Arsenal’s 90 Minutes in Hell and What They Can Do to Avoid A Recurrence

“If this was a boxing bout, the referee would have ended it a long while ago.” – Match commentator, Liverpool and Arsenal.

This comment came on the heels of the #MayweatherMcgregor fight in Las Vegas wherein the referee had to end the fight in the 10th round to save Mcgregor all the “Floyd punishment” he was receiving.

It was the perfect description of Liverpool’s dominance on the day at Hellfield, Anfield.

A match that was dubbed the pick of the weekend unfortunately became a one-sided affair when Liverpool controlled the proceedings from the beginning of the encounter till the blast of the final whistle. As one tweet captured it,

To equate the Liverpool player with the Algerian born French maestro was not an exaggeration on the evening going by his performance.

So, what went wrong for the Gunners – or is it the Gooners?

Make no mistake about this, Arsenal is not a bad team. A team that boasts of world class players and internationals in their own rights like Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Shkodran Mustafi, Olivier Giroud, Alexandre Lacazette, etc. is not a small team. Why is a team packed with World Cup winners struggling to make an impact in the Premier League and the Champions League? The only problem I think is leadership.

Ozil reacts after Arsenal lose 4-0 to Liverpool.

Ozil reacts after Arsenal lose 4-0 to Liverpool.

Arsene Wenger has been at the helm of Arsenal affairs since the year 1996 and did achieve a lot of great things for the club; including a 49-match unbeaten record in the league that is yet to be replicated by any other team since.

A glorious 2003/2004 season if you ask me it must be said. But after their heroics of getting to the final of the Champions League in 2006, there has been a downward spiral for the club. It was as if the exit of the last notable “invincible” Thierry Henry, started a free fall for the club.

Apart from the four FA Cups won during since then, Arsenal has never looked like worthy challengers for the Premier League crown, talk more of the Champions League where they have failed to cross the last 16 hurdle since 2009 when they were defeated by a Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Manchester United.

The statistics just show that it has been the case of a diminishing returns for the club. It is also a sad fact that Arsenal for 13 years have not been able to lift the Premier League crown even though they are the only team to still have consistency in terms of being managed by the same man for over two decades.

The past few months have not been exactly great times for Arsenal fans. They know it and they’ve never hidden their displeasure, expressing it with their frequent #WengerOut on social media.

It is just obvious that the hunger has disappeared from Wenger, a one-time feisty manager who was not afraid to get into a war of words with Sir Alex Ferguson in their days of rivalry and not too long ago, with Jose Mourinho while he was still at Chelsea.

The last game against Liverpool showed a man who was not bothered about the fortune of the club because even while his team was 3-0 down, he just sat in his chair and chewed on his fingernails. This is not the case for other managers that will want to salvage something from the game and will continue to charge their players to attack and play better.

Some readers might say that I have gone for the obvious by taking cheap shots at the man but in all sincerity, the buck stops at Wenger’s table, no matter how we want to look at it.

arsene_wenger_cham_3492459b.jpg

Arsene Wenger needs to do more if Arsenal are going to improve.

I think Wenger has lost the team and it will take a miracle to psyche them up for the coming campaign that will see them compete on four fronts. To salvage something for himself and the club, Arsene has to make some hard decisions. Making such hard decisions for the team is one problem that he has always had.Right now, these decisions have become a necessity.

First, there are too many unsettled players in the team. To keep them against their wishes is to create a sense of complacency and a nonchalant attitude in the team. Sanchez, Chamberlain – now reportedly off to Chelsea, Mustafi, Ozil, Bellerin and so many others are all unsettled.

While some want to leave the club to where they can win trophies, some want better contracts and some others are not comfortable with their current positions on the pitch. These issues have made the team look like they lack the focus and hunger to carry out their professional tasks.

It must be said that although the players are paid to do their jobs, it is the job of the manager to motivate, unite and psyche them up for the overall interest of the team. This job also extends to knowing which players fit the various tactical approaches to be employed on the field of play. Unfortunately, the body language of the Frenchman has said a whole lot of other things.

It is absolutely unnecessary for the club to try to run down the contract of a player that is no longer happy to play for the club. Alexis Sanchez in today’s market is worth over £90m. Isn’t that incentive to sell him off already?

With one year to go and the high probability that he will not sign a new contract, it will be better to sell him off NOW and get a hungrier player to replace him. It has to be a player who will be focused on the job and will want to make a name for himself.

Arsenal still has the players that can confidently replace him in the team. Maybe not adequately, but they will do a good job. It is now left for the manager to tweak the team in a way that the team will get over him. No player is indispensable.

Manchester United last year signed a 35-year old Zlatan Ibrahimovic and albeit performing above expectations, his role was more in the dressing room than on the pitch. It was for the same reason that Jose Mourinho brought back Didier Drogba for one year to help him win the title on his return to Chelsea.

While citing names like Ozil, Sanchez and Cech, club legend, Patrick Vieira, pointed out that the team does not lack leaders. Maybe he’s right. But what he has failed to point out is that, out of these three, two of them whom the team depends upon the most are unsettled. How can they lead when they see their futures outside the team?

Arsenal needs a leader now more than ever.

Futhermore, there is another weakness that Wenger has exhibited for some time. This is the loyalty syndrome which he bears for his older players. X-raying the team against Liverpool, Bellerin played the left wing back role even though he is a right footer and has played the right back role for over two years.

