Premier League Preview: Whinger vs Whinger

Desperate times, as they say, call for desperate measures. Unless, of course, you’re Arsene Wenger, in which case desperate times call for a whole bucket-load of whinging.

This week Professor Yaffle has claimed that opposition players were intentionally trying to injure his precious stars, that his team are being treated unfairly by referees and that the world was flat.

Wenger presumably ‘didn’t see’ Robin van Persie playing bumper cars with Tomas Sorensen in the six yard box at the Britannia on Saturday, or indeed any of the other 70-odd red cards dished out to Arsenal players since he arrived at the club 11 years ago.

The Gunners weren’t bullied as easily when Patrick Vieira and Tony Adams were there to kick lumps out of people, or when Dennis Bergkamp was ready to elbow someone’s head off.

"I don't care what Columbus says, it's bloody flat!"

The fact is, Wenger has put together a side without any steel, and that’s nobody’s fault but his own.

As commendable as it is that his side try and play engaging, flowing football (for the most part, at least), it’s utterly ridiculous that Wenger almost seems to expect English football to change to accommodate it, not least because Arsenal are a club that have so profitably exploited the physical boundaries of the game in the not too distant past.

It’s ironic that Wenger’s comments should come in the run up to a fixture that has traditionally been one of the hardest fought in the Premier League, against Manchester United.

Or is it?

What seems a more plausible explanation for this rant is pre-match mind games. Perhaps the Frenchman was trying to put a nagging element of doubt into the mind of Howard Webb, who’ll referee Saturday’s clash, in the hope of getting a little extra protection for his young side.

Badge kissing 

Usually Fergie would reply in kind, doubtless telling anyone who’ll listen that referees, the press and the Gestapo were out to get Wayne Rooney; but at the moment the United boss is rather quiet.

That’s because Sir Alex has added Sky to the list of media outlets he won’t be speaking to, having at one stage or another, previously fallen out with the BBC and the club’s own in-house television network.

The reason for this vow of silence is that mumbling former Arsenal midfielder Paul Merson claimed Wayne Rooney should have been sent off against Hull, just a week after Phil Thompson said Rooney should have walked for his badge kissing antics at Everton.

Quite how long this self-imposed media semi-blackout is going to last hasn’t been made clear, but you can be as sure as Fergie’s nose is red that he’ll be back on our screens should a major decision not go his team’s way at the Emirates.

There was a time when this fixture was the biggest of the Premier League season, but alas, no more. Despite Nicklas Bendtner’s claims to the contrary, Arsenal have no chance of winning the league this season.

Yes, United, Chelsea and Liverpool have all dropped points so far this term, but none of them have looked quite so fragile, quite as often as Arsene’s boys.

Thommo: Should have kept his nose out of it...

Although, logically, it’s better for a title-chasing side to drop points against teams at the bottom of the table than ones at the top (i.e. ‘six pointers’) the rate at which Arsenal have been losing matches has been alarming.

While United, Chelsea and Liverpool have lost three matches between them, Arsenal have lost that number on their own. The Gunners have also lost matches periodically every few weeks, rather than having a bad spell and then looking devastating for months at a time.

The silver lining for the Emirates side is that nobody in the chasing pack currently looks capable of putting together a decent enough challenge to oust them from their top four spot.

Villa seem a tad inconsistent, Portsmouth look in utter turmoil since Harry Redknapp jumped ship, Manchester City are struggling to pick up points away from home and Spurs… well, the less said about their start the better.

Selection headache 

The only side that currently look like troubling them are, amazingly, Hull City, who of course won at the Emirates earlier in the season and could leapfrog the Gunners should results go their way on Saturday.

However, even the mighty Tigers are unlikely to be able to keep up such momentum over the course of a further 27 matches, so the likelihood is that Arsenal will be able to claim fourth relatively simply if they can make even the slightest improvement in their form.

Having looked increasingly shaky at the back in recent weeks, Arsenal go into Saturday’s clash without Emmanuel Adebayor, Eduardo (both injured) and Robin van Persie (petulance), and also have injury doubts over Theo Walcott, so they may well find the going hard at the other end too.

United are having some selection headaches of their own at the moment, although of a totally different type. Carlos Tevez is supposedly unhappy at being used more sparringly this season, having seen his first team outings curtailed since the arrival of Dimitar Berbatov at Old Trafford in August.

One man who will be involved is newly crowned FourFourTwo Best Player in the World, Cristiano Ronaldo, who is insisted his side will go for the jugular and aim for three points from Saturday's showdown.

"Watch for sale, one previous owner, some French bloke..."

Regardless of the differences in the two club's current mood and availble resources, this will still be a very, very tight game and perhaps not the best spectacle.

A low scoring draw is probably the most likely outcome and one that both teams would be relatively happy with, although don’t expect either of them to admit it.

FourFourTwo.com Premier League Predictions 

Saturday, 8 November 2008Arsenal 1-1 Man UtdHull 1-1 BoltonLiverpool 2-0 West Brom (Live on Setanta Sports 1, 5:30pm)Sunderland 2-1 PortsmouthWest Ham 1-2 EvertonWigan 1-1 Stoke

Sunday, 9 November 2008Aston Villa 2-0 MiddlesbroughBlackburn 1-2 ChelseaFulham 1-1 NewcastleMan City 2-1 Tottenham

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Footy15 Pundit Predictions:

Alan HansenArsenal v Man Utd - DRAWAston Villa v Middlesbrough - DRAWBlackburn v Chelsea - AWAY WINFulham v Newcastle - HOME WINHull v Bolton - DRAWLiverpool v West Brom - HOME WINMan City v Tottenham - HOME WINSunderland v Portsmouth - HOME WINWest Ham v Everton - DRAWWigan v Stoke - HOME WIN

John BarnesArsenal v Man Utd - DRAWAston Villa v Middlesbrough - HOME WINBlackburn v Chelsea - AWAY WINFulham v Newcastle - DRAWHull v Bolton - HOME WINLiverpool v West Brom - HOME WINMan City v Tottenham - DRAWSunderland v Portsmouth - DRAWWest Ham v Everton - DRAWWigan v Stoke - HOME WIN

Tony CascarinoArsenal v Man Utd - DRAWAston Villa v Middlesbrough - HOME WINBlackburn v Chelsea - AWAY WINFulham v Newcastle - DRAWHull v Bolton - HOME WINLiverpool v West Brom - HOME WINMan City v Tottenham - HOME WINSunderland v Portsmouth - HOME WINWest Ham v Everton - AWAY WINWigan v Stoke - HOME WIN

Graham PollArsenal v Man Utd - AWAY WINAston Villa v Middlesbrough - HOME WINBlackburn v Chelsea - AWAY WINFulham v Newcastle - DRAWHull v Bolton - HOME WINLiverpool v West Brom - HOME WINMan City v Tottenham - DRAWSunderland v Portsmouth - HOME WINWest Ham v Everton - DRAWWigan v Stoke - HOME WIN

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