United lay down title gauntlet

Manchester United’s destruction of rivals Manchester City may have set the tone for the coming Premier League season. City, who have been tipped by many to win the title, were forced to surrender in the Community Shield on Sunday despite a two goal lead.

While the result underlined the fact that Utd are the team to beat this season it also highlighted their rosy future ahead with youngsters Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck both impressing.

With City still to intent on playing defensively – in spite of their embarrassment of attacking riches – and Chelsea very much a work in progress with Andres Villas-Boas trying to trim the years away from an ageing squad, the Red Devils look the team to beat once again this season.

Arsenal transfers frustrate fans

In the summer break Arsenal have made three signings; two of them attacking – Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – with the only defensive addition 19-year-old Carl Jenkinson from Charlton.

Obviously, the new faces are not what the Emirates faithful had hoped for. With Arsenal still yet to end their trophy drought serious pressure will be on Arsene Wenger for the first time.

The Gunners are not short of creative midfielders, with Japanese starlet Ryo Miyaichi also gaining a work permit after being on loan at Dutch club Feyenoord last season, so the inability of Wenger to bring in new defensive recruits is even more baffling.

If Arsenal fail to sign two from Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill and Christopher Samba and still do not improve on their ability at set pieces serious questions will be asked by the fans.

Newcastle sell off the family silver

While Arsenal’s transfer policy is confusing Newcastle United’s seems to be kamikaze. Kevin Nolan has been allowed to leave the club for West Ham, while Joey Barton, arguably the Magpies best player last term (apart from Cheick Tiote) and Jose Enrique could be heading for the exit.

Many of the players that have been bought in such as Yohan Cabeye and Sylvain Marveaux are unproven in the Premier League and their early form will be watched eagerly by the St James’ Park faithful.

However, fans will not be enthused by the arrival of Man Utd misfit Gabriel Obertan. Expect another difficult season on Tyneside.


Time up for Wenger at Arsenal?

A season is a long-time in football so six years must feel like an eternity for Arsenal fans.

The last time the Gunners won a piece of silverware – the 2005 FA Cup final – modern legends Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira and Dennis Begkamp were still in the side.

The match, which Arsenal played in a uncharacteristically defensive fashion, proved a watershed for the club.

Vieira departed the club after sealing the trophy, with new talisman Cesc Fabregas the fulcrum of the side. It was also the last season that the club displayed any pragmatism.

In the seasons following the triumph the new model for the direction for the club has been bold and idealistic. Arsene Wenger has relied almost entirely on the youth system to create attacking, beautiful football.

However, while the increasingly stylish play has won admirers it has not won trophies and, for the first time in his run in charge, Wenger might finally lose the fans.

The atmosphere at the Emirates last season, especially in the 1-0 reverse against Newcastle, was one of discontent and frustration. In the last few days, former players, including Tony Adams and Lee Dixon have been critical of Arsenal’s weaknesses.

So is it time for Arsenal to do the unthinkable? Or can Wenger turn the tide?

Keep Wenger

While Arsenal have not won a trophy for a while, they have become a regular Champions League side under the guidance of Wenger. They have never finished outside the top four under the Frenchman and have become one of the world’s most financially sound football clubs.
The team is a young, attacking side and are only a few decent players away from becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Sack Wenger

Wenger’s success was primarily build on the foundation of a solid defence and strength from set pieces inherited by the previous management of the club. His weakness lies in his inability to replace the famous back five and has struggled since.
There have also been an influx of poor defenders including Nelson Vivas, Igors Stepanovs and Philippe Senderos, while the jury is still out on Seb Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny.
While Sol Campbell and Thomas Vermaelen are notable exceptions Arsenal have been short of defensive quality since the retirement of Martin Keown and Tony Adams.

Read Adams’ and Dixon’s view on Wenger

Terry, tough tackling and the two finger salute

Terry’s armband gestures aimed at Fabio?

It is hard to convey the precise meaning of Terry’s celebrations during Sunday’s FA Cup clash with Stoke but they could be interpreted as message to England manager Fabio Capello.

Following his goal, the deposed England captain rolled up his sleeve and furiously pointed to the captain’s armband on his bare forearm. He then sat in the post-match conference shirtless, still sporting the same armband.

In typical 5Live fashion DJ Spoony and Gab Marcotti lambasted a 606 caller who suggested that Terry‘s mysterious actions could be interpreted as dissent of Capello’s decision to strip him of the captaincy.

Funnily enough the same Marcotti, was strangely silent when the same point was raised by his Times colleague Allyson Rudd on The Game podcast yesterday.

Terry has clearly been affected by the Wayne Bridge incident, his form has dipped noticeably in the past few matches and his recent behaviour has only raised further questions.

Terry said that the celebration was for the fans but the fact that his Chelsea captaincy has never been in question makes his actions all the more baffling.

The only thing this latest incident proves is that Capello was right.

Ryan Shawcross: That sort of player?

Aaron Ramsey’s horrific leg break against Stoke earlier this month has led to another round of stinging criticism for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

Following the game, Wenger accused teams of singling his side out for rough treatment, citing previous injuries to Eduardo and Abou Diaby as examples.

Ryan Shawcross who is “not that sort of player” was then roundly comforted by pundits, bloggers and journalists alike as if he were the victim of the tackle.

However, the issue is wider than the Shawcross, Wenger, Stoke and Arsenal but more of a problem of excess aggression which strikes at the roots of the English game.

The overly-muscular, hard tackling approach has been endemic in English football for many years, with the mantra of many old school managers to “go in hard” demanding “reducer” tackles as standard.

Maybe this is why we get more career threatening tackles in the Premier League than any other top European league. In Italy the well-timed sliding tackle is an art form that often results in a ball-winning challenge without even touching the opponent.

Ramsay will recover in time but whether the English game will learn its lesson is a different matter.

Gerrard and the two-finger salute

Is it just me or has Steven Gerrard’s body language been different this season?

The often mentioned summer sale of Xabi Alonso has meant that Gerrard has been forced to play deeper than the support striker role which brought Liverpool success last season.

However, it seems that this id not Gerrard’s only problem. I had the pleasure to watch him first hand at the Emirates during Liverpool’s 1-0 reverse against Arsenal and he looked dejected for large chunks of the game.

In seasons gone by Gerrard has pulled his team out of the mire by the bootstraps but on the evidence of this season he doesn’t have the will to do it. And his two-finger salute to the referee last night summed up his ultimate frustration.

If Liverpool fail to make the Champions League this season they might have to do the unthinkable and cut their losses on the star.

Strike it rich: Arsenal wealthiest club in Premier League

Arsenal are the richest club in the Premier League after reporting a turn over of £200 million.

And I think their riches are richly deserved.

There has always been talk of Arsenal not being a big club and being a selling side but since the move to the Emirates that is no longer the case.

For a long time the Gunners have competed admirably with the fat cats of the English game having been the paupers of the big four.

They had to sell their big players every time a good offer came in, usually form Spain, with Barcelona taking Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit and Thierry Henry to Barcleona and Real Madrid taking Nicolas Anelka.

Arsene Wenger has dealt with his lack of funds by signing the cream of Europe’s young players and stilling finishing above sides like Newcastle and Tottenham, who often spent millions of pounds more.

The success has come without having to go the Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool route of selling out to massive foreign investment.

It will be interesting to see how Arsenal build with one of the best managers in the league and a sound financial platform to stabilise them.