Arsenal Are Back, Harry Redknapp's On The Slide, Pogrebnyak Potent And Cattermole's Catastrophic
Glamour clashes galore in the football and varied individual British success abroad were squeezed in amongst another hectic weekend of sport.
Arsenal smashed-and-grabbed three points against a dominant Liverpool in what could prove to be a seminal day in Arsene Wenger's era, while their north London neighbours lost for a second successive time. Time to get off the Harry for England bandwagon?
And all aboard the Hodgson for England bandwagon. A third successive West Brom win - and their first against Chelsea after 15 straight defeats to the Blues - brought to an end the Andre Villas-Boas era in west London. Roy's boys deserved it but once again Chelsea's players (note: players, not manager) wilted.
In the heat of Dubai meanwhile Andy Murray became Scottish to English folk as he followed up his win over Novak Djokovic with defeat to Roger Fedrer in the country's Championships. And heading west, Ulsterman Rory McIlroy continued his dazzling year by clinching the world number one spot in Florida, on a day that a certain Tiger came to tee up a supreme 62.
Which makes it just another manic Monday...
Szczesny saves face
Even when bathing in matchwinning glory Robin van Persie remained modest. Handed a bottle of champagne for his man of the match display away to Liverpool, he immediately passed it to team-mate and fellow interviewee Wojciech Szczesny.
It was the Pole who deserved the accolade despite Van Persie’s brilliant brace to, in the Dutchman’s own words, “nick” a win at Anfield. Arsenal’s goal was continually peppered in a first half in which their own undoing was, ultimately, their own player.
Although Szczesny was powerless to prevent Laurent Koscielny’s own goal, he was on hand to thwart Dirk Kuyt from the penalty spot and rebound, Jordan Henderson and Luis Suarez. At a youth tournament, he once told a referee not to bother checking the net before a penalty shootout because he wouldn’t concede any.
It is that 2004 “Invincibles” confidence which too few of Arsene Wenger’s squad members possess. Koscielny, for one, was a bundle of nerves in the opening period while the midfield didn’t have the appetite to match Jay Spearing’s bite. Fortunately for Wenger, Szczesny and Van Persie do share such self-assuredness. Saturday’s fortunate victory, coupled with Chelsea slipping into crisis mode, could be the first day of the rest of Arsenal’s lives. But they need to break the bank if they are to be a force again.
Wojciech Szczesny denies Dirk Kuyt from the penalty spot at Anfield
But Dalglish exasperates
Liverpool should have won this match with ease and will bemoan their luckless showing, but is it such a valid factor? Twenty-one times they have hit the woodwork this season in the Premier League, and their record in L4 reads won four, drawn eight and lost one.
King Kenny looked more careworn Kenny as he oversaw another league setback, benching Andy Carroll and Craig Bellamy for Arsenal’s visit at Saturday lunchtime to, like one of his fellow British managers (see below), leave the handbrake on.
The weekend loss saw Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing start ahead of the more positive aforementioned duo. Suarez, although sublime occasionally against Arsenal, is not a number nine and would benefit from the pace of either Bellamy or Rodriguez in support.
Dalglish risking his isolation does not legislate for the Uruguayan’s shoddy finishing, but, as expected at the start of the campaign, Liverpool are over-reliant on their sole world-class player, but aren’t seeking a resolution. And for all their dominance, the opener came via an opponent.
Harry Redknapp thought he had timed his audition for the England role well.
On the day he was acquitted of tax evasion charges, Fabio Capello resigned, and then three days later his Tottenham team blitzed Newcastle United 5-0 at White Hart Lane. Yet that was Spurs’ last victory and finally some perspective is being shed on his suitability for the England role.
Title aspirations have been downgraded to top three as the priority, and even Arsenal are creeping up on their north London neighbours. Tottenham were unfortunate against Manchester United during their 3-1 home defeat on Sunday, but it was their own manager who had left them with one hand tied behind their back.
