The Fifth Official

Sympathy for the devil

August 22, 2011
By The Fifth Official
(Archive)

Few of us like Monday but The Fifth Official does, for it brings with it a chance for him to point the finger and laugh. Here he pulls out the pretty, the puzzling and the downright pig-ugly from a week brimming with potential victims.

Sympathy for the devil

Arsene Wenger
GettyImagesIt never rains but it pours for Arsene Wenger

An odd and unexpected thing happened at around 2.10pm on Saturday - I felt a pang of sympathy for Arsene Wenger. It was just at the moment he executed a Roy Hodgson-like head-scratch, the sort usually reserved for those who spend most of their waking hours in a padded cell. The rain was pouring, his depleted and demoralised team were losing and Arsene was staring down the barrel before the calendar had even flicked into September.

Is it any wonder, I asked myself, when the chief architects of the Gunners' downfall were two chaps - Emmanuel Frimpong and Ignasi Miquel - I've barely even heard of? Even want-away mercenary Samir Nasri was forced into action, while his agent waits for Man City to lump an extra nought onto his weekly wage, but still Arsenal created less than a frog in a sandwich bar - all this despite their gaffer sitting atop a pile of cash big enough to block up the Blackwall Tunnel. There is stubborn, and then there is Arsene Wenger. I bet his bank manager loves him.

And you can pipe down, Liverpool fans, before you start crowing about finishing in the top four. It's not like your band of overpriced English talent blew away a team whose morale in the gutter, is it? In fact, it may not have happened if it wasn't for a knackered Uruguayan and a want-away Portugeezer. Still, a win is a win, so well done. You'll get yours soon enough, mind, and you know it.

An unholy union

Two unlikely bedfellows share top spot in our fledgling Premier League, as both Wolves and Manchester City made it two wins from two - but there the similarity ends. Mick McCarthy is far more likely to be seen wearing a bin-bag in a force four gale than a slinky waterproof Armani number, and his team's success is forged on grit and industry from hardworking footballers, not charlatans who think they are celebrities performing in some sort of lavishly-produced reality TV show.

Oh how Mick would love to have a bench comprising £50 million worth of sulking strikers - Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez, the pair Manchester's Tourist Board just can't get enough of. Because of them, there will be some in this world who actually think that the city's half-million population never see the sun and share only one restaurant. Their mood won't have been helped by a moderately progressive performance on the field that, dare I say it, was almost entertaining.

As for Wolves, they have now reached the six-point mark a full seven weeks earlier than last season. They smashed a Europa League-weary Fulham at Molineux - not that Yorkshire Mick is getting carried away with dreams of the continent. His idea of going abroad is crossing the Pennines. "It will be a long time before I want to get into the Europa League," he said. "If we look like getting in through the Fair Play League, I'm going to tackle somebody."

An appeal: Everton need your cash

It was a most peculiar case of the 'haves' and the 'have nots' at Goodison Park on Saturday. Somehow, QPR managed to transfer their opening-day wade into the brown stuff onto Everton's threadbare wellies, despite most of their squad being struck down with a virus that presumably left them even deeper in the brown stuff than the previous week. In fact, the only chap who seemed immune to the outbreak was the iron constitution of 'One size' Fitz Hall.

Not only did QPR pick up three points on Saturday, they also picked up a new owner in midweek - another reason their victory stuck so tightly in Everton's gullet. With Tony Fernandes - the Malaysian moneybags - at the helm, Rangers even whacked in a cheeky bid for Scott Parker, something David Moyes can only dream of doing, unless West Ham are willing to accept a deal that involves an old toaster and vouchers for Cash Converters.

After chairman Bill Kenwright laid Everton's financial plight bare for the rest of the league to guffaw at, I'm told he is actually considering a raft of revolutionary ideas to drum up some cash: charging fans to get out of the ground as well as in, replacing their beef burgers with a cheaper, mock cow-flesh replacement called boof and charging for each granule of Bovril as if it had been mined alongside precious diamonds in the wilds of South Africa.

Pardew's promised land - Poundland

Joey Barton
GettyImagesMacho, macho man: Joey Barton shows off his biceps after the Wear-Tyne derby

Newcastle's victory over fierce North-East rivals Sunderland was actually a victory for the British government - it was proof that slash-and-burn tactics can actually produce the desired results once in a while. After this triumph, you can expect Mike Ashley to instruct Alan 'the puppet' Pardew to shed a different player each week in the hope they can achieve their ultimate aim of mid-table mediocrity on the cheapest possible budget.

All the neutrals really wanted to see was a punch-up between Lee Cattermole and Joey Barton, if only to see who had possession of the one brain cell they share this weekend. Surely Howard Webb and Co. could have sought special dispensation to permit an ice-hockey style punch-up between the pair, given that it was quite clearly in the national interest, and that they were intent on kicking each other until someone's leg fell off.

Pardew's parsimony even threw up an unlikely Toon hero - Ryan Taylor. The man not fit to lace Jose Enrique's boots is now wearing them in an unfamiliar left back slot. His free-kick deceived Simon Mignolet - the man whose surname sounds like a cheap Prosecco - and, somehow, the Cockney mafia had bought themselves another few weeks of breathing space until the next, inevitable disaster, probably involving Joe Kinnear.

The 39th game. In Wales

Given all the backslapping gusto with which the Premier League whispered its plans of the 39th game to the tabloid press not long ago, with dreams of untold riches in foreign climes awaiting their totalitarian grasp, it came as a blessed relief to us realists that the first ever English top-flight match to be staged outside England actually took place in deepest darkest Wales.

Swansea certainly seems to have the appetite for it, with every home game sold out for the rest of the campaign. Mind you, I can't imagine the stampede to the ticket office was brought on by the visit of Wigan, who have signalled their intent for the season by dropping points against two of the teams they'll be fighting to the death with come May. Perhaps Roberto Martinez knew he'd be strapped to the nearest barbecue if he spoiled his former club's big day and thought a draw was the best option.

In the end, Swansea were indebted to a goalkeeper whose surname is very similar to the noise I used to make when I played with toy cars as a toddler. Michel certainly Vorm'd across his net to repel Ben Watson's penalty and maintain a clean sheet. According to Brendan Rogers, Vorm was "primed in terms of percentages", which in manager speak reads, "At the end of the day, the lad did his research".

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