Friday, September 23, 2011
Apply some pressure
Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds. Under the microscope this week: the seemingly invisible Owen Coyle, the continued capitulation of Arsenal, Liverpool's ambition tempered, Emmanuel Adebayor's marital bliss, an impression made by QPR, and an early relegation six-pointer.
Owen Coyle: Scotch mist
It is odd that Bolton Wanderers manager Coyle has so far escaped scrutiny, for the club's form since the middle of March has been nothing short of dreadful. Indeed, of the Trotters' last 15 Premier League matches, the club have lost 12. Told you: dreadful. Just why he has thus far remained elusive of castigation is the subject of conjecture. Perhaps it is because he is British, or that sections still opine that he has overhauled Bolton's direct approach. For the record, he hasn't really.
Bolton head off for their trip to current relegation rivals Arsenal second from bottom in the table.
They've got Chelsea after Arsenal, too. So, in theory, we could be looking at 14 defeats in 17. The midweek Carling Cup scalp of Aston Villa helped to paper over some of the cracks, while the return of influential midfielder Stuart Holden following six months on the sidelines is a fillip. Fundamentally, though, right now there is concern for Coyle and the Bolton faithful. Certainly, the opening day 4-0 win over QPR appeared misleading. After their next two matches, the club have a run of six more realistically winnable games. The acid test awaits for the Scot, who, would you believe at the time of writing, shares the same odds as Roberto Mancini to be the next Premier League manager to be sacked (33/1).
Arsenal's defence: Brittle back
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The crash hurts, but what is perhaps more painful is they've now almost come to expect this. Last weekend, the Gunners added further minutes to the Arsenal Capitulations DVD that would fill Tottenham fans' Christmas stockings. Rather than things getting any worse, per se, it was a case of maintaining the present level labelled 'bleak' as the players' soft centre melted away once more, with two own goals scored and a lead evaporated at a soggy Blackburn Rovers. This an opponent who had been wading in their own crisis. To add insult to injury, a deflated Arsenal gawped on as under-fire Steve Kean gloated in the glow of his masterminded victory: four shots on target notched, four goals scored, two of which were netted by the away team.
On Tuesday, Wenger's fresh batch of whippersnappers came from a goal down against League Two side Shrewsbury to win 3-1. Panic over. The 18-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain impressed, yet Arsenal reverted to type defensively, the backline an utter rabble. With Arsenal's goal leakier than a sieve, there have been overdue calls to bring a defensive coach to offer the cure. Wenger, though, has batted away the suggestions, the stubborn Frenchman happy with his lot, thank you very much. As touched upon, Arsenal resume their league action against fellow strugglers Bolton and it would now come as a surprise if the Gunners did avoid self-inflicted humiliation.
Liverpool: Reality check
Last week's edition of the Premier League Spotlight did not sit too kindly with some Liverpool fans, who were aghast at suggestions (an opinion is by definition an opinion) that Kenny Dalglish's Reds were wobbling a touch, with their boss' words about officiating doing little to stabilise matters. Subsequently, things didn't exactly go to plan during the weekend that followed as two men were sent off and four goals were conceded at Tottenham. Dalglish's meeting with referees' chief Mike Riley appeared to have had the opposite of a desired effect. It was fortunate, however, that Martin Skrtel and Charlie Adam's suspensions were served in the Carling Cup.
The mood in the red half of Merseyside was lifted, though, when captain Steven Gerrard made his return after six months out with a groin problem in the 2-1 Carling Cup win over Brighton. And the club will be hopeful of getting back to winning ways when on Saturday they host Wolverhampton Wanderers, despite the visitors recording a 1-0 victory in the corresponding fixture last season - that result was of course under former boss Roy Hodgson. The current boss, Dalglish, has been questioned in the wake of the slump at Spurs. It is premature to write off the Scot, but certainly the defeat was a dose of reality to those piping an overambitious tune. Baby steps are required. The race for fourth remains very much on, but it will be arduous.
Emmanuel Adebayor: The honeymoon period
Hasn't he done well (rhetorical)? Tottenham fans are enjoying his presence as the goals flow, while that distasteful song some sang about Adebayor and his mother appears to have been swept under the carpet. Everyone's friends now. After Spurs' sticky start against the Manchester clubs, when uncertainty still raged over Luka Modric's future and manager Harry Redknapp hadn't significantly delved into the transfer market, they now boast back-to-back top flight successes. Credit must go to the new additions, with Scott Parker tenacious alongside the for now seemingly settled Modric and Adebayor demonstrating the talents he has previously only shown intermittently. In Adebayor lies the intrigue, for he does footballing honeymoons rather well. If there is marital bliss for this season-long loan, then the move to land the Togolese on loan could rank among Redknapp's best wheeling and dealing yet.
QPR: Encouraging times
They are looking quite tasty. Similar to Tottenham, results and performances have improved post the conclusion of their late window shopping - oh how Arsenal must be green with envy. Manager Neil Warnock has made some smart additions, with Armand Traore, Joey Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips among those impressing in last weekend's 3-0 victory at Wolves. Consistency often divides the languishing with the sparkling, and that is the challenge for Warnock and his charges. Next up is there chance to record their first Premier League home win of the season versus draw specialists Aston Villa on Sunday.
West Brom v Fulham: Relegation six-pointer
All right, the sub-headline is hyperbole, but nonetheless these are two sides in the bottom three, both having endured unconvincing beginnings to the 2011-12 campaign. A stalemate will do neither team any favours on Saturday - a win's the ticket. Baggies boss Roy Hodgson takes on his former club, whom he saved from demotion during his time in charge and led them on a fine European tour. Martin Jol, appointed during the summer, now occupies the Fulham hotseat, the Dutchman's start at the helm tepid to date. Indeed, Fulham have accrued fewer points after five games than in any of their other Premier League campaigns. This is also West Brom's worst ever start to a top-flight season.
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