Prem Previews: Tossers, clowns and Tony Adams

If life is like a box of chocolates, then football is like an aircraft hanger full of chocolate-coated random number generators - frankly, nobody has a sodding clue what’s going to happen next.

No sooner had Didier Drogba doled out parking-meter change to a skint Burnley fan (proving with his immaculate technique that's he's a massive tosser) than the Ivorian and his Premier League-leading chums were being dumped on their arses and out of the League Cup by Owen Coyle’s plucky Championship scrappers, Ade Akinbyi et al.

These bizarre events came hot on the heels of a Premier League weekend that saw Arsenal finally get their act back together and beat Manchester United, Arsenal-slayers Hull losing at home to a Jussi Jaaskelainen-inspired Bolton (widening the relegation battle to a dozen teams in the process) and Aston Villa’s former Reading contingent handing three points to Middlesbrough in baffling, if highly comical, fashion.


"You should have parked out of town and got the tube, sir"

Villa started the season as many people’s tip to break into the top four, but with a third of the season gone they look no more likely to do so then half of the rest of the league, despite their current fifth-place position in the table.

Nobody doubts Martin O’Neill’s qualities as a coach, but perhaps some of his summer transfer dealings need to be scrutinised.

Much like last season, Villa are finding the going good in the final third, scoring 20 goals in the opening dozen games of the season, a figure only bettered by Chelsea and Arsenal. Where their problems lie are in defence, with 16 goals conceded to date – more than sides expected to struggle, such as Fulham, Bolton and Wigan.

Slapdash

With a fair old wedge supposedly at his disposal, it seems a bit strange that O’Neill plumped for Luke Young and Nicky Shorey to fill his fullback berths and Steve Sidwell to shore things up in the middle of the park.

Don’t get us wrong, they’re all good players, two of them having gathered England caps (albeit under Sven and Steve McClaren), but they’re probably not of a standard that’s going to push Villa to the next level – testament to which would be the slapdash nature of the two Middlesbrough goals on Sunday.

Arsenal’s kids put in yet another masterclass against Wigan on Tuesday night, leaving goalscoring hero Jay Simpson claiming that the young Gunners could win the competition.

12 months ago people were making similar claims, but Arsene’s whipper-snappers were comprehensively humbled in the semi-final by Spurs at White Hart Lane, even with the presence of Sagna, Gallas and Hleb, as well as Cesc Fabregas for 75 minutes and Eduardo and Adebayor for 25.


"We're on our way to... Wellington Sports Ground"

However, this year’s vintage are stronger, with Carlos Vela, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey all added to the mix, it’s only a matter of time before they start to appear regularly in the Premier League. But on Saturday they're more likely to play at Wellington Sports Ground against Portsmouth's youth team than to face Villa in the Premier League.

This fixture has ended 1-1 in each of the last two seasons and a draw might be the most likely outcome here, as the Gunners will be without Robin van Persie and possibly Emmanuel Adebayor, while Villa also look like being without their leading man, John Carew.

Despite Arsenal’s impressive win last weekend, they're still the most vulnerable side in the top four. At this stage it looks like Arsenal may be back in the Champions League next year by default, which is a pretty damning indictment on Villa.

Bungling clown

That said, there are several sides that have disappointed more than Martin O’Neill’s side this season, probably none more so than Manchester City. Mark Hughes side are currently on a run of just one win in seven in the league, which has seen them drop down to 13th in the table, just two points off the bottom.

Having previously looked one of the most solid and dependable centre backs in the league, Richard Dunne has transformed into a bungling clown.

Perhaps there's something in the theory that some of City’s more established stars are suffering from low morale for fear of being usurped by big-money signings.

Or, given that Dunne has scored two own goals, been sent off and made countless other gaffes in recent weeks, perhaps he's releasing his own football blunders DVD in time for Christmas?

Much like Villa, City are at least making a good fist of it at the sharp end, with Robinho sticking one up any doubters (ahem) and scoring regularly, at least at Eastlands.

But at the moment it’s Sunday’s opponents Hull that look more likely to push for Europe through the league, while City slip further towards what looks like becoming the biggest relegation scrap in years. With neither team in great form, another draw is the most likely outcome here too.


