Dec 30, 2013, 7:36 AM EDT
THE GUNNERS DON’T NEED TO SPLASH THE CASH IN JANUARY…
Some of you will read that sub-header with a smirk on your face, but honestly, Arsene Wenger may be able to keep his pennies in his purse in January and still lead Arsenal towards the Premier League title.
Those two hold the key to Arsenal’s success in the second half of the season, as both have been missing for lengthy spells and feel like brand new signings for the Gunners faithful.
“Podolski has been out for four months, he has not played one game. I try to get him slowly back to competitiveness and he has shown he can have a huge impact because he can score and make goals – he can give assists. On the pitch at the end we had Podolski and Walcott and Giroud and Ozil and Cazorla.” – Arsene Wenger on Arsenal’s attacking options
Following their win at Upton Park, the Gunners then relied on their leading front man Olivier Giroud to score the only goal of the game as they beat Newcastle on Sunday and went top of the PL standings. But the resurgence of Walcott and Podolski (who admittedly are both used on the wing but can easily be deployed in central roles) is cause for hope for any Arsenal fans fretting about which strikers will arrive at the Emirates in the next month or so.
Wenger doesn’t need to dip his toes into the murky waters of the January transfer window. He’s done that before and failed miserably. Look at the panic buy of Jose Antonio Reyes to name just one example, Wenger could do without wasting another $30 million on a player who won’t help him grab some silverware for the first time in eight years.
So if Giroud gets hurt, he could do a lot worse than playing Walcott or Podolski centrally. Both are top internationals for England and Germany respectively, know how to finish and will cause problems for opposition defenses. A few months ago the attacking options at Wenger’s disposal were looking threadbare. The greatest gift Arsenal’s French manager got this Christmas was two top attacking players back to full fitness and his forward line bolstered in the process. And then there’s the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Serge Gnabry waiting in the wings for the second half of the season, too.
Who said Arsenal don’t have enough strength in-depth?
FESTIVE FEAST DELIVERS
Boxing Day and Week 19 provided two match days of distinction around the holidays. It’s hard to sum it all up in this column, but the incidents, goals and drama we saw epitomized what the festive schedule is all about: unpredictability. Before the Boxing Day madness (the first time in five years that all 20 PL teams have played on the same day, excluding the final day of the campaign) I picked out three things we should watch and here they are.
GOALS -59 balls hit the back of the net in the 20 games that have taken place since Boxing Day, that’s an average of 2.95 goals per game. Not bad at all, plus there were some crazy 5-1, 6-0 and 3-3 score lines to go with it.
RED CARDS –There were four red cards alone on Boxing Day, as Stoke City imploded with two reds in two minutes vs. Newcastle, Antonio Valencia was sent off needlessly and poor Tim Howard was put in an impossible position and got a straight red.
THE UNEXPECTED – Hull City cruising after leading Man United 2-0 after the first 12 minutes on Boxing Day… then losing 3-2. Cardiff City 2-0 up against Sunderland on the 28th… then blowing it by letting in two goals in the final seven minutes. Plus Liverpool lead at Man City and Chelsea but blew it twice to lost back-to-back in three days.
LIVERPOOL REALIZATION: TOP FOUR AT BEST
A spoonful of sugar wasn’t dished out around Anfield during the festive season, just a bitter dose of reality.
The Reds always knew the past few days would have a big say in how seriously we could consider them as title contenders and heck, the way the PL is going this year they still have a great chance. But spirited back-to-back 2-1 defeats away at Manchester City and Chelsea proved that they can’t cut it with the big boys. Not just yet anyway.
Brendan Rodgers’ side looked sharp and dominated large spells against City and Chelsea but they lacked a cutting edge as Luis Suarez’ one-man band was locked down by two or three defenders marking him at a time. That allowed the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling to get more chances in on goal but they simply weren’t clinical enough when it mattered. I can’t help but think that if Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard would’ve been around and not injured, then Liverpool could be sitting top of the standings heading into 2014… instead they’re in fifth. That shows the small margins were dealing with this campaign.