It was a wonder to see Kolasinac who has impressed since coming to Arsenal on the bench. In the same vein, what was Ramsey and Welbeck doing on the pitch while Coquelin – a much more defensive minded midfielder – and Lacazette – a deadly finisher – were sat on the bench.

Even though some will want to go with the argument of Wenger wanted to play familiar foes, you do not keep your AK 47 at home and go to battle with a revolver. It is Arsene Wenger’s team and he alone bears the responsibility.

I was also shocked that Arsene Wenger who is a world class manager, played the high line against an attack that boasts of runners like Mane, Salah and Firmino who can hold their own against Usain Bolt. It also means that Wenger’s tactics are actually questionable and even at 2-0 down before Salah went on the solo run to score, there were no answers forthcoming.

Wenger has become a legend in Arsenal and the rule of diminishing returns has set in. I do not see Arsenal getting better under his tutelage and unless the Arsenal Board of Directors want to continue being self serving in their decision making, the best time to let him go is now to allow for another manager to bring hunger, drive, vibrancy and new ideas to the team. To continue with Wenger is to continue with mediocrity and complacency.

Wenger does not believe that his actions are costing the team even as the continue to go down the doldrums. The time for the board to act is now, to save the fans of the continuous misery and shame that they have been through in recent times. He does not need to be sacked, he should be asked to save face, resign and go on vacation. It is not too late to do the right thing.

 

Author

Victor Ndulewe

This Week’s Definition of the Premier League’s Big Five (Gameweek 3)

The Premier League

Another weekend of Premier League action has now come and gone. The world’s most-watched league is 3-games old and its table is gradually taking shape. Some will try to counter and say it’s still early days. That’s true but then again, there’s something about the early birds, right?

No, I’m not picking favorites to win the league just yet. After all, “nine points after three matches is nothing different… because we did that last season,” a famous manager said over the weekend.

With the Premier League set to take the backseat for international football and the grand finale of the long summer transfer window, I present to you this week’s edition of the definition. I will be taking a closer look at how the big teams in England fared, probably suggest encouragements for the superb ones and “medications” for the ailing ones.

Okay. That was just me joking. Let’s get to the meat of this article.

Ozil reacts after Arsenal lose 4-0 to Liverpool.

  1. Arsenal: Disastrous

Seeing my description of the Gooners, you’d think it’s harsh and unforgiving. But when you think of how others used words like “abject,” and “a bunch of schoolboys,” you’d rethink your judgment of my own description.

It was as if the Arsenal players had never seen Liverpool play. It was a shambolic performance by Arsene Wenger’s men. And some fans are looking past players like Ozil, Sanchez and Chamberlain and pointing accusing fingers at the French gaffer, blaming him for the heavy loss.

Why field players whose hearts are already miles away from the Emirates?” one said to me after the game. Names like Alexis Sanchez may be suspect for a poor showing on the day but, what of Hector Bellerin’s miscue that led to the third goal?  And how do you begin to explain not registering a single shot on target in such an important game?

Arsenal failed to attempt a single shot on target against Liverpool

Thierry Henry was right when he said they were “unwatchable.” Moves have to made, and quickly too, or else, the downward spiral may just have begun.

Chelsea vs Everton: The statistics

  1. Chelsea: Comfortable

What else is more comfy than beating your opponents? Maybe outscoring them on the day and making sure they don’t come anywhere near “your yard.”  And that’s what exactly Chelsea did.

In a bid to put the “blues” of losing to Burnley behind them, Antonio Conte’s side scored two first half goals – for security reasons I guess. It was all Chelsea from then on as the Evertonians could only manage three touches in the opposition box before the 85th minute and four in the final five minutes (and injury time).

Oh, there was little case of Morata setting a Premier League record too.

  1. Liverpool: Fast, Furious and Dangerous

Famed for the blistering fast attack that they boast, names like Mane and Salah didn’t hesitate to put Arsenal to the sword when the chance presented itself. In all honesty, I thought Liverpool and its shaky defense would concede at least a goal.

But the reverse was the case as the stats showed. Jurgen Klopp took full advantage of a dysfunctional side and successfully scored 2 in each half. If it was a case of Arsenal being the worse of the two sides is hard to tell.

But, it was Liverpool’s 3 points on the day. And boy did they win it in some style.

Saved by Sterling

  1. Manchester City: Struggling

For a while now, Pep has been accused of overly complicating things at and for Manchester City. Maybe that’s what made him switch to a back four against Bournemouth, playing a four-man midfield behind Gabriel Jesus.

With all the quality they possess, they still struggled to breakdown the Bournemouth defense and needed a 97th-minute Raheem Sterling goal to seal the deal. Maybe Eddie Howe’s side sat in too deep for City’s comfort. Maybe I can blame Man. City’s poor performance on that.

Bu then again, why did De Bruyne have to play so deep? Why can’t Bernardo Silva play 90 minutes? Can Yaya Toure play more often? These are just some of the questions – plus the others I asked on my Instagram page – that makes it obvious Pep Guardiola’s side are struggling.

Apart from killing games off as quickly as possible, the players need to soak up Pep’s philosophy as quickly as possible. Or maybe Pep should just learn to be flexible and switch his style of play.

But we all know Pep won’t change his style of play.

Jose Mourinho is the man.

  1. Manchester United: Marching On

In his post-match conference, Mourinho said, “I think we played well.” In all honesty, it’s hard to tell whether he was playing down the importance of 3 wins on the bounce or he really meant what he said.

The Red Devils put another foot forward in the right direction with a 2-0 win over Leicester. Unlike their last two games, it wasn’t the most glamorous of wins but then again, 3 points is all that matters, right?

Jose Mourinho’s men are being touted as favorites for the 2017/2018 Premier League title already. Why not? After playing 3 games, scoring 10 goals and keeping three clean sheets, it’s hard to argue about their title-winning chances.

There will be no Premier League games this weekend as it’s time for the international break. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon will fare against each other. Hopefully both games will produce good football and I shall be entertained.

Which of the international games are you looking forward to seeing? Leave me a comment and lets get talking!

This Week’s Definition of the Premier League’s Big Five (Gameweek 2)

It’s a late post that describes how the big guys fared in the second MatchDay of the 2017/2018 Premier League season. Scoring 8 goals and conceding 3 among them, I continue from where I stopped last week by reviewing the performances of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United.

Premier League (Gameweek 2)

 

Arsenal: Sloppy and Standing Still

I have chosen to use the words of Steven Gerrard and some other pundit whose name I either missed out on or I’m forgetting to remember. Sounds harsh? Considering the way Xhaka gave the ball away in the build up to the Stoke City goal and how the Gooners failed to convert those chances, maybe not.

The inclusion of Welbeck by Wenger is still a mystery. Playing three at the back (most of which were full backs) is another mystery too. Selling Gabriel to Valencia? I’ll rather not talk about it. Since a defeat in the first game of the season was avoided, I thought it’d probably come later. Now that one L is on the books, hopefully Liverpool won’t rub salt on their injury this coming weekend.

Chelsea: Still a Team to be Feared

In his post-match analysis, Thierry Henry said, “There was something about Chelsea today. We asked them questions, and they answered.” He said this while he was talking about the way David Luiz took the ball off of Wanyama and started off the move that saw Marcos Alonso grab his second of the day.

Yes, there may be some arguments about Tottenham playing on “unfamiliar grounds.” But after losing to Burnley, Antonio Conte seemed to find a way to revamp his side psychologically. While most thought the Burnley loss was the beginning of the end, Conte found his way around and surprised all, me inclusive.

Yes, I expected Spurs to put the final nail in the blue coffin but the champ has refused to die that easily. I’ll pretend I didn’t see that Batshuayi own goal.

Liverpool: Well MANEd

Just like in their game against Hoffenheim where Mane was at the centre of everything that the Reds had going for them, Mane was the centre of attraction in the game against Crystal Palace.

The difference between the two sides was crystal clear as chance after chance fell to names like Firmino, Salah and Sturridge. Maybe they should have been more clinical than they were but they weren’t wasteful.

Yes, before I forget, there’s the argument that they’re missing Coutinho. Maybe in the game against Watford but not against Benteke and co. Mane proved Liverpool are more than just Coutinho.

 

Manchester City: Great but can be Better

Right after the game against Everton, I mentioned something about how Pep Guardiola’s side and Manchester United were the most deadly sides in the Premier League. And one reason why City appears on the list is this: the number of chances they create in games is mind blowing.

See the number of shots? The last time I saw Manchester City this rampant was they played FC Barcelona and Luis Enrique quipped, “City pressed us to the stands.

For the most part of the game, City dominated but were wasteful – a problem that just won’t go away. The Kyle Walker red seemed to wake the sleeping giant as they played like a side on fire. Sterling, Bernardo Silva and De Bruyne were all amazing.

Yes, they survived the first home game of the 2017/2018 Premier League season with a draw. But some other teams won’t balk like Everton did when they come visiting. They will make Pep pay for making that wrong selection.

Manchester United: On the Rampage

Eight goals in the first two games is not a number to overlook. When you consider the fact that Mourinho’s side have not conceded any goals this season, those numbers carry even more weight.

While the Swans were able to keep the Red Devils at bay for the most part of the first half, they weren’t able to complete the job. One way or the other, Man. Utd managed to score 4 goals on the day – 3 inside the final 10 minutes of the game.

Leicester City must be wondering how to stop them from scoring because this Red Devil is one on a rampage!

 

About Author

Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @rotdav

 

This Week’s Definition of the Premier League’s Big Five

With all the frenzy that the transfer market brought with it this season and the many moves we saw before the season began, it was hard to not anticipate the new Premier League. With banters going on before, player comparisons here and there, you could smell the excitement from miles away.

Add to that the fact that football fans had literally endured – well, let’s just say I’m speaking for myself here – the summer break, then you’ll fully understand the frenzy that gripped most social media channels on Friday as the kick-off between Arsenal and Leicester drew nigh.

A new Premier League season is upon us

10 games, 31 goals and three days later, the football world is still trying to recover from an “Opening Day Experience” like no other the Premier League has ever experienced. From the first class treat at the Emirates to debut goals littering the weekend and of course, the Chelsea loss, it was a season opener to remember.

While fans around the world are already looking forward to Gameweek 2 – and I’m already dreading those international breaks – I introduce to you the first of a series you can look forward to seeing on this blog at the end of every Gameweek.

This Week’s Definition of the Premier League’s Big Five will focus on the weekly performances of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United.

I would have increased the number of teams to focus on especially with a name like Tottenham begging to become the sixth team. But the keyword there is big. Is Tottenham a side big enough to be ranked alongside those clubs listed above? You can resist the temptation to talk about Liverpool and just let me know what you think by leaving me a comment.

After the opening day of the new Premier League season, how did the PL’s Big 5 fare?

Giroud celebrates winner against Leicester City. Phot credit: Telegraph

  1. Arsenal: Game Chasers (Changers too!)

Arsenal and Leicester played the first game of the 2017/2018 Premier League. And they put on quite the show.  7-goal thriller proved again to me the current Arsenal side has not changed much from last season and here’s why.

Typical of Arsenal is the habit of conceding the game’s first goal and then using all that genius and creativity in the squad to chase the game. First, they had to make sure that the scores going into the dressing room at half-time was even.

Then in the second half, they picked up from where they stopped in the first, conceding first, then giving Arsenal fans the usual “high blood pressure treat” before going on to win the game 4-3. Arsenal’s struggle to defend set pieces was pretty evident but more obvious was the impact of the substitutes depth of the Arsenal squad.

Kudos to the Gunners for turning the game around – the banters were already lurking in the corner – but imagine if all that genius was used to dictate the pace of the game instead of having to chase the game the whole 90 minutes.

Premier League MatchDay 1 results

  1. Chelsea: Beaten

In a way, the word “beaten” in football is relative. A team could be thrashed 6-0 while another can lose a game by just a lone goal.

Antonio Conte’s men started the defense of their Premier League title by first conceding 3 first half goals, having two players sent off – Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas – and then practically chasing the game the whole second half. It was a mixed display, even for a neutral like me.

But, in all fairness to both teams, the Chelsea side seemed set up for a defeat, especially with their toothless striker up front and the very weak bench Conte named on the day. The absence of Matic was hugely felt and you begin to wonder how they’ll cope against Tottenham in their next game.

The argument that most of Conte’s regulars were either injured or suspended holds water, in a way. But there’s no denying the obvious: zero points, a goal difference of -1 and a trip to Tottenham’s new home to face a rival that will be SPURred on by the opportunity to make life even more miserable for Chelsea.

Salah celebrates scoring against Watford

  1. Liverpool: Bruised

For all the fuss about Liverpool’s fast and dangerous frontline, you would have been right to see Marcus Silva start his reign as Watford coach with a loss. But, as Premier League fans had found out in the #ARSLEI game the day before, the football gods in charge of the Premier League kind of changed their script writers.

Team Watford started like a team on fire, exhibiting that strange trait that saw Hull beat some top sides last term. Names like Okaka, Amrabat and Doucoure made life difficult for Henderson, Emre Can and Moreno. They dominated the midfield and weren’t afraid to bully the Reds in the entire first half. Did I mention Chalobah?

Klopp’s pep talk during the half time break worked like magic as Liverpool turned the tables around. Salah and Mane woke up from their slumber in time to put Liverpool in front – Firmino was still AWOL at the time – for the most part of the second half… until a lack of a “proper defender” saw them concede a 95th minute goal and share the spoils.

Lessons learnt? Coutinho was sorely missed and a very fine defender is needed. Bruised but unscathed, I look forward to the coming games and how Klopp’s army will cope.

  1. Manchester City: Strange

It’s like the start of last season all over again. Manchester City faithfuls were treated to yet another surprise team set-up and the very strange way the Cityzens played against newly promoted Brighton and Hove Albion.

Pep’s 3-5-2 formation was unmistakable from the blast of the ref’s whistle. I guess it was the one formation that could comfortably accommodate both of his South American strikers. But it meant they had to play through the middle, a path Brighton had already crammed full of players, players whose roles were hard to define.

Sometimes they were four players at the back. At other times, there were six, all moving in a form of synchronization that will make the Chinese army jealous. It was a water-tight defense system set up by a coach who seemed to want to catch Pep’s men on the counter.

But a Sergio Aguero goal and an own goal was enough to separate both sides. City won the game but left most football fans wondering how many versions of Guardiola’s team will be seen this season.

Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku celebrate against West Ham

  1. Manchester United: Dominant

I was aware of the project that Jose Mourinho was looking to show off to the world with his moves for Romelu Lukaku and Matic. His team needed reinforcements and reinforce it he did. The unknown was how his team will fare, especially after losing to Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup.

So, you can understand the surprise of many – even Manchester United faithfuls – when Lukaku grabbed two goals, Matic put on a Man-of-the-Match show which gave Pogba the freedom to roam forward and wreck havoc and Marcus Rashford put on quite the performance.

The West Ham players were overwhelmed by the 7-star performance of Mourinho’s men. Simply put, they stood no chance. And that was because every department of the Manchester United team was functioning so well.

It’s only Gameweek 1 and, like the general consensus states, it’s too early to make any calls. That being said, it was a season-opening weekend that won’t be forgotten in a hurry. And now, we can’t wait for the next Gameweek.

 

 

[BANTER] 6 Talking Points From the Opening Weekend of the Premier League

Banter is a supple term used to describe activities or a chat that is playful, intelligent and original. It is one of the key ingredients for communication amongst rival fans. We all love some good banter, don’t we?

Fantastic Banter

Fantastic Banter

However, just like it is much more pleasurable to give than to receive and not forgetting that givers never lack, I’ve applied same when it comes to banter. One sure thing is that everybody gets a turn and in this article, I take a look at some of those “talking points” from the weekend:

1. Wenger Out?
It can be argued that if the Arsenal team put in the same effort the Arsenal supporters put in during their #WengerOut campaigns, they’d win the league every year. Seven minutes was the time it took from Jamie Vardy’s first and Leicester’s second goal of the night to get #WengerOut trending on twitter barely just 30 minutes to the start of the new season.

After an extraordinary comeback (Arsenal being very good at comebacks don’t mean much), the #WengerOut band would have been delighted again with their manager (except Piers Morgan).

