Heroes & Villains: Wenger's gap year, suicidal Redknapp & Shearer's hairline

FourFourTwo.com's man in sunny Sussex Mark Booth runs the rule over a weekend of Premier League action that will live long in the memory for anybody who wasn't at Swansea vs Sunderland...


The city of ManchesterAlthough the Premier League season is barely over two weeks old, Sunday's action hints at this being a very Mancunian title race.

What a difference 12 months has made for Manchester City. On the opening day of last season, Mancini parked an armoured tank infront of his side's penalty box at White Hart Lane to escape with a 0-0 draw, this season the Premier League's new great entertainers dazzled with an exhibition of incisive one-touch football that yet again saw David Silva pull the strings as City's outstanding player. Debutant Samir Nasri's look of disbelief after Edin Dzeko added a sublime fifth told the whole story – on this form City will take some stopping.

But anything City can do, those old hands across town believe they can do better. Arsenal might be at their lowest ebb, and weren't helped by mounting suspensions and injuries, but United's dominance proved just how canny their manager can be in the transfer market. They didn't come cheap, but Phil Jones and Ashley Young are already looking like two excellent pieces of business. This will probably prove to be Ferguson's final generation of young players, but there's a togetherness and a cohesiveness in United's play that indicates those Wembley lessons from Pep Guardiola's Barcelona have been fully taken on board.

A lack of an outstanding competitor blighted last season and though they barely got out of first gear, Ferguson sealed their 19th title. If he's to add a 20th in May, City's new-found swagger means it will certainly have been harder earned. Roll on October's Manchester derby.

Eight goals and not an OG in the bunch...

Norwich CityThe 3-1 scoreline at Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon flattered Chelsea. Norwich City have one of the UK's best young managers in Paul Lambert and a striker in Grant Holt who might just provide the firepower to keep the Canaries in the top flight. Despite their frugal approach over the summer, and without wishing to patronise, they matched their more illustrious opponents for long periods at Stamford Bridge. Though they left the capital empty-handed, Lambert's men will do well to remember that there are 16 easier places to pick up points and if they can match the level of imagination and desire on show here, they should be alright come May.

John HenryTottenham broke the old Big Four order once and for all after heavy investment in 2010, and after a similar outlay, Liverpool already look like having every chance of breaking back in after an impressive start to the campaign. John Henry stated that Liverpool are far from the finished article at the start of the season but they're already a million miles away from where they were this time last year.

 The addition of Downing's width and Adam's craft in the middle mean that this Liverpool side has more in common with a side their manager may have played in. Factor in Lucas, carrying the water as one of the Premier League's most dramatic improvement stories of recent times, as well as a world class 'false nine' in Luis Suarez and it's no exaggeration to say that even Steven Gerrard might have his work cut out to find a place in this team. It seemed like a long way back for Liverpool when Dalglish took the reigns last season but the rate at which the Scotsman has turned their fortunes around is staggering and a lesson to those at the Emirates of the value in being active in the transfer market.

Is Leon the Best of a bad bunch at Newcastle?

Leon BestMuch has been made of Mike Ashley's failure to reinvest the £35 million Liverpool paid for Andy Carroll in January, but Leon Best's recent form in the Premier League suggests his replacement might come from the unlikeliest of sources. Eight goals in 15 league games in 2011 compares favourably to Carroll's record before upping sticks for Anfield and for the much-maligned forward, that happy knack of being in the right place at the right time is synchronised perfectly with the needs of Alan Pardew, who must be getting tired of seeing his best players leave the club. Following Enrique and Barton's exits, Newcastle's quota of quality Premier League players is receding at a similar rate to Alan Shearer's hairline so these timely contributions from Best had better not dry up any time soon.

