Bad Weekend For: Whippees, new boys, optimism and Olympics

Football is back... and you can't win 'em all. Simon Carter reports on those whose weekend didn't go to plan...

Whipping Boys
We’re not talking about the linesman who took a beating from Alan Pardew. Had it not been for the heroic efforts of Norwich and QPR, this could have been a ‘Liverpool Special’ as Luis Suarez’s profligacy, Joe Cole’s hamstring and the comedy stylings of Agger and Skrtel made it such a bad day for the Merseysiders.

Yet this was a terrible start to the season for a number of teams across all four divisions who took a refreshingly un-pragmatic approach to pragmatism and threw it out of the window. Exeter win the award for the worst start (0-3 at home to Morecambe), though Burton gave them a run for their money (3-0 at Rotherham) and Norwich’s capitulation (0-5 at Fulham) can't have pleased Delia.

But the award for England’s most whippingest whipping boys must be handed to QPR, who somehow contrived to have more shots at goal than Swansea, and more on target, yet still manage to concede five goals and see their woodwork struck on more than one occasion.

Arsene Wenger
On Saturday night, Arsenal fans will have been playing one goal over and over again in their heads. And it wasn’t one that was scored this weekend. On December 10 last year, the now departed Alex Song lifted a pass into the stride of the recently departed Robin van Persie, who steered an exquisite volley past a rooted Tim Howard to score one of the goals of the season.

Arsene Wenger probably also replayed that goal at some point during Saturday’s underwhelming 0-0 draw with Sunderland – possibly when he saw his team squander their 23rd shot at goal, or when he saw new signing Olivier Giroud screw a golden chance well wide.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with drawing with Sunderland, but if Wenger ever needed a win and perhaps a few goals, it was on Saturday. He will have known that a decent start to the season, with top performances from Lucas Podolski and Giroud would have helped silence those questioning his judgement over Van Persie and softened the revelation of the news that Song was on his way to Barcelona.

Instead, a visibly dejected Wenger was forced to speak candidly about the departures in his post-match interview, saying, “sometimes players leave you at their peak”. Sometimes?

The New Boys
It’s never easy settling into new surroundings; you have to change all of your addresses, arrange for Sky to come and fit a new dish, remember to tell your mum that you’ve moved (she wasn't happy last time!) and work out parking space etiquette.

It can be quite a stressful time. While some managers and debutants had a great first day (Steve Clarke and Michu for instance), recently relegated and promoted teams fared less well. Of the 22 teams that started this season in a different division, only four tasted victory: Wycombe, Doncaster, Crawley and West Ham.

While some have cause for celebration – Southampton, Reading and Sheffield Wednesday will all be reasonably happy with their day’s work – others, such as Exeter, Bolton and Wolves will be wishing more than ever that they could go back.

Our Hopes and Dreams
How long did it take for your season to fall apart? All summer you’ve been kidding yourself that this year would be different, leading yourself on with the same old promises that your big striker will be firing on all cylinders, that there’s a couple of good prospects coming up from the academy and that the tricky new winger looked quite tasty in pre-season.

Though we can’t really read too much into the opening day of a campaign (think Blackpool winning at Wigan two years ago and Bolton at QPR last year), it took Shrewsbury only four minutes to get a taste of life in a higher league, Barnet not much longer to resume business as usual and Wigan just six minutes to find out that their momentum from last season hadn’t carried over. But the good news is that the opening day is out of the way and you can cast that uncomfortable optimism aside. It didn’t really feel right anyway, did it?

All Other Sports
Thanks to Andy Murray’s heroics at Wimbledon and the aura of magic created by the Olympic Games, the return of the football season was, for some, a few weeks too early. Swimming pools are full to bursting and the roads are filled with cyclists, but at some point on Saturday, everything changed.

It doesn’t matter when or where you felt it; you may have been one of the 650,000 fans who felt it at a live match or maybe you felt it when goal after goal flew in during the second half of Saturday’s fixtures n– or perhaps when you heard the roar of the Gallowgate End as Newcastle's Hatem Ben Arfa won and scored a penalty against Spurs on Saturday night. But it doesn’t matter how or when you felt it, you knew it was there – football is back.

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