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Monday, November 5, 2012
Arsenal get shirty

The Fifth Official

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. Oi, Santos! Yer shirt It's official: after a promising start to the season, all-out war has been declared at Arsenal. The fans feel such acute rage, and have so many genuine targets for it, they may well explode. Just three minutes had gone at Old Trafford when the most predictable goal of the campaign occurred as last season's most prolific scorer netted against his former club, who clearly hadn't informed Thomas Vermaelen that his big pal had been transferred in the summer. But as bad as Vermaelen was, and he was rotten, Andre Santos managed to turn in a shift so hapless it made one pine for a Traore - Armand, or even Djimi. The only valid reason for Andre Santos swapping shirts with RVP at half-time was if the Dutchman had one underneath his strip that read: "Clearly not good enough at this level". What possesses a man who has played so badly to swap shirts with the club's chief enemy? This was a staggering error of judgement, as big as Wenger's for deploying the beleaguered defender in the first place. It was a wonder the Brazilian didn't start a bundle on top of RVP when he scored. Arsene Wenger even gave Arsenal's tormentor a hug before insisting it doesn't matter who scores against his team, presumably because so many people do that it is hard to keep track. Wenger lost a battle of the bench with Fergie, who removed Tom Cleverley before he got himself sent off while Jack Wilshere was left to get his marching orders. Then Ivan Gazidis got his slice of the blame, Arsenal fans asking "What the f*** do you do?" We all know that, though - he sells the club's best players to their Premier League rivals. Let battle commence. Route one Brendan Rodgers should take note - route one does sometimes work. As Liverpool laboured to break down a flimsy Newcastle side, Jose Enrique wellied a ball 70 yards downfield, where Luis Suarez took three world-class touches to rescue a draw for the Premier League side that have turned looking good but not winning into a top-flight art form. There is little to like about Suarez, but he carries this Liverpool team. Take his goals and assists away from them this season and they'd be rock bottom. If he gets injured, or suspended, they are quite simply stuffed. At that stage, no amount of "I am Brent" statements from Rodgers - like his pre-match gem that owners FSG "have the helicopter view of the big picture" - will save him. They could do with some idea showers to help them grab some low-hanging fruit going forward, in my opinion. Rodgers drew a flawed parallel between Suarez and Lionel Messi after the game, but the Uruguayan's display did provoke such fury in Fabricio Coloccini that the Argentinean tried to take his leg home as a souvenir. If Coloccini looked like Bobby Moore in the derby clash with Sunderland a few weeks ago, this display made him look more like Reggie Kray. Just about the only person in the world who thought it wasn't a red card was couch potato Michael Owen, and I think that pretty much tells its own story. However well Suarez played, Liverpool's exasperated fans have still only seen three home wins in 2012, and their reward for such patience was a half-time dousing from a rogue sprinkler that had them running for cover. Perhaps the groundsman had forgotten the club had new owners and was actually going for Hicks and Gillett. AVBeaten This was the week the hooves officially fell off AVB's carthorse, as he was out-thought, out-fought and out-passed by little old Wigan. And when the mighty Tottenham (deluded fans' view) are mugged off by a titchy side (deluded fans' view) from anywhere in the grim North past the Watford Gap (deluded fans' view) then all hell breaks loose at the Lane among fans so fickle I'm starting to wonder if they are just fick. Things were already going badly wrong when AVB decided to hook Jermain Defoe after the hour mark. The diminutive striker is not just Tottenham's top scorer this season but also the chap who netted five times against the same opposition a few years ago. Even the sight of him is enough to induce a panicked expression in Gary Caldwell as if he's just realised he left the gas on when he headed down to London. But Defoe wasn't doing well "in our thought process", AVB explained, to quizzical looks all round. According to the gruff gaffer, who sounds more like Barry White with each passing day, this was Tottenham's worst performance of the season, which is saying something because I saw Maribor away. And despite five wins from their last six games, including that one at Old Trafford, AVB now truly understands that with this group of supporters, the line he's teetering on is even finer than it was at Chelsea. It's not even as wide as dental floss. Stadium of Plight Perhaps the form he's been showing in these early days for Sunderland is why Adam Johnson never got a start at Manchester City. He used to come on in the 76th minute when 11 other world-class players had already run a team ragged, tip-toe in from the right flank to smash in the vital sixth goal and look like the electric winger he once promised to be. But scurrying AJ now starts regularly in a previously free-scoring Sunderland outfit that has managed just 13 shots on target all season, which means they've only just fashioned more direct assaults on opposition nets than Demba Ba's face. Steven Fletcher remains their only goalscorer in the top flight, and their miserable run now extends to one win in 17 Premier League matches. All of which meant Sunderland completed a feat many thought impossible on Saturday - making Aston Villa look vaguely potent. It helped Paul Lambert get one over on the chap he still refers to as "the gaffer" from their time at Celtic, and allowed Brad Guzan to do a spot of housekeeping - planting and harvesting some lovely tender stem broccoli in his six-yard box plot and catching up with Grandma Guzan on Skype with only a couple of interruptions for goal kicks. Queens Park Redknapp There were more than a few dodgy soundbites emanating from Loftus Road before and after Queens Park Rangers' latest failure to win a Premier League match. As the sack-hungry tabloids built up to the relegation royal rumble with Reading, Mark Hughes said of club owner Tony Fernandes, who is publicly backing his beleaguered boss: "He doesn't say one thing to the media and another to me. That would be absolutely crazy." An owner saying one thing and doing another... never happens in football that, does it? And while the boardroom noises are outwardly positive, this wasn't a performance to convince anyone Rangers will be easing themselves from the sticky stuff anytime soon. Their fans are losing patience, and with the face of 'Arry Redknapp circling above Loftus Road like the Bat Signal, a few supporters gave in to peer pressure and briefly sang his name. If it wasn't for Djibril Cisse, Redknapp may have been asked to ride to the rescue immediately, but though the striker took his goal nicely he added to the air of delusion that is festering round West London as he insisted they "don't belong" in 19th place, despite failing to win any of their ten games. But the final word should go to Hughes, who seemed shell-shocked his team weren't enjoying the "really successful season" he'd predicted. "The longer this run goes on then that successful season is in danger," he said. You don't say, Mark.

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