Roberto MartinezIt's refreshing to have a young manager so likeable in both personality and tactical approach in the Premier League. Wigan played some outstanding stuff on Saturday against QPR, with Franco Di Santo's first goal particularly well worked. It'll be most interesting to see if the Argentine striker can take heart from his “where-the-hell-did-that-come-from” performance to finally make good on the potential that brought him to these shores in the first place. Having Martinez at the helm gives him the best possible chance. It's just a shame that the empty seats at the DW stadium suggests he doesn't have the town of Wigan behind him.


Harry RedknappFollowing 36 odd hours of Arsene Wenger mopping up much of the criticism heading for North London, Tottenham manager Redknapp owes the Frenchman some gratitude. Although Manchester City were superb during their romp at White Hart Lane, Spurs certainly helped them along their way through a lack of hunger and direction for which Redknapp should carry the can. It may be churlish to suggest Redknapp's suicidal decision to play two creative central midfielders - Niko Kranjcar and 'wantaway playmaker' Luka Modric - was a demonstration of poverty towards chairman Daniel Levy, but the Tottenham boss has been backed heavily in the transfer market in recent times and it's starting to look like those famous motivational powers are on the wane. The two Manchester clubs were hardly ideal opponents for their first two fixtures, but if Spurs fail to pick up three points away at Wolves next weekend, perhaps Levy and Redknapp's relationship won't be too far from breaking down irreparably.

Errrm, how did Barnet get on this weekend...?

Arsene WengerIt's perverse that following an 8-2 defeat in the Premier League to one of their biggest rivals, it still almost seems unfair to add the Arsenal manager's name to this list. Wenger deserves sympathy for the manner in which his summer has panned out, but he must shoulder the blame for the current struggles  his club face - at least partly.

With Barcelona and Manchester City stalling on meeting fair valuations of Fabregas and Nasri respectively, Wenger's first XI has had its heart ripped out in a fortnight. Ideally these two pieces of business would have been concluded in June, leaving the manager ample time to identify and recruit their replacements. As it is, Arsenal have missed out on Juan Mata and find themselves in the unfortunate position of appearing rich and desperate to clubs possessing potential targets, like a naive gap-year student arriving at an exotic marketplace with with a huge wad of daddy's cash in hand. This means Wenger will doubtless have to break his stubborn spending policy, or likely face the oblivion of being outside the top four. It's reactionary at best to question his position as Arsenal manager as some have, but it's already clear that there's a massive rebuilding job facing the Frenchman if they're to keep Liverpool from stealing their Champions League berth.

Andrei Arshavin In usual circumstances a team will be desperate to avoid going down to ten men, particularly when they're without several of their key players, but many Arsenal fans were probably joining the cries of 'off, off, off' from their Manchester United counterparts after the out-of-sorts Russian clattered Phil Jones. The Arsenal 'star' was fortunate to avoid a red card, while the United defender was lucky to escape serious injury. That aside, the former Zenit forward also went in late on Jonny Evans, failed to muster a single shot at United's goal and completed a rather poor 71% of his passes. Not a good day at the office, but he'll be getting used to it by now.

Bolton WanderersBolton's organisational strengths have become a footballing cliché as well-worn as the half-time orange in recent times, though that may require revision after Saturday's Anfield collapse. Liverpool were neat and tidy but were made to look extraordinary through Bolton's ball-watching-cum-shadow-chasing. Speculation surrounding Gary Cahill looked to have taken its toll with the defender lacking his usual presence in the back four and a uncharacteristic failure to take responsibility characterised this routine 3-1 home win.

Mauro FormicaIf you're going to dive to win a penalty – probably best to score it, eh? A couple of dubious pieces of sportsmanship won his side two penalties they would ultimately fail to convert, succumbing to a late Mikel Arteta spot-kick as Blackburn snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. This bile-inducing folding into a defender's legs in anticipation of a foul is best off out of the Premier League and all Formica will have done is ensure his name will be pre-emptively etched into referees'minds up and down the land.

Alan ShearerMatching shirt with the far superior Dixon and those same tired lines rolled out with that inane smile of the damned. We pay his wages, if that isn't worth rioting for, what is?