RELEGATION BATTLE JUST AS TIGHT
So, this is the time of the season where the title race intensifies and the top five or six sort themselves out and pull away from the few hopefuls dragging on their coattails in the top half of the standings.
But let your eyes wander down a little… yeah, that’s right. There’s an almighty scrap about to take place at the bottom as a relegation battle.
Below is a snapshot of the bottom seven, as Sunderland somehow clawed themselves right back into things with a win at Everton on Boxing Day, followed by a marvelous two goal salvo in the final seven minutes to break Cardiff City’s hearts and drag the Bluebirds deep into the mire. Around them West Brom and West Ham scrapped it out in a fantastic 3-3 draw at Upton Park, while the likes of Norwich and Crystal Palace put up valiant efforts against the Manchester giants. Get ready folks, these small teams fighting it out at the bottom will be going hell for leather every single week in the second half of the season as they best form of defense is attack for these chaps.
In previous years there’s always been one side that’s been utterly doomed and never looked like staying up. Last season it was QPR and Reading, before that it was Wolves. But at the halfway point in 2013/14, only five points separates Sunderland in last place with Norwich in 14th, while just ahead of them Swansea, Stoke and Aston Villa are looking worriedly over their shoulders.
Who’ll be safe will only become more apparent as the winter months leave us behind and the relentless rain of an early English spring help the negative vibes soak into fans of teams embroiled in yet another relegation battle. This is unlikely to be sorted out before the final weekend of the season. That’s the beauty of it, this season nobody knows what will happen.
HUDDLESTONE HAS A HAIRCUT… AS HULL LEAD PROMOTED SIDES
After 54 games without a goal, Tom Huddlestone’s hair has become more of a feature than his vast spectrum of passes and impressively destructive displays in the middle of the pitch. But following his strike in Hull’s 6-0 shellacking of Fulham on Saturday, which also happened to be his 27th birthday, Huddlestone raced to the bench and grabbed a pair of scissors as his entangled locks were lopped away mercifully.
Sadly, a lonesome pair of shears has sat on the bench for quite some time now, as the former Tottenham midfielders strike was his first goal since April 2011. Since then he’s had a long-standing wager that he won’t cut his hair until he scored… he possesses a rasping right foot and I’d hazard a guess that he didn’t think it would take almost two and a half years to get his barnet trimmed.
Huddlestone was carrying on with his “no haircut ‘til I score” stance as charities were benefiting from the donations people sent in from all over the world. It was a bit of good fun that was for a good cause and sealed an utterly superb end to 2013 for Hull City AFC. Now Huddlestone can get back to the important things in life… speaking to his barber again and choosing a new hairstyle.
And just a word on Hull’s remarkable season so far, out of the three promoted teams many expected them to flounder the most with their heavy-handed, route one approach not the way modern PL sides are set up… how wrong those doubters were. Steve Bruce has built a robust squad that’s hard to beat at home and can cause plenty of problems with a direct style of play. While their fellow newly-promoted friends Cardiff City and Crystal Palace are embroiled in a relegation battle, Hull sit in 10th spot with 23 points from their first 19 games. Hats off to the Tigers.
EVERTON AND SOUTHAMPTON SEND US OUT IN STYLE
Two of the seasons surprise packages put on a show at Goodison Park to see out 2013, as Everton beat the Saints 2-1 in an end-to-end clash that warmed the hearts of soccer purists. Intricate one-two’s, fast flowing counter attacks and possession built from the back ruled the day. Sprinkle into the mix a whole host of English talents and there’s hope for the English national side in Brazil this summer, at least if some of these players on show make the plane. Leighton Baines, Ross Barkley and even Leon Osman were superb, while Southampton’s Adam Lallana (who got married on Christmas Eve to avoid a clash with the World Cup), Luke Shaw, Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert all put in a good showing. Three fantastic goals were scored as Everton closed out the year by moving into the top four and above their arch-rivals Liverpool. The Saints finish 2013 in ninth, as you get the feeling that we’re only at the start of Mauricio Pochettino’s revolution at St. Mary’s. Two great teams who play soccer intelligently and are easy on the eye, it was hard not to drool watching some of that match.
