Debrief: Arsenal keep crumbling when it matters, Spurs learn value of patience
Arsenal fail in the big games - and are getting worse
If Arsenal's 6-0 battering at the hands of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge taught us anything, it was that Arsenal consistently and categorically fail when it comes to the big games. 2-0 down inside 10 minutes, it was the manner of the defeat that proved so shocking.
This was supposed to be a celebration of Arsene Wenger's greatness, a match to crown his 1,000th game in charge in the same style and with the same philosophy he's carried as a raison d'être for the 999 games prior. Instead, the party hats only served to give his team the look of clowns, as Jose Mourinho's side ripped into them like a lion rips into its prey. Indeed it was interesting to note that, even at 4-0 up with an extra man, the game all but won, Mourinho continued to implore his side to press and chase, as if desperate to give his managerial rival a roasting to remember. A special beating from the Special One, to the sound of 'specialists of failure' chants from the Stamford Bridge crowd. Schadenfreude in its purest form.
Arsenal have struggled for success over the last nine years, and in that time a perception has grown that Arsenal flop when it's time for action - that when it really matters most, they flounder. Wenger has still never beaten Mourinho in all their numerous meetings, after all, and when the pressure cranks up Arsenal teams have been found wanting, from William Gallas' sulk away to Birmingham, to their League Cup final collapse against the same opposition. Saturday's defeat did nothing to disprove this theory. If anything, Arsenal are getting worse as the years go by.
In the last four seasons, Arsenal's record against the big boys Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool leaves much to be desired, and continues to get worse and worse. In 2010/11 they picked up 12 points from their eight games against these teams, with 3 wins, 3 draws and 2 defeats. Since then, their points total has dropped to 10 points in 2011/12, six points in 2012/13 (with only one win in 8), and now five points in 2013/14, though they still have Manchester City to play at home.
To keep their fading title hopes alive Arsenal must now beat Manuel Pellegrini's side at the Emirates. Defeat, on the other hand, would show an indisputable year-on-year decline in Wenger's ability to inspire his team against the best.
Soldado and Sherwood show Spurs the virtue of patience
Roberto Soldado and Tim Sherwood have been the butt of many a joke over the past few weeks and months. "Soldado makes me realise I wasn't that sh*t" tweeted Gary Lineker to his two million followers, and Spurs' own variation of the SAS have both suffered in what's been a fairly enigmatic campaign - fifth in the league but with a variety of meltdowns and a managerial sacking to boot.
However, the late, late 3-2 win over Southampton can perhaps show Spurs - and even the wider football world - the virtue of patience. That Spurs forked out £26 million on the Spanish international perfectly entitles them to expect more than a return of six goals in 25 league games. It would be a fallacy to suggest that Soldado's maiden Premier League season has been anything other than a disappointment. That said, it would be equally wrong to suggest that the Spaniard can't cut it or is scrapheap material already.
In the absence of injury-stricken Emmanuel Adebayor, some of Soldado's play in the win over the Saints was a joy to behold. Soldado is not a natural target man, but an array of sumptuous flicks and clever interchanges helped forge a number of opportunities for his team-mates, and he showed impressive strength and, vitally, the requisite hard-running to rob Dejan Lovren and set up Spurs' equaliser.
Soldado's hold-up play, runs into channels, work-rate and the manner in which he brought his colleagues into play was excellent at times, although he was unlucky not to cap a pleasing performance with a goal, Nacer Chadli's late cross not good enough to offer Spurs a fourth and Soldado a tap-in.
Sherwood meanwhile was directly responsible for the game's turnaround, the introduction of Gylfi Sigurdsson for the hapless Mousa Dembele altering the game's shape and rebalancing the match in Spurs' favour. Sherwood chose to watch from the stands - a self-imposed touchline exile to prevent further angry outbursts of finger-jabbing and wailing. This shows a certain maturity that should not go unnoticed.
Both tactically and in terms of how he carries himself as a manager, Sherwood is learning - and he is having to do so at the sharp end of the game, where pressure and scrutiny are at their highest. Time may well end up revealing that Sherwood isn't quite ready for this level, but the club's decision to give him that responsibility should also come with an acceptance that a certain amount of breathing space is needed adapt to the rigours of life as a Premier League manager.
