Matchday 4: Strong men, wronged women and tongues

Firstly, an apology.

This blog would have been posted much earlier but my computer blew up twice. But I managed my anger, forcing myself to adopt that “I’m more disappointed than angry” look that Trevor Francis always wears on Sky Sports. Anyway, to business... here's my thoughts on Matchday 4.


For a team that play the beautiful game, Arsenal can be very hard to watch.

Against Fenerbahce on Wednesday, they played as if they were in a Nike advert: tricks, flicks, clever back-passes. But when they neared goal, there was a strange reluctance to do the basic things – like shoot and cross the ball – that win games.

One of the qualities on which footballers should be judged – but rarely are by pundits – is the quality of their decision-making. And judged on that alone, Arsenal were woeful against a Fenerbahce side that could, with more conviction and a less defensive formation, have snuck three points on the break.

Robin van Persie’s skills are sublime, but on Wednesday his decision making was poorer than a journeyman’s pro. The only player who showed a real instinct for the kind of common-sense decisions that win games was Cesc Fabregas and, late in the second half, presumably depressed by what was going on around him, even he faltered, repeatedly passing into nowhere or to an opponent.

"...and not just for passin'"

There were a few boos at the end. I’m not sure where I stand on booing. It doesn’t do the team much good. On the other hand, if I watched that every week, I’d be tempted.

It reminded me of the Arsenal of 1982/83, only that team had a good excuse – they were mainly rubbish. Wenger’s team are far more gifted, with superb technique, but they seemed, against Fenerbahce, to have forgotten how to play a match.

The papers have been quick to suggest that time is running out for Wenger, but what do they know? It’s possible that Wenger has been conducting a cunning, secret experiment to see whether a football team can prosper, at the very highest levels of the game, without a functioning defensive midfielder.

The short answer is no. Now that experiment is done and dusted, that nice Gabriele Marcotti has even given him some advice on finding an enforcer.


Alessandro del Piero’s astonishing renaissance has clinched Juve’s place in the last 16. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think the-sticking-your-tongue-out celebration will ever catch on.

The Bianconeri are joined by Barcelona and Sporting Lisbon, while Manchester United and Villarreal are just a point shy of the 16. Zenit could still make it if they beat Real Madrid at the Bernabeu – which, with the way the blancos defended against Juve, is eminently possible.

Put that thing away before the wind changes

Aalborg are nearly done for. But how weird is their European campaign? The Danes’ form has been so bad it earned Bruce Rioch the boot yet in two games against Villarreal, who have one of the tightest defences in Europe, they score five goals!

Group B is turning into a bizarre, epic contest. Inter are all but home and dry but the race between Panathinaikos, Werder Bremen and Cypriot debutants Anorthosis Famagusta is wide open.

To qualify, Werder have to beat Anorthosis away (they could only draw with them in Germany) and then, to be certain, beat Inter at home. But the Cypriots are unbeaten at home and will go through if they beat Thomas Schaaf’s fabulously unpredictable side in Nicosia. 

Shakhtar Donetsk’s umpteenth failure to reach the last 16 may finally have done for their coach Mircea Lucescu if rumours of an approach to Juande Ramos are true. The curse of late goals – remember Barcelona 2-1 Shakhtar? – struck Shakhtar’s domestic rivals Dynamo Kyiv this week. At 1-1 in Kyiv, two minutes into injury time, they hit the post and Porto scored off the rebound.


Sad to see Clare Tomlinson serving time on Sky Sports News, the gulag of sport on TV. Can we please have her back, standing in front of the results board on Sky Sports Champions League nights?

I'll be back: Name the co-hosts in this 1998 SSN pic

And sad, too, not to hear more of Jackie Oakley, the first woman commentator on Match of the Day. Her voice did get a bit screechy describing goalmouth action, but no more so than Jonathan Pearce’s. Maybe she’s having voice coaching. I’d recommend she tried to sound a bit less like Pearcey and more like Nina Simone.


With a perverse unpredictability typical of their season so far, Arsenal rack up a victory over Manchester United in which Samir Nasri, who had looked as useful against Fener as a chocolate fireguard, scored twice by having the nous to take an early shot at goal.

I heard the score at Chertsey Town’s Alwyn Lane ground. The Curlews, as they are known, are the great entertainers of the Combined Counties League, beating Hartney Wintney 6-0 last time I watched them and, on Saturday, missing a penalty as they went down 4-0 to Colliers Wood.

Three of the goals were gifts, the third set up by a suicidal pass under pressure back into the penalty area. Chertsey’s last three games have produced 18 goals – they only scored six of them – and some invigorating melodrama.

So, a bit like Werder Bremen, then...

--------------------------------------------------- More to read...More Professor Champions League blogsBlogs CentralChampions League newsNews, generally