With Scott Parker, Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart unavailable through suspension, illness and injury, it was pivotal that Luka Modric remained unmoved. Instead Redknapp shafted him to the left-wing, and although Sandro and Jake Livermore were gutsy and pressed United’s immobile midfield, Spurs were too reliant on Aaron Lennon’s right-wing play.
Modric is Spurs’ best footballer arguably, and yet Redknapp made the unfathomable decision to marginalise him when Danny Rose offered an interim alternative on the left. The visitors were consequently clinical with their attacking strings intact for a potent bow.
Wayne Rooney wheels away in celebration after nodding United into the lead at Spurs
On top of the world after his Honda Classic win, it is testament to Rory McIlroy's mental strength that he has enjoyed a triumphant year in the aftermath of his US Masters meltdown.
Sinking a series of pressure putts, he hit a nerveless 69 to claim the world number one spot for the first time in a short yet sweet career. That he overshadowed Tiger Woods' majestic round of 62 at Florida's Palm Beach Gardens is an added fillip on to a pair of broad shoulders that swung to victory so stylishly again.
Top o' the world: Rory McIlroy celebrates his new number one ranking in Florida
Jol’s white Russian
When Fulham sold Bobby Zamora on the final day of the transfer window, many appeared convinced that manager Martin Jol relished a relegation battle.
He was actually doing the club a favour however. Zamora didn’t want to be there, and the Cottagers received £4m for an unhappy 31-year-old. Cue Pavel Pogrebnyak. On his debut he slammed in the opener against Stoke and then gave Tony Pulis’ bruise brothers a taste of their own medicine.
A tackle on Wilson Palacios should have merited a red card and three-match ban, yet instead he has scored four goals in the two following matches, with the quality level higher than his 6ft 1ins frame. He only scored once in 16 games for Stuttgart in the Bundesliga, but appears more mobile than Zamora’s battering ram. Furthermore, Jol is being allowed to form a new identity for an exciting Fulham team.
Supporting Pogrebnyak is Clint Dempsey, Bryan Ruiz and Moussa Dembele - a trio that arguably wouldn’t be out of place in a Champions League side. And this season Fulham have resembled those heady maverick days of Rodney Marsh and George Best gliding across the west London turf.
Red rising: Pavel Pogrebnyak celebrates one of his three strikes for Fulham against Wolves
Murray mars momentum
Andy Murray’s Australian Open semi-final defeat to Novak Djokovic may have been a blessing in disguise. Although disappointed at losing such an epic Grand Slam match, he was a worthy adversary against tennis’ finest player, with room for improvement.
So although the Dubai Championships may not be a Grand Slam, the Scot took a giant mental step forward by defeating the world number one in the last four on Friday. But a straight set win in a testing semi-final was followed by (inevitable?) defeat.
He seemed to rest on his laurels and was duly beaten by Roger Federer 7-5 6-4, and that tainted the impact of the victory over the Serb. He stressed it had been a “very good week”, but Murray needs to aim for “great” weeks if he is to be mentioned in the same breath as his two recent opponents and Rafael Nadal.
Nothing new was learnt from the Djokovic conquest for he had savoured the moment in ATP tour matches four times previously against him. Victory over Federer would have aired a bullish statement of intent, but instead he was already looking ahead to the first American swing of the season and allowed complacency to creep back in. That knack for charting two significant highs continues to elude him.
Who, exactly, “discovered” Lee Cattermole? For whoever that man is, he has a lot to answer for. Blood and thunder should be applauded in local derbies, but Cattermole is a human wrecking ball, seemingly intent on maiming anyone who stands in his way. He could feasibly have been sent off inside the opening 40 seconds at Newcastle after his foul on Chieck Tiote, and the only surprise was that he didn’t receive a second yellow during the 90 minutes. But then, Cattermole being Cattermole, he called referee Mike Dean a “c***” after the final whistle and was camply shown a straight red card. Still, he is a hot-headed, error-strewn liability who appears to offer little in a footballing sense.