This was also a glimpse into the future of the PL, as young English talent is being directed by young foreign managers (Roberto Martinez and Pochettino) who’ve got a track record of getting the best out of youngsters. Expect the Toffees and Saints’ model to be copied by many PL sides in the coming years.
Watch all the action from week 19 below, as we’ve reached the halfway point of the PL season. Here’s to hoping the second half of the campaign is just as dramatic as the first. Happy New Year to you all out there and don’t forget to celebrate New Year’s Day in the best way possible, a full slate of PL games live on NBC Sports!
Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekends actions from the PL, it comes out every week.
Sep 1, 2015, 12:03 PM EDT
Yedlin would join American prospect Lynden Gooch on the Premier League squad, where Jozy Altidore spent a tumultuous season-and-a-half.
Sep 1, 2015, 11:45 AM EDT
The Hammers are splashing the cash on the final day of the window.
Sep 1, 2015, 11:20 AM EDT
Crystal Palace feels ready to move on from their longtime striker, with Connor Wickham having joined Palace this summer.
Sep 1, 2015, 11:02 AM EDT
That’s right, there’s a loophole to keep this madness going for an extra two hours. Think of it as extra-time.
Sep 1, 2015, 10:45 AM EDT
Potters striker interesting a host of PL clubs on Deadline Day.
Sep 1, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT
Senegal international arrives at the Bridge to bolster Chelsea’s backline.
Sep 1, 2015, 9:50 AM EDT
Toffees seal deal for Argentine international center back.
Sep 1, 2015, 9:36 AM EDT
Dutch center signs five-year deal at Saints.
Sep 1, 2015, 9:20 AM EDT
Bilic adds three key players on Deadline Day.
Sep 1, 2015, 9:02 AM EDT
A quick look around the PL as the whispers continue ahead of the 1 p.m. ET deadline.
Sep 1, 2015, 8:43 AM EDT
Spanish giants list timeline of DDG no-deal over the past 24 hours.
Sep 1, 2015, 7:34 AM EDT
A look at the information regarding De Gea’s failed move to Spain.
Aug 31, 2015, 10:48 PM EDT
Three Premier League sides have some serious work to do on transfer deadline day. Who needs what?
Aug 31, 2015, 9:15 PM EDT
Harry Redknapp was the ultimate star of transfer deadline day. Tuesday will be a sad, empty day without Harry around.
Done Deals: Recapping Man United (and others’) busy day — De Gea drama; Chicharito out; $56 million for Martial
Aug 31, 2015, 7:39 PM EDT
Manchester United were the world’s busiest football club on Monday. They, along with others, made headlines ahead of the transfer deadline.
NO DEAL: David de Gea’s transfer to Real Madrid falls through as Man United paperwork arrives too late
Aug 31, 2015, 6:53 PM EDT
Manchester United failed to submit the necessary paperwork before Spain’s transfer deadline, and De Gea will not move to Real Madrid.
Aug 31, 2015, 4:05 PM EDT
Two goals, one assist in a 3-0 victory over your club’s most hated rivals — more than enough to win POTW honors.
Aug 31, 2015, 3:20 PM EDT
Two Bradleys, two from Crew SC and two from the Dynamo — the latest MLS Team of the Week.
Aug 31, 2015, 2:11 PM EDT
Yes, rumors know no season, but the transfer mill will churn out a lot less gossip after Tuesday’s end of the summer transfer season.
Aug 31, 2015, 1:42 PM EDT
Manchester United and Real Madrid have swapped goalkeepers, with the Premier League side landing a load of dough, too.
- Deadline Day transfer rumor roundup: Hector to Chelsea, Berahino to Tottenham 0
- How did David de Gea’s move to Real Madrid collapse? Here’s a few answers 3
- Big Spenders: Which Premier League clubs must go all-in on transfer deadline day? 2
- Done Deals: Recapping Man United (and others’) busy day — De Gea drama; Chicharito out; $56 million for Martial 0
- NO DEAL: David de Gea’s transfer to Real Madrid falls through as Man United paperwork arrives too late 7
- Report: De Gea moving to Madrid as Costa Rican hero Navas heads to Old Trafford 5