Everton keep up the chase for top four place
Can Everton catch Arsenal and pip them to a fourth place finish before the end of the season? Given the strong manner in which Arsenal traditionally finish the season and their respective run-ins, perhaps not. But that doesn't mean the Gunners should breathe easy. Should Roberto Martinez's men win their game in hand against Crystal Palace the Toffees would sit just five points behind Arsenal, with the Champions League-chasing duo still to meet at Goodison Park in April. Win both and it could be a very nervy end to the season for Gunners fans.
Arsene Wenger's near unparalleled record of Champions League qualification probably makes this unlikely, but that this scenario is even being considered at the moment says much not only about how badly Arsenal have slumped in recent weeks but also about the fine job Everton are doing under Martinez this season.
With a significantly smaller budget to the Gunners, who splurged £40 million on one player in the summer, lest we forget, Martinez's side have embraced the early season plaudits and continued to plug away, picking up points and losing only five games - four fewer than Spurs and Manchester United and one fewer than Arsenal. Swansea may have created far more shooting opportunities during their 3-2 defeat at Goodison, mustering 59% possession in the process, but the Toffees made it three straight wins to keep their Champions League dream alive.
Moyes needs marquee result against Man City
Darren Fletcher, Shinji Kagawa, Alex Buttner and Juan Mata came into a much-changed lineup for Manchester United at West Ham, but there were no signs of unfamiliarity about the team as David Moyes' side secured a 2-0 win that was comfortable in the end.
In the absence of Robin van Persie, who depending on the extent of the injury may even have played his last game for United, Moyes' decision to leave out Danny Welbeck raised eyebrows, while injuries in defence left Michael Carrick on stop-the-battering-ram duty against Andy Carroll.
United performed as expected but the challenge now comes on Tuesday, in the Manchester derby against title challengers City. The game represents Moyes' last chance this season to pull off a marquee league win to show supporters that he can hold his own against the big teams and the best tactical minds.
The Red Devils have only won once against this season's top four in seven games, a paltry return - last season they won five and drew one of eight. Moyes' team has also only won three or more games in a row twice this season - a stat that shows the inconsistency which has plagued their 2013/14 campaign. Olympiakos and West Ham were as much about saving face as anything else. A win against City would bear far greater significance.
Suarez leads Player of the Year chase but Aguero absence a shame for Prem
When the end-of-season awards are dished out in a month or two's time it is almost unthinkable that anyone other than Luis Suarez will be awarded the Player of the Year award. Suarez has been a revelation, and his 28 goals in 25 league games is an unbelievable total unmatched in recent times. That said, if anyone was going to challenge him this season, Sergio Aguero was that guy. Or, at least, he would have been, had injuries not so badly hindered his season.
Cast your mind back to the start of the season. It was the Argentine's name on everyone's lips. We all raved about 'El Kun' while Suarez sat on the sidelines completing his biting ban. Aguero had surpassed Thierry Henry's minutes-per-goal record to become the most effective striker in Premier League history (counting only players with 40+ Prem strikes) and 10 goals in 10 starts made him the man of the moment.
Hamstring, knee and calf injuries however have halted his progress. Aguero has scored 20% of Manchester City's league goals this season, but has missed 11 games through injury. When he's played he's been electric, with 15 goals in 15 starts - still the league's fourth top scorer. Luis Suarez leads the way, but it's a shame Aguero's injury problems have deprived us a full season of the tremendously talented 25-year-old. It would have made for a fascinating Golden Boot race.
Stuttering Swansea sliding aimlessly towards relegation zone
Swansea may well be able to boast the Premier League's best possession statistics - a 60% average unmatched by any of the big boys - but if anything their season is proving the fallacy of the idea that possession is nine-tenths of the law. Barcelona's tiki-taka-inspired era of world football dominance taught a generation of supporters that if you keep the ball, you'll probably win - and look great doing so. But the Swans are becoming the latest team to prove that it's a little bit less straightforward than that.
Garry Monk's side continue to drift aimlessly towards the relegation zone and another defeat at Everton - albeit perhaps an unlucky one - condemned Monk to his third defeat in four games.
Swansea have now picked up just two points from an available 15 since Monk's joyous opening win over Cardiff. The sacking of Michael Laudrup and its intended jolt on a club that has been drifting arguably ever since their League Cup trophy win last season has largely failed to materialise. Instead the malaise continues.
There are worse teams in the Premier League, and their run-in isn't the least kind, but Swansea need points on the board. A midweek trip to the Emirates is another chance to turn possession into points.
SEE ALSO Gary Parkinson's Saturday analysis