Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday Morning Keeper - EPL Week 10

A quote from last week's Keeper: "Perhaps the 8-2 loss to United was a bit of a wake-up call for Arsenal, but I would argue that the "leftovers" from the sell-off this summer are finally starting to gel and play as a team." The Gunners match at Stamford Bridge on Sunday shouldn't have been much of a competition. Chelsea was coming off a humiliating defeat at QPR in what was described by most as a circus and not a soccer match. The Blues were out for revenge, but with off-the-field focus on John Terry's racism tie and 3 red cards to appeal, you had to wonder if they really had their head in the game. For Arsenal this was their chance to see if the season, which had nearly capsized 6 weeks earlier, was righted and sailing forward. Forget about the Robin Van Persie show, his time on the bench clearly achieved the results Arsene Wenger desired; he now leads the league with 10 goals. The bottom line is that the Gunners are playing an aggressive, attack-oriented game and they are doing it as a team. Arsenal committed 19 fouls and picked-up 3 yellow cards; they took it to the mouth of Chelsea at all positions. Wenger knew that playing time is what his team needed, not a big money star, to get out of the blocks this season. And while all of the other teams spent at will during the summer, Wenger realized that if he could make it to January and still be in contention he would have the lead in the transfer market if the opportunity was there. To earn a 3-5 victory on the road at Chelsea is no small feat, and an "easy" schedule over the next few weeks may buy Arsenal even more time to grow together. Title contender? No, but definitely back in the discussion for a top four finish.

Coming off the biggest match in EPL history (at least for this season, specifically last weekend) both the Manchester squads looked uninspired in their follow-up efforts. City had the unique schedule of facing the Wolves twice in four days; Tuesday winning 2-5 in Carling Cup and Saturday winning 3-1 in league play. The Citizens started their "B-Team" midweek and easily handled the Wanderers, but their "A-Team" seemed slow to come out of the blocks on Saturday. The first half was more like souvenir ball night at the Etihad with both teams firing shots into the crowd on a handle full of occasions to leave things knotted at 0-0 at the whistle. City ramped up the attach to start the half and it paid off with a Aguero forcing Hennessey from his net and Zdeko there to clean up the mess. Blood was in the water and City continued to pour on the pressure eventually picking up 2 more goals before the finish. Perhaps the biggest story was Kompany picking up a straight red in the 75th minute, meaning he will have to sit out the match at QPR next Saturday. Meanwhile, if it wasn't for Chicharito, United may have been looking at a draw or a second straight loss when they faced Everton at Goodison on Saturday. Everton stinks; they are having an awful season, so you had to think Fergie was looking for a scoring blow out to try recovering some GD points on City. United looked slow, perhaps still nursing the pains of the previous week's blood bath at home. For United to score just 2 goals in the last two weeks of League play, you have to wonder if Rooney has something on his mind (besides the hair plugs).

No one seems to be talking about Tottenham even though they had another strong performance, handling QPR at home 3-1. Having their first match of the season cancelled due to riots and then losing to United and City to open the season put the Spurs way back in the table. But since then they have undefeated with only a draw at Newcastle to keep them from a perfect record during that run. The scoring has been coming from the usual suspects, Defoe and Van der Vaart, but the addition of Adebayor (replacing Crouch in essence) in the off-season has clearly made the Spurs a better team. Crouch was/is a tall drink of water, never able to handle the ball in the open pitch. Adebayor has been able to start scoring runs from midfield and work well when paired up with the right winger. Keep in mind that the Spurs have a game in hand with their replay with Everton later in the season, probably a tie at worst. With a very favorable schedule through November, if the big boys slip up I fully expect the Spurs to make a move into the top four.

Blackburn was able to squeeze out a hard earned point in their 3-3 draw at Norwich, but the Rovers still sit in the relegation zone with Wigan and Bolton. Newcastle will have a chance to move into third place following their Monday match with Stoke. Here is where we stand at the top and bottom as of Monday morning.

1. Man City – 28 pts, +28 GD (9-1-0)
2. Man United – 23 pts, +15 GD (7-2-1)
3. Chelsea – 19 pts, +8 GD (6-1-3)
4. Newcastle – 19 pts, +6 GD (5-4-0)
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17. Wolverhampton – 8 pts, -8 GD (2-2-6)
18. Blackburn – 6 pts, -10 GD (1-3-6)
19. Bolton – 6 pts, -14 GD (2-0-8)
20. Wigan – 5 pts, -11 GD (1-2-7)

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