Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: “We showed people the true Arsenal. We don’t really take notice of the outside. We’re a big family and we know our quality and that we’re good enough. I enjoyed playing up front and the boss gave me that opportunity. I thought I did very well and the players around me always make my job easier.” – Theo Walcott.
Runner-up: “I find it strange what we hear in the media. If Arsene needed him [Thierry Henry], he would have called me or sporting director Andy Roxburgh, but this is not the case. I do not think both parties need to have this second comeback. Moreover, he became a dad. I think he will want to enjoy the holidays.” – New York Red Bulls’ head of global soccer Gerard Houllier.
Reading 2 – Arsenal 5
Keep Theo up front and you can finish top four, Arsene (Ian Wright, Sun) The decision to put Theo Walcott up front was spot-on. I have been calling for ages for him to be played as a striker and last night he showed what he offers in that position. Reading played so deep because they were scared of him. That gave Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla so much room in midfield to operate and the pitch became longer. But it was not just Walcott’s pace which caused the Royals’ defence problems. He worked very hard across the line. He also showed he can finish when he gets the chance. Reading could not handle him.
In Theo Walcott Arsène Wenger has found the striker Arsenal need (Richard Williams, Guardian) It will have done Walcott no harm at all to hear the chant of “Wenger, Wenger, sign him up!” coming from the visiting fans as his shot, driven from a tight angle, was cleared off the goalline, or that of “The-o! The-o!” as he sent a 25-yard drive screaming past the angle of bar and post. Ultimately he was able to claim the prize of a goal that ended Reading’s brief comeback, demonstrating the composure of his finishing as he took Cazorla’s clever pass, shifted the ball inside Kaspars Gorkss and guided a shot past Federici with his weaker foot. Wenger has found the striker his team need. Now all he needs to do is recognise the fact, and consolidate rather than undermine Walcott’s right to make the role his own.
Santi delivers for Wenger with help from Walcott and Podolski as Gunners gloom lifted in romp over Royals (Mail) Arsenal relieved the pressure on Arsene Wenger with a five-star attacking display at the Madejski Stadium. Wenger has rarely been under more strain during his 16 years as Arsenal manager, but fortunately for him only Reading were standing in his team’s way. The Frenchman is off the hook, returning to winning ways against only the second team — after Wigan — to record 10 defeats in the Barclays Premier League this season. Santi Cazorla scored a hat-trick for Arsenal and the little Spain midfielder was the class act on show.
Ragged Royals make Arsenal fans forget recent strife (Jim White, Telegraph) Moving up to fifth place: that is a predicament the Royals manager Brian McDermott would relish. Instead, after yet another home capitulation, he is destined to be in charge of the Premier League’s bottom club over Christmas. And that – history insists – is the harbinger of relegation.
We’ll rescue you, Mario – Milan (Sun) AC Milan hope to use Mario Balotelli’s wrangle with Manchester City to land him on the cheap next month… Serie A giants Milan are monitoring the situation closely and will have cash to spend if they can shift ex-City forward Robinho or Alexandre Pato. Super Mario’s old club Inter are also interested, but neither are likely to meet City’s £24million asking price or match his £170,000-a-week wages.
Balotelli needs to check himself before he wrecks himself, warns Italy coach (Mirror) Mario Balotelli has been warned he must take a long hard look at himself to save his career. The dire wake-up call came from his international boss Cesare Prandelli, who believes his front-line striker is at a crossroads where one more wrong turn could lead to ruin. And the Italy coach hinted the wayward striker must consider a return home to ensure he gets back on the right track towards the level that saw him star at last summer’s European Championship.
Why we desperately love to hate Manchester City’s pantomime villain Mario Balotelli (James Corringan, Telegraph) Lose Mario and at this rate we will have a league of Michael Owens, all very thankful for earning £70,000-plus a week, but all very conciliatory. All we will be left with is stories of Gareth Barry questioning a referee’s parentage or – who could imagine it – Serbians getting into rows with Albanians. In short it would be the European golf tour – without Ian Poulter
Fellaini’s 3 Game Ban
Fellaini banned for three games (Sun) Fellaini will miss the league clashes with West Ham, Wigan and Chelsea but will be available again for the trip to Newcastle on January 2.