In what could be “their year”, the Arsenal supporters would be happy to finish in the top four, I really mean to win the FA cup and move on.
2. Liverpool Can’t Defend Corners
History merchants couldn’t do the job away at Watford in a display that typifies the club. They conceded after eight minutes from a Stefano Okaka header and conceded the equalizer in added time via a corner.

With the focus being Phil Coutinho’s transfer request, it seems that Liverpool are in need of a Van Dijk (no apologies). Saido Mane says ‘we’ll work harder’ and I’ll say maybe, just maybe next year.

Premier League MatchDay 1 results

Premier League MatchDay 1 results

3. Conte Kante
That would be my answer if you asked me if Antonio Conte could lead Chelsea to a defense of their League title. And with a thin squad and European commitments this season it seems like Chelsea might not enjoy this season.

 

A 2-3 loss to Burnley FC in which captain Gary Cahill and midfielder Cesc Fabregas were given their marching orders and Twitter striker Michy Batshuayi had no impact in the game and was substituted for 70m summer signing Alvaro Morata who immediately helped Chelsea at least finish with some dignity ensured the season started on the right note for Chelsea’s rivals.

With Hazard still not due from injury and suspensions to Cahill, Fabregas and a trip to Tottenham next, one would wonder how much weight Conte would lose.

4. It was just Brighton and Hove Albion
Former Arsenal fans, – sorry I mean Man City fans – shouldn’t get too excited as nobody expected the world’s third most-expensive defense to be breached by Brighton and Hove Albion. It would have been utterly ridiculous and Pep would have been called a fraud. There was nothing to laugh about in their dominant display and maybe the next match against Everton could bring some joy.

5. Mr. Dele
Bantering Tottenham is usually difficult. Not because they are quite exceptional, but you’d have to find their fans first and then get them to speak about any trophy they have won or nearly won or maybe a match day DVD would do then.

On the opening weekend, the verdict is banter postponed, many thanks in part to Jonjo Shelvey as he had to get himself sent off. Dele Alli delivered the first goal after getting on the end of a Christian Eriksen cross in a combination we will see many times this season.

Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku celebrate against West Ham

Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku celebrate against West Ham.

6. Anti-Mourinho United Display
After all summer signings scored on their debuts one would think Romelu Lukaku would feel some pressure. But there was nothing like that as he debuted in red with a brace. In what can be described as an exciting display by Manchester United, fellow new boy Nemaja Matic was equally impressive as Paul Pogba shone against West Ham in a 4-0 victory.

It seemed like an uncharacteristic pattern for Mourinho’s United charges – United under Mourinho have never won 4-0 in the Premier League and the last time they scored four was against Leicester City 4-1 at home last season. There would be plenty of time to laugh and call Pogba a “dabbing Mulumbu” but this week’s banter has been postponed.

Author

Awolope Kolawole

What a Weekend! Profligacy, ConSIXtency and a League on Fire

Courtesy Bleacher

From the NPFL, to the Premier League, the weekend served up too much to describe in one line or sentence. So, maybe I’d be justified if this post were without a title.

But that would mean that you the reader will be going in blind if you eventually choose to read a title-less (or vaguely-titled) post. So, I dug deep within and came up with that title.

The international break is upon us. The highly dreaded break that rids a football fan of all the excitement that club football offers. But the different clubs in Europe put on fabulous displays to leave us wondering what April will look like when club football returns.
So, while you’re preparing to miss action from club football, how about a review of what went down over the past weekend?

1. The NPFL is on Fire!

Things are heating up in Nigeria’s Premier football league. While the reigning champs are desperate to repeat the surprise by a certain Leicester, some other clubs have taken the bull by its horns, and they’re trying to create space between themselves and whatever club that may want to join the chasing pack.

Chasing pack or not? MFM climbed up to second after their win over Plateau United.

One such club turning heads in the country with their amazing performances week in week out is MFM FC. I tell you first hand: The league has not seen so much talent inside one football club… in a very long time!

I may sound like I’ve just sugar-coated how exciting the Olukoya boys have been. But, dis one no be seresere o, this ones fear no foe!

A breakdown

And this was evident in their beautiful performance against league leaders, Plateau United. Before the game, it was the table-topping Jos-based side up against the third-placed Lasgidi side. By the time the ref – who is a clergyman – called time on the game, MFM FC had beaten their opponents… and moved up to second on the log.

Names like Onuwa, Sikiru Olatunbosun, Odey were repeatedly on the commentators’ lips. And, why not?

The man of the moment, Stephen Odey.

Onuwa mesmerized, Sikiru dragged his opposing player – sometimes players – mercilessly and continuously. Odey? The league’s top goalscorer took his tally to 10 goals in 10 games.
Now you understand why the NPFL is on fire. Olukoya’s boys are too busy setting new standards for the league. If you can take a quick peek at the table above, you’ll see them topping the away table. There aren’t far from the summit of the Home table too!

If they continue like this, maybe they’ll be travelling to see the Pyramids of Egypt next year no thanks to finishing top or second on the table this season.

2. Super Sunday

Or should I say Super Weekend? Lukaku, Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho and others all made it another Premier League weekend to not to forget in a long while.

You would have thought that Man. Utd would find life difficult without their star man, Zlatan Ibrahomovic. But players like Rashford and Mata and co stepped up to the plate and helped Manchester United out of their conSIXtent spot.

United also got some help from West Brom and Everton who both connived to cause a mild earthquake at the top of the table which sent Arsenal tumbling down the table.

Chelsea seem to have won the Premier League title. That’s the word on the street. Another win at Stoke put them in full control of their destiny. Spurs kept up the chase with a win over the Saints – who painfully lost Gabbiadini (somebody check that spelling) to groin injury.

What of City and Liverpool? While analysing the game on the Premier League show on The Beat 97.9 FM, I anticipated the clash and spoke of City’s danger trio: Sterling, Aguero and Sane.

While all three were guilty of profligacy, – Lallana, Milner and Firmino too – the game did not fail to live up to expectations. End-to-end stuff, shots on target and expectably, controversies.

3. The Leaders and the Chasing Pack

From Juventus to Bayern Munich to Celtic, some things just don’t change. I heard Celtic are on a 36-game unbeaten run and may be crowned champs in the first week of April. SMH?

The La Liga is still wide open – between just two teams – but things seem as good as done and dusted with in Italy’s Serie A and the German Bundesliga. I’m not sure if this is good for football or maybe it isn’t. You decide.

Time to stop here and see if I can scribble something about the connection between the recent schedule reshuffling in the Premier League and the ‘Early Pull Out‘ of some players.

I’ve never been a fan of international friendlies and the likes. But then again, it is what it is and we have to live with it. So, enjoy watching your favourite players strut their stuff in their national colours. Or better still, go for the Formula 1 which kicks off this weekend in Australia.

About Author

Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst on The Beat FM and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @rotdav

There is Something Mysterious About the 2016/2017 Premier League Season

Enigma!

Enigma!

The Premier League, on any good day, is an interesting league, one of the most exciting (if not the most exciting one). One moment, you know what’s coming. The next, you’re left in awe of what just happened.

The Premier League is majorly a standout league for one reason: any club in the league, size and league table position regardless, can come visiting and steal 3 points from right under your nose, sometimes effortlessly, sometimes with the last kick of the game.

This, and not the famous English Fourth Estate (they play their part too) is what makes the league notoriously exciting. But the 2016/2017 season has been different.

No, I’m not talking about that 5000/1 kind of different. I’m talking about the 6th-position-for-months, Conte-nious-table-topping-performances, Pep-ppered-on-all-sides-by-Everton-and-Bravo kind of different.

Chelsea’s rise, Pep’s choice of Bravo despite those dangerously negative statiatics, Arsenal’s ‘upandan‘ season, Spurs, the Leicester blow-up, to mention but a few, have been mysterious and unexplainable!

There’s “almost” been more than enough excitement this season (enigma too!). Every week and matchday seems to have it’s own special surprise for all and sundry.

And in this article, I’ll be focusing on this week’s episode of mysteries served up by a mysterious season.

1. KARMA

It is believed that the world is run by a set of people, that keep the world in balance to prevent her from shutting down. For every good, there must be a bad, For every bad? A good. Its what keeps the world okay. It may seem a farce but, it is a reality which Jose Mourinho must come to terms with.

The 54-year old stormed out of his post-match TV interview apparently disgusted at the result, but it was one which had his own blueprint. Hull sat deep, refused to be bullied and had answers to all the questions United asked of them.

It was a classic Mourinho print, one reminiscent of his Inter days. He shouldn’t have been angry. He was simply being paid with his own kind of coin. His team had done the same earlier this season at Anfield.

Often times, snatching a win could be the sweetest thing in football but you being the victim? Leaves scars. However, it wasn’t the case here. Maybe Mourinho should applaud Hull’s resilience and be proud of them than putting up hypocritical behavior.

Mysterious Record: Welcome to a weird Premier League season

Mysterious Record: Welcome to a weird Premier League season

Have I mentioned the 6th place mystery? It’s been so enigmatic that I’ll just let this infographic emphasize how deep this mystery is.

 

Pep's Strongest Manchester City side yet?

Pep’s Strongest Manchester City side yet?

2. SANE, WILLY & JESUS, Guardiola’s Saviour

It doesn’t come everyday, the chance to say how much a goalkeeper saved Pep Guardiola on a Matchday. It’s usually the Spaniard’s frontment wrecking all the havoc and breaking down barriers.

But in recent times, just like a wardrobe malfunction, a “goalkeeping malfunction” has not saved Pep. It has made him look surprisingly terrible. Don’t get me wrong. The tacts have been fine.

Jesus comes from Brazil, gets a goal, an assist, runs away with the Man of The Match award and comfortably fills in the shoes left by Kun Aguero’s absence – all on his first Premier League start.

Sane’s trickery, run-ins, innovation and youth makes Man. City look alive again! I mean, Sterling is being greatly helped by the young German.

So, It’s obvious the Pep Tacts are intact. But no team can hide, for long, the pain of a bad (actually, terrible’s the word) goalkeeper.
And the Philosopher had been suffering this pain for some time. So, he decides to take a pill to alleviate his pain by replacing Claudio Bravo with Willy Caballero. The result?

Manchester City beat West Ham 0-4! No goals were conceded. Mysterious treatment of that “goalkeeping headache.”


3. THEIR OWN WORST ENEMY

Man is often said to be his own worst enemy. The architect of his downfall. And Arsenal are edging towards that spectrum.

Disastrous decision making in the stands courtesy Arsene Wenger, moments of naivety courtesy the Arsenal defence and a twirl of fate all combined to perfection against Watford. They lost the game

Being Arsenal, a loss to Watford may not entirely be a mystery. But, isn’t the mystery of CONSISTENTLY losing the “title ambitions” steam around this time of the year mysterious enough?

Season after season, the story has been the same: September to November, an Arsenal side that’ll kill all in sight. From Santa’s arrival, to his departure and the first month of the new year inclusive, you have an Arsenal side that just can’t help themselves from caving in.

They often play as if they are scared to win and while they have scored the most late goals this season, they must realize fortune will only favour the brave. It won’t hurt if they grow more cajones and played like champions. They already have the core!


4. ThE OTHER MYSTERIES

Chelsea fans have to forgive me for adding your beloved club to this list, instead of making it a point on it’s own.

Well, it seems no one else is interested in catching up. Since that unbeaten run, the only thing that can be a mystery is Chelsea losing. I’ve adjusted to this “type” of Chelsea. Nothing new to see – erm, can I mention that mysterious David Luiz goal?

Mysteriously, Liverpool were able to slow down that Chelsea train whose next stop sems to be the Premier League title. Mane is back. As such, the poor run of form should stop now.

Peter Crouch is still a prolific scorer. Scoring 100 Premier League goals is a mystery because not many made it that far. But Crouch did and celebrated the feat with his famous Robot Celebration.

Leicester’s season has been so confusing. It’s like the force of overcoming a 5000/1 odds is still with them, but this time, in a negative form.

The relegation cloud is hovering dangerously and that, my friends, is a mystery for a club that is the reigning champ.
Did I omit any other “mysteries”? Do you have some of yours? Please let me know by leaving a comment below. I’d love to talk football with you. 😉
About Author

Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @rotdav

This Week’s Definition Of the EPL’s Big Five

This Premier League weekend had too much to offer in terms of action. It was almost impossible to keep up with actions and reactions the world over. How about the big five?

Arsenal: Vintage
The Arsenal win over Chelsea was the classic case of being run over by the better team on the day. Arsenal simply ran Chelsea over, scored those goals via running faster than the sluggish Blues and ran away with the win. You can now understand how the Gunners scored 3 against a Chelsea side, in 45 minutes.

Special Credit to Mesut Ozil (for losing Kante) and Alexis Sanchez for that third goal. Even more special credit to Mustafi and Koscielny for giving it their all to keep a clean sheet. It was an amazing performance which made Conte look so ordinary and sent Kante disappearing. Speaking of Chelsea…

Chelsea: Sixes and Sevens
The last time I saw a Chelsea defense this confused was against PSG. Any Conte-led side is usually known for their water-tight defense. But this side seemed to let open the floodgates between the 10th and the 15th minutes of the first half.

Looking past Cahill’s gift, how about this for a full comprehension of the disarray in the side:

You’ll be wondering what those three Chelsea players were doing attacking just one player in the upper part of that image. You must also be wondering how Chelsea just caved in dramatically, right? I think I’ve got some suggestions.

One: Maybe it’s because Michael Jackson is now the HNIC, not Antonio Conte.

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Two: Maybe because Chelsea, according to Sky Sports, have lost 38% of their games in which John Terry did not play. Or maybe, according to Ivanovic, it was because the players failed to follow the manager’s instructions. Who knows!

Liverpool: Five Star
It’s been said that a team has to make mistakes or errors before the other can win. But what happens when the opposition is just more than you can handle? We’ll have to know what exactly can be too much for a Premier League side to handle. To do that, let’s see the Match Stats via BBC:

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A 74% ball possession by the other team is already headache enough. You can’t do much without the ball. Add to that 32 shots, (the highest total by any side, in a game, in the Premier League this season), and you can already see the big picture! In addition, according to Mirror, Liverpool created 24 chances during the game. Rampant doesn’t get any better than that!

Manchester City: Unfamiliar
Fans of Manchester City must have had a pretty battle on their hands so far, as regards getting to fully understand their new gaffer and his methods so far. Pep has turned City inside out. And this has rattled all sides they’ve played against so far this season. Except Swansea.

Playing against them midweek seemed to give them this strange courage to go all out against the Cityzens. They were bold enough to come back from conceding an early goal, by scoring one of theirs almost immediately. Guardiola’s men were obviously rattled! They looked forlorn. Even though they eventually won, it may just be the beginning of things to come, with Spurs up next weekend and Kevin de Bruyne picking an injury.

Manchester United: Pogba + 4 In One Half
How else do you silence your critics? Those loud bags who have been running their mouth about your bad patch of form? Well, if you’re Jose Mourinho, you just make one hell of a tactical change to your team. Bench your captain then ask the rest of the team to score 4 unreplied goals, in the first half, against the current league champs.

What if you’re a certain Paul Pogba, who has been called just an expensive Seyi Olofinjana? Whose goals seem to have deserted him? Well, you just bully your way through the opposition’s defense, connect your head with your teammate’s corner kick and score your first English Premier League goal via a header. Then you run off to the corner flag, confused at first, on which celebrations to display, before choosing to just stare down those haters.

Then of course, share a dab with a teammate.

screenshot_2016-09-24-16-04-34-1

About Author
Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @rotdav

This Week’s Definition Of the EPL’s Big Five

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It’s not very often that derbies, in any football league, end without a trace of controversy in sight after the game. Well, whatever controversy there could be was quashed by the way Pep Guardiola’s men played the first half and how Jose Mourinho’s army responded in the second.

Even though there were more than enough talking points this weekend (the referees stole the show), yes, I had to start with the biggest game of the weekend. The big one.

Liverpool and both Manchester clubs impressed. Arsenal and Chelsea struggled. Now let’s take an in-depth look at each club’s performnaces over the weekend.

