

There is no doubt that Sunderland under O'Neill have been brilliant but the defeat showed that there is still work to be done. The test for O'Neill will be to try and pick the team up for the tasty affair against Newcastle next week, with the opportunity to make it to the semi-finals of the FA cup also coming up. O'Neill's revolution will continue despite the weekends hitch.

4)       Booooo! Newcastle fans disappoint

For Newcastle fans this season, it must feel like it's a fairy-tale. After losing players such as Barton and Enrique, Newcastle have propelled themselves to sixth place in the table, mainly thanks to the goals from prolific players such as Ba. I highly doubt any Newcastle fans expected to find themselves in this position after the 11th place finish last season. However, at St James's Park (or should that be “Sports Direct Arena”) this weekend, the team were booed off the pitch by some of the Geordie faithful after a spirited fight back by Wolves. The Magpies didn't lose the game but were still booed off, perhaps a sign that the Toon Army have set their expectations too high. Yes, a result against an out of form Wolves would have been expected, but Newcastle are still at the dizzy heights of sixth. The result still leaves them with a good chance of qualifying for a well-deserved European place so although the result was disappointing, it isn't a time to start booing.

5)       Hughes needs to ignite spark quickly

With twelve games left, it looks like it's a battle of five teams to survive the dreaded drop. Wigan, Bolton and Blackburn currently occupy the drop zone, with Wolves and QPR hovering above danger. For many people, it's a surprise to see QPR where they are. With the rich owners, many people expected them to buy their way to safety. However, this wasn't the case. Apart from Wright-Phillips, QPR didn't splash the cash on any signings although they did secure the services of Joey Barton. The team have been flirting with relegation all season, seeing Warnock leave and Hughes take control. However, the instalment of Hughes hasn't seen change in fortunes for QPR. January saw Champions league experience in the form of Cisse and Taiwo brought in, but they haven't made much of an impact yet. After three defeats on the trot against teams where results would have been expected, Hughes has the tough task of getting the players together to survive, although you feel that their squad will help them out in the end. The match against Bolton in two weeks looks like a real 6-pointer.

6)       Carling Cup no longer “Micky Mouse”?

Liverpool clinched their first piece of silverware in six years when Anthony Gerrard pulled his crucial penalty agonisingly wide. The travelling Kop would have been jubilant, hoping that the result will help propel the squad to further successes. But for the Bluebirds, they can come away from the disappointing defeat knowing that they so went so far, and could have won it had Kenny Miller kept his shot low. But fortunately for Liverpool he couldn't and Dalglish was lifting his first trophy since returning.

But does the League Cup really mean that much? You try and say that to the travelling Liverpool fans, who despite transport problems made it to Wembley to see their side lift the cup up high. And you try say that to the Cardiff fans that turned out in force to see the Bluebirds in the new Wembley for the third time. The league cup is still a major trophy. A trophy for which the fans would brag about at the end of the season and a trophy that guarantees Europe. The league cup for me is on the up and it's a good job Liverpool win, as “King Kenny” played his strongest side for every tie. The way it should be.

7)       Oldies are still crucial for Fergie

On August 19th 1995, Alan Hansen said something that will never be forgotten: “You'll never win anything with kids.” Not only did the kids win that season, 17 years on and two of those kids are still winning games for United. Two poaching goals from Scholes and Giggs, a combined age of 75 gave United all three points at Carrow Road. Scholes who came back out of retirement to lend a hand in the title charge has scored some crucial goals in his comeback while Giggs has continued to make an impact in every season of the Premier League so far.  Ryan Giggs made his 900th appearance against Norwich, a truly remarkable achievement. Just four more games and he would overtake Maldini in making the most appearances for one club. Giggs is just one of a kind, and with Scholes, they can help United's campaign for their 20th League title. Shame Giggs isn't English eh?

8)       Championship still unpredictable as ever

I absolutely love lower league football, and in particular I love the Championship. Every match I seem to watch is highly entertaining with lots of errors, skill and beautiful goals. But the thing I love and that punters will hate is the unpredictability of the league. West Ham, who bought and bought and bought in January were held to a goalless draw by Crystal Palace but the biggest shock of all came at St Andrews. Nottingham Forest, who were out of the relegation places by goal difference shocked everyone by beating high flying Birmingham 2-1. This league really does come up shock results every week; I don't think there is such thing as a form book. That's why I love it.

9)       Friendly squad shows that England lack firepower

On Thursday, Stuart Pearce announced the 23-man-squad to face Holland next week. The match against the Dutch will perhaps give us a good indication for how the team will do at the Euro's. Although just looking at the stats of the squad will show you the task ahead for whoever takes charge. One area of concern is the strikers, with only one player scoring more than ten goals this season (who just so happens to be banned for the first two games). I compared the goals this season with the English strikers picked for the squad compared to the team everyone will be looking to beat: Spain. The England strikers picked were Darren Bent (10 goals this season), Daniel Sturridge (5), Wayne Rooney (21) Danny Welbeck (9) and Frazier Campbell (2). The Spanish strikers picked for their friendly against Venezuela were Roberto Solado (20), Fernando Llorente (19) Alvaro Negredo (3) and Iker Muniain (7). The English strikers this season have so far scored 47 goals between them, with the Spanish scoring 47 with one less striker. Spain also have the likes of David Villa returning for the Euro's and have David Silva and Jesus Nevas chipping in with the goals. When you look at the England team, without Rooney, it looks bleak. It looks even worse now after Darren Bent pulled out of the squad due to injury, with Andy Carroll the best bet to replace him. I'm not saying that England has no chance, but the strikers department looks lack-lustre, with little international experience between them apart from Rooney. But I hope they prove me wrong.

10)    Ronaldo: Back him all you can

If there was ever a player you can rely on to score week in, week out, it's Ronaldo. After dazzling the Premier League for several years, Ronaldo's form in the Spanish League has been outstanding. He's appeared for Real Madrid 125 times, scoring 123 goals, a record that not many others can match. His latest effort, a cheeky back heel goal against Rayo Vallecano shows the calibre of the player and his confidence after he had the audacity to hit the target in that position. Anything Henry can do, Ronaldo can do better…
Craig Lishman

Total articles: 9

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