Premier League Spotlight

Wenger has shot himself in the foot

August 23, 2013
By James Dall
(Archive)

Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.

Something called a 'signing'

Arsene Wenger Arsenal training SPOTLIGHT
APArsene Wenger and Arsenal made a rod for their own back with their big talk earlier this summer.

"You got what you wanted. You should be happy," a paranoid Frenchman said on the opening day of the 2013-14 Premier League season after the bile had flowed. A 3-1 loss at home to Aston Villa, compounded by injuries to an already threadbare Arsenal squad, made for a toxic atmosphere that peaked with booing (some of it from grown men, mind), swearing and the holding up of signs. Opportune mockery aside, the fans who spend a great deal on tickets to attend Arsenal matches, expensive food and overpriced transport have every right to expect some return from their outlay.

The return of which we speak is -- and listen up, Arsenal board -- s-i-g-n-i-n-g-s. This Holy Grail irks Gunners boss Arsene Wenger, and he insists it is not the solution to every slip-up. Sure, that's true -- but in this particular scenario it is the solution, and one that should have been implemented during the summer to avoid the attempted trolley-dash that appears to be ongoing this week. It feels like a reactive move to a defeat and the loss of personnel. Dear Arsene and Arsenal: You're doing it wrong.

The defence is that the Villa defeat was one match of 38, that the reaction to it has been knee-jerk. But that defence, much like Arsenal's, is feeble. The reaction, the frothing at the mouth, is a culmination of a summer of promise that has, so far, failed to deliver. Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis put his proverbials on the table by saying the club could spend big on fees and wages, but nothing -- with all due respect to Yaya Sanogo -- has yet come to pass.

The opportunity to pacify the sign-makers comes on Saturday lunchtime at Fulham, when Wenger must play Bacary Sagna alongside Per Mertesacker with Laurent Koscielny suspended, Thomas Vermaelen injured and their other backup moved on. Still, at least the summer represents a profit.

NB: While Arsenal's midweek win and performance against a limited Fenerbahce team was impressive and timely, the screaming point remains that investment in the squad is essential.

A project to excite at Spurs

Compare Arsenal's summer transfer window with that of their North London rivals, Tottenham. With pretty much the same raw ingredients, Spurs have approached their recipe in a methodical manner, bringing in Roberto Soldado, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue and Nacer Chadli, while it seems (if reports are to be believed) that Willian and Erik Lamela could be set to join them, even if that means the sale of their best player, Gareth Bale. To revisit the cooking metaphor, Spurs are carefully creating a cake of three-tiered splendour, while Wenger and Co. are merely motionless and blinking at the mixing bowl.

What is occurring at White Hart Lane is exciting. Tottenham's defeat of Crystal Palace on Sunday was hardly vintage, but it was a result ground out despite not having Bale -- so often the match-winner last season -- and it saw a debut goal for Soldado and an impressive performance from Brazil international Paulinho. Their demolition of Dinamo Tbilisi in the Europa League on Thursday night, again without Bale, was a source of further encouragement. Add to that the aforementioned mooted recruits and the vision and ambition of Andre Villas-Boas and you've a genuine project to stir the loins. They host Swansea -- who also put in an impressive Thursday Europa showing -- on Sunday.

Jose visits Old Trafford

Jose Mourinho salutes fans Stamford Bridge Chelsea
PA PhotosYou couldn't move for Jose Mourinho adulation at Stamford Bridge last Sunday.

There was no poking someone in the eye, no sliding on the knees in front of the Hull City fans. Nope, Jose Mourinho's Chelsea team won and did it in swanky, then dull, fashion.

It was, really, a textbook process of victory on Jose's return to England, with Steve Bruce's Hull doing little more than rolling on their back and getting their tummy tickled by the Handsome One's charges. And that was that, apart from a love-in that all but saw the media papped opening their mouths and Frenching the Portuguese. Chelsea followed that result up with another victory, but at least Aston Villa -- who look an exciting proposition this season -- put up a fight. It threatened to boil over on the touchline, but Jose kept it at a simmer as three points were ultimately garnered.

But fear not, the title race isn't over yet. There are bigger tests to come! A most stringent examination comes against Manchester United on Monday evening, and oh boy, it's set to be a doozy when, surely, Mourinho will grace us with the moment of audacity we crave. David Moyes' job was considered much wanted by the former Real Madrid manager before Sir Alex Ferguson anointed his fellow Scot, so there's some added needle. Also of note at Old Trafford will be how the home side's somewhat limited midfield copes with Chelsea's overstocked version.

Pards and JFK

There's trouble a-brewing. There's not a great deal of shame in losing 4-0 at Manchester City, unless of course the performance includes a brain-dead sending-off, a goalkeeping display that covered up the fact it could have been double figures and a manager blaming a bid having been made for one of his players during, get this, the TRANSFER WINDOW. The absolute cheek of it.

The point is that Alan Pardew and director of football Joe Kinnear have work to do to placate the Toon Army, starting at home to the former's old club West Ham on Saturday.

Leslie's quandary

Leslie Mark Hughes has a task on his hands. So ingrained has been the Tony Pulis way -- kicking the ball high and far into dangerous areas and playing percentages -- that the process of training it out of his inherited Stoke crop will take some time -- unless, of course, he replaces them player by player.

At Anfield, while the scoreline might have been eye-popping had Asmir Begovic not put in what will be one of the goalkeeping performances of the season, there were signs of what the Welsh coach is trying to achieve.

Stoke's intent to play it out from the back was evident, and on a few occasions they passed it well through midfield, but there was also an understandable tendency to knock it long. Ironically, it was the set pieces and more direct approach that caused Liverpool the most problems, casting confusion over whether the idea of change is a good thing after all (it is). They host Palace at the weekend, when a first victory under Hughes will be expected.


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