Arsenal: Intensive
I think the saying that, “you play at the level of your opponent,” has an iota of truth in it. Southampton came to the Emirates with a fast game plan. Redmond, Jay Rodriguez and Virgil were the fast guys.

The only way to counter them was simple: Play faster… and intensely! The intensity of the Gunners was needed to cope with the pressure of the Saints and also create something going forward. Even though a 93rd-minute penalty was needed to win the game, the Gunners gave the fans an intense display.

Chelsea: Latecomers
And for the umpteenth time this season, the Blues needed an 80-somethingth minute goal to garner points. Let’s just say it’s becoming a habit for Antonio Conte’s men. Maybe it’s some sort of game plan. Who knows!

Yes, the fans had legitimate cries as regards the officiating of this match and the performance of some of their players. That FERocious kick (okay maybe more glaring than ferocious) on Cahill? The dilemna of a bicycle kick to the head of a defender before a goal? What was Courtois thinking? But I’m sure most of them will be happy they’ve got Cesc Fabregas on whom they can always call on.

Liverpool: Spot On
I’m not sure what it is about this Klopp side but, when they turn the switch on, every other thing must bow. Yep, that’s right. I was expecting a tight game against Leicester. But the Reds had other ideas.

Yes I’ll admit I didn’t see the wide margin coming. Firmino, Lallana did run riot. There was the slight case of Sturridge but it didn’t hurt them too much this time around. Hopefully, they won’t be brought back down to earth by another shock away loss next weekend.

screenshot_2016-09-10-23-23-28-1

Manchester City: Tireless
The first half of the Manchester derby was entirely dominated by Guardiola’s men. The domination was so severe that the Red Devils needed a Bravo fumble to score. This domination looked simple on T.V.

But no domination comes just like that. Domination of a game this big involves a whole lot of running, (off and on the ball). And Pep’s men did this so effortlessly.Two men in particular gave the game their all: Kevin de Bruyne and Otamendi. Tireless attacking by the former which won a half, tireless defending by the latter which saved the other half.

screenshot_2016-09-10-23-23-47-1

Manchester United: Half-Beaten
While the world showers Guardiola with all the praise for beating Mourinho in yet another derby, a Jose Mourinho commendation is due. How he and his boys managed to survive that first half is still a mystery.

His selection let him down the entire first half and he was bold to make changes that paid off immediately in the second half. Rashford’s introduction swung the game’s pendulum in United’s favour. City may have won the game but, Manchester United won the second half by a large margin, even though they still ended the game pointless. Fair or not?

About Author
Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @rotdav and on LinkedIn

It’s Another Matchday In the Premier League but How Did the Big Five Fare In the Last Matchday?

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Another English Premier League Matchday and more to discuss. The big teams had contrasting performances in their last outings in the league. While Manchester City and Chelsea had a roller coaster ride, Manchester United found things tough.

But how did they really fare, talking about England’s Big Five?

Arsenal: Ice Breakers
Arsenal finally got their first three points of the season against Watford and Mesut Ozil called it “the icebreaker” on a post on his Instagram page. Most expected a routine win for the Gunners and they didn’t disappoint. Ozil and Sanchez looked alive in the game and it was a relatively easy win. With Lucas Perez joining the fray, maybe it’ll be a run of wins for Arsenal. Just maybe.

Chelsea: Perfect Start
With 9 points from their first three games of the season, Antonio Conte’s Chelsea have hit the ground running. The Blues seem to have shaken off last season’s blues (pun intended) and are now looking like a very serious side. Can blame them though, Conte is now in charge. Conte, the Fierce One. Hazard and Moses were two of the star players against Burnley. Their goals were superb and their speed, break-neck! Be very afraid

Ouch! Dear Klopp, I'm sure you've seen this right?

Ouch! Dear Klopp, I’m sure you’ve seen this right?

Liverpool: A Point Won or Two Lost?
It had been said that the English Premier League title will come down to how much points the Big 6 get off each other (or maybe Big 7?). In Klopp’s title chase, has he just lost two valuable points? Or has he salvaged one? I expected a perfect start like the Manchester sides have had but, that can be tough when your goalie conceding every shot in his direction. In other news, I’m still confused about the Sturridge move.

Manchester City: Up and Down
Honestly, the Hammers made it too easy for the Cityzens. They were too disorganized. Two quick goals in the first 30 minutes of the game put Pep Guardiola’s men firmly in control of the game. Although West Ham stagged a comeback in the 2nd half, it was too late. As for the players, Sterling was Sterling (you should see his second goal if you missed it). Nolito was ebbulient as usual. Aguero got lost in transit and now faces a risk of missing the Manchester derby after elbowing Reid. Caballero conceded again, to the fury of the Philosopher. Nasri made a cameo appearance, lol.

Manchester United: MOUving On
It didn’t come easily but it did. After Hull had won their first two matches, I half-heartedly expected a goals galore. I even tipped both teams to score. But Hull City had other ideas. In the end, for Mourinho, it was another display of “fight till the end.” No matter who scores, just get the win. Get the three points. And even though it was the first time a teenager scored under Jose, he was joyous to see the 92nd minute winner rattle the onion bag. The perfect start continues.

Now that the dreaded international break has come and gone, the Manchester Derby is upon us! Who do you think will win? The Pep or the Mou? Who will be the first to lose a game this season? Or will it end in a draw? Let me know what you think? Leave your comments and let me hear from you.

About Author
Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @rotdav; and on LinkedIn