Dunne: More blunders than on You've Been Framed

With so few points between so many teams (seven between the bottom 14, three between the bottom 11), it’s crucial for the sides towards the bottom to make hay while the sun shines and pick up points while they’re playing well.

This is exactly what West Ham have failed to do in recent weeks, with good performances against Arsenal, Middlesbrough and Everton yielding just a single point for Gianfranco Zola’s side.

On Saturday, they face Portsmouth who have their own former Premier League star turned managerial rookie in Tony Adams. The former Arsenal man got his first win as Pompey boss last weekend at Sunderland, but has a long way to go to prove his worth as a manager, especially given how it ended at Wycombe.

This week Adams brought in former Forest and Spurs man Johnny Metgod as coach, having earlier in the week been spurned former defensive croney Martin Keown in favour of the frankly more cuddly Adrian Chiles on the Match of the Day 2 sofa.

Besides young managers with much to prove, Pompey and the Hammers also share a questionable financial future, at least in a financial sense.

With rumours persisting that both may be force to sell players in January, picking up as many points as possible before the New Year could be crucial if they are to avoid being in the relegation dogfight in the final weeks of the season.

Pompey got themselves back on track with that win at Sunderland and will be in good spirits, which is more than can be said for West Ham, who will still be reeling from conceding three late goals against Everton, having played reasonably well for the first 80 minutes.

Don’t be surprised to see Jermain Defoe nick a goal against his old side and Tony Adams’ men taking all three points back down to the south coast.

FourFourTwo.com Premier League predictions

Saturday, 15 November 2008 (Kick-off 3pm unless stated)
Bolton 1-2 Liverpool, (12:45pm)
Arsenal 1-1 Aston Villa
Blackburn 2-1 Sunderland
Fulham 2-2 Tottenham
Man Utd 3-1 Stoke
Newcastle 2-1 Wigan
West Ham 1-2 Portsmouth
West Brom 0-2 Chelsea (Live on Setanta Sports, 5:30pm)

Sunday, 16 November 2008
Everton 2-1 Middlesbrough, (1:30pm)
Hull 1-1 Man City, (4pm)

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Footy15 pundit predictions:

Alan Hansen
Arsenal v - Aston Villa - HOME WIN
Blackburn v Sunderland - HOME WIN
Bolton v Liverpool - AWAY WIN
Everton v Middlesbrough - DRAW
Fulham v Tottenham - DRAW
Hull v Man City - DRAW
Man Utd v Stoke - HOME WIN
Newcastle v Wigan - DRAW
West Brom v Chelsea - AWAY WIN
West Ham v Portsmouth - HOME WIN

John Barnes
Arsenal v - Aston Villa - HOME WIN
Blackburn v Sunderland - HOME WIN
Bolton v Liverpool - AWAY WIN
Everton v Middlesbrough - HOME WIN
Fulham v Tottenham - DRAW
Hull v Man City - DRAW
Man Utd v Stoke - HOME WIN
Newcastle v Wigan - HOME WIN
West Brom v Chelsea - AWAY WIN
West Ham v Portsmouth - HOME WIN

Tony Cascarino
Arsenal v - Aston Villa - HOME WIN
Blackburn v Sunderland - AWAY WIN
Bolton v Liverpool - AWAY WIN
Everton v Middlesbrough - HOME WIN
Fulham v Tottenham - DRAW
Hull v Man City - HOME WIN
Man Utd v Stoke - HOME WIN
Newcastle v Wigan - AWAY WIN
West Brom v Chelsea - AWAY WIN
West Ham v Portsmouth - HOME WIN

Graham Poll
Arsenal v - Aston Villa - HOME WIN
Blackburn v Sunderland - HOME WIN
Bolton v Liverpool - AWAY WIN
Everton v Middlesbrough - DRAW
Fulham v Tottenham - AWAY WIN
Hull v Man City - HOME WIN
Man Utd v Stoke - HOME WIN
Newcastle v Wigan - HOME WIN
West Brom v Chelsea - AWAY WIN
West Ham v Portsmouth - DRAW

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