Good Weekend, Bad Weekend

So far this season we have endured much talk of the “Big Four” and more recently the “magnificent seven,” on the basis of the last few days it seems as if there will only be three teams challenging for the title and two of them face off next weekend.

Good Weekend

Arsenal

Although Arsenal are used to beating Spurs on a regular basis there was a real determination on Saturday lunch time to get the job done. Partly because of the comments in the lead-up to the match but also because the Gunners had failed to beat their North London rivals last season and had also let the lead slip in the two matches prior to the Carling Cup victory over Liverpool.

This might explain the nervy opening 40 minutes, but the blistering two-goal spell in just 11 minutes silenced the other side of north London and Arsene Wenger could talk of title challenges following the match. Crucially, the Emirates generated an atmosphere that could well be crucial in the latter weeks of the season.

On the pitch, this Arsenal side just oozes attacking quality. On Saturday, it was Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas who produced the goods but there could have been plenty more goals for the home side. Eduardo missed two glorious chances, Abou Diaby should have scored late on and Andrey Arshavin was quiet, compared to his usual high standards.

Lost in the fog of some pretty poor defending by Tottenham is the fact that van Persie produced an excellent finish for the opener and the second from Fabregas will go down as one of the great goals in north London derbies.

Five points behind leaders Chelsea with a game in hand and Arsenal look well placed to keep pace in the coming weeks. Champions League qualification should be assured against AZ Alkmaar this week and then two very winnable games against Wolves and Sunderland (both away) precede the home match with Chelsea at the end of the month.

(Arsenal are 10/3 to win the Premier League.)

Dimitar Berbatov

The mocking name of “Dimitar Veron” is slowly receding into the past as the Bulgarian hitman becomes the talisman of this United side. He may not currently be the most prolific striker but his goals are taking on great importance.

Berbatov has now opened the scoring against Stoke, Sunderland and Blackburn in tricky games where the first goal usually swings the pendulum towards the champions.

(Manchester United are 9/4 to win the Premier League.)

Chelsea

The Blues second 4-0 victory over Bolton in four days was helped by the sending off of Jlloyd Samuel but could so easily have been more. The Blues now have the best goal difference in the Premier League and if they can see off United next week could open up a five point gap at the top of the league.

(Chelsea are 5/4 favourites to win the Premier League.)

Shay Given

It has already been said and no doubt this is not the last time it will be mentioned, but for all the “Galacticos” that arrive at Middle Eastlands, the suspicion remains that Given will be City’s best signing of the Abu Dhabi era.

(Manchester City are 2/5 favourites to win the ‘Without Big Four’ league.)

Roy Hodgson

In his first season in charge at the Cottage, Hodgson kept Fulham in the Premier League against all odds. 2008/2009 saw the side from the banks of the Thames reach the Europa League and now they are punching above their weight again.

Hodgson’s man-management skills were clearly evident over the past week as after defending Bobby Zamora for his miss at Manchester City, the former Brighton striker came out and was too hot to handle for the Liverpool backline.

Last season Fulham beat Manchester United at the Cottage and it is now one of the hardest places to go in the Premier League. Hodgson’s side are now on a fine run, their last defeat was against Arsenal in late September in a match they could easily have won.

Since then they have achieved notable results at West Ham (with ten men) and Manchester City (were 2-0 down), should have beaten Roma at home and now seen off Liverpool. Much like Charlton under Alan Curbishley, one hopes that the Fulham fans appreciate what they are currently watching.

(Fulham are 66/1 to win the ‘Without Big Four’ league.)

Aruna Dindane

It hasn’t been an easy start to life in England for Dindane, the Ivory Coast forward joined with an injury and then proceeded to produce one of the misses of the season against Spurs.

Dindane is undoubtedly Portsmouth’s best striker and with his pace and power could lead the south coast side away from the drop this season.

(Portsmouth are 4/5 to be relegated.)

Graham Alexander

Lost in all the hullabaloo about Phil Brown was the fact that a 38-year-old claimed a Premier League brace on Saturday.

(Hull are 4/11 favourites to be relegated.)

Gonzalo Higuain

The Argentine striker has almost achieved the impossible at the Bernabeu, showing that it is possible to play for Real Madrid and be underrated. Down to ten men early doors against Getafe, Higuain stepped up and claimed two, the first with his left foot, the second with his right.

Higuain has now scored four goals in eight games, many of which have been substitute appearances. It can only be a matter of time before the former River Plate striker establishes himself as first choice for both Real Madrid and Argentina.

Gerard Pique’s late own goal at Osasuna means Galacticos 2.0 are just a point behind Barcelona before the two giants of Spanish football meet at the Nou Camp at the end of the month.

(Real Madrid are 7/4 to win La Liga.)

Inter Milan

Only Cagliari and Inter Milan won both their matches in midweek and on the weekend. Jose Mourinho’s side now have a seven point lead in Serie A and the match at Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday could make or break their season.

(Inter Milan are 1/4 to win Serie A.)

Marco Borriello

Borriello is a natural goal scorer and could be the answer to providing the cutting edge to Ronaldinho and Pato’s approach play.

(AC Milan are 12/1 to win Serie A.)

Napoli

Two comebacks in two games against AC Milan and Juventus mark the southern side as potential challengers for a Champions League position.

PSV

The home win over Vitesse Arnhem ensured they are unbeaten in their opening 12 matches of the Eredivisie season – a new record. Shteve McClaren’s FC Twente are still top by two points from the Eindhoven giants.

(PSV are 5/4 favourites to win the Eredivisie.)

AIK Stockholm

The new Swedish champions.

Bad Weekend

Robbie Keane

“If you look at the two squads, you look at us and think, ‘We’re definitely on a par,’ And if you look at the squads, the bench that we have is probably a little bit stronger than their bench.” – Robbie Keane.

The manner of the defeat at the Emirates should have left Keane embarrassed and the substitutions by both sides said a lot about both clubs. Whilst Arsenal could bring on the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Spurs brought on Alan Hutton, Roman Pavyluchenko and Gareth Bale.

It has to be better to bring on young, talented, hungry players as opposed to big-money signings who have failed to live up to their potential. For as long as anyone can remember Spurs have excelled in destroying careers and ironically the latest player to fall to the curse could well be Keane himself.

The Republic of Ireland striker has not been the same player since making his dream move to Liverpool. Keane appears to have lost a yard of pace and is not the same threat on goal that he was in his first spell at Spurs. The current “strength” of the Spurs squad, in attacking areas at least, means that Keane should not start when both Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe are fully fit.

It has also escaped many people’s notice that Spurs’ miserable run of results at Highbury and the Emirates could well have come to an end had Keane not missed a penalty at 1-1 in the 2-1 defeat to Arsenal in December 2007.

(Tottenham are 7/2 to win the ‘Without Big Four’ league.)

Liverpool

Another cruel defeat for Liverpool as their shallow squad once again failed to live up to expectations at the Cottage. The statistics on recent matches makes for shocking reading for fans of the Merseyside giants and in terms of the league it appears that fourth position is the best case scenario for Rafa Benitez.

On average this season Liverpool have conceded two goals in every Premier League away game which is most uncharacteristic of a Benitez side. They can ill afford to be as profligate in their match at Lyon on Wednesday which is the latest in a series of “must-win” games.

It is all well and good blaming the injuries to Gerrard and Torres – Bobby Zamora did comment after the game what a boost it had been to see El Nino leave the pitch with the score at 1-1. But, and this is almost becoming tiresome, Liverpool’s bit-part players are not doing enough.

Andriy Voronin, Ryan Babel and to an extent Dirk Kuyt will be responsible for getting Benitez the sack if anyone at board room level does pluck up the courage to get rid of the Spaniard.

(Liverpool are 1/7 to win nothing this season.)

Manchester City

City may have taken fourth position at the end of the weekend but they have now drawn four league matches in a row and appear to have lost touch with the league leaders.

Wigan

Trounced at Fratton Park, Wigan are incredibly inconsistent this season having beaten Chelsea (top of the league) and defeated at Portsmouth (bottom of the league).

(Wigan are 7/1 to be relegated.)

West Ham

Coming back from 2-0 down at home to Arsenal appeared to have given the Hammers some momentum. Losing a two-goal lead against the ten men of Sunderland may have set Gianfranco Zola’s side back a little.

Home matches against Aston Villa and Everton are now crucial if West Ham are not to be stuck in a relegation dog fight at the start of 2010.

(West Ham are 4/1 to be relegated.)

Atletico Madrid

Lost again to Athletic Bilbao on Saturday. How can a team with Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero be third bottom of La Liga?

Feyenoord

Hammered at the Amsterdam Arena.