Ref aids Fellaini escape (Star) Marouane Fellaini has escaped with a three-match ban for headbutting Ryan Shawcross – thanks to referee Mark Halsey. Starsport revealed yesterday that Fellaini would not face a longer ban despite TV footage showing him committing three separate assaults on the Stoke defender.
A Bridge too far? Can Chelsea overcome weaknesses exposed by Club World Cup defeat (Martin Lipton, Mirror) Have Chelsea lost the battle-hardened attitude which used to be the essence of the club, indeed, was exactly that as recently as last season? Do the players really believe, both in themselves, their team-mates and the manager who has been parachuted in? Did Fernando Torres’ performance against Corinthians signal the truth about the Spaniard, or was it just a temporary blip as he comes back to something approaching his best? Is Victor Moses, really, a top four player? And, most worrying of all, with the feeling that any talk of confidence within the squad may be little more than a veneer, is the chaos and mayhem of November, which cost Roberto Di Matteo his job, set to descend again?
Rafael Benítez must drag Chelsea from disappointment to delight (Dominic Fifield, Guardian) Chelsea’s season has lurched from one extreme to the other. The victories secured with a flourish in the autumn careered into the chaos of the latter days of Roberto Di Matteo’s tenure, when any lingering faith the board had in the European Cup-winning manager ebbed away. Benítez had appeared to be instigating a revival with a trio of wins, only for Corinthians to hustle his side off their stride and deny the manager some conciliatory silverware to offer a disgruntled support. Defeat on Sunday means this team have already been jettisoned from the Champions League and passed up three opportunities to claim a trophy this season. Lose at Leeds and it will be five, all before Christmas. They may be victims of their own success, but it still feels wasteful.
Imminent end of injury outbreak could prove terrific for Tottenham (Guardian) It has largely slipped under the radar that Tottenham Hotspur have played virtually the whole season so far without their No1 central defender and their player of the year from the last time out. They have also missed their first-choice left-back for all but three matches, their playmaker for eight and their most dynamic attacker for the past three. André Villas-Boas, the manager, deserves credit for not banging on about the absentees as he has handled a transitional period in his new job and kept the club up where they want to be, in the Premier League’s top four.
Barcelona find themselves in a different league to the rest – including Madrid (Sid Lowe, Guardian) Messi has set the bar so high that only one brilliant goal is not enough and that brilliant goal doesn’t even seem so brilliant. It was Barcelona against Atlético Madrid, first versus second. Barcelona were winning 3-1 against a team that had conceded only seven times all season, moving the ball round the pitch with a pace and precision that was stunning, taking a decisive step towards the title, but … but, well, watching Barcelona control a game is so normal. And Messi had only scored once.
Bayern Munich clear and content as Bundesliga closes for Christmas (Raphael Honigstein, Guardian) Last Christmas, the autumn champions Bayern Munich looked sharp but the very next match day (or so), they gave it away. This year, to save Uli Hoeness from tears, they’ve been giving it something special, special.
Zenit St Petersburg fan group warns against buying black or gay players (Guardian) The largest fan group of Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg has demanded the club refrain from buying black and gay players. “We’re not racists but we see the absence of black players at Zenit as an important tradition,” Zenit fan club Landscrona said in a letter, called the “Selection 12 manifesto”, posted on its website on Monday. “It would allow Zenit to maintain the national identity of the club, which is the symbol of St Petersburg.” Zenit have been the only top club in Russia to have never signed an African player while the northern city of St Petersburg is known to have a strong right-wing nationalist influence.
Spurs eye Eriksen (Sun) Jan Vertonghen reckons his old Ajax pal Christian Eriksen would be a huge hit at Spurs. Tottenham are chasing the £20million-rated midfielder.
Marseille and France striker LoÏc Rémy set for £10m January move to Newcastle United (Telegraph) The move will also involve Rémy’s current club, Marseille, signing a Newcastle player, possibly one of their Frenchmen such as Gabriel Obertan who could be surplus to requirements at St James’ Park.
Monaco boss Ranieri looking to snap up Lampard for a second time (Mail) Frank Lampard is wanted by former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri at French second division side Monaco as the England midfielder prepares to quit Stamford Bridge.
Ging gang Ghouli: Liverpool enter hunt for Valencia winger (Mirror) Sofiane Feghouli is on Brendan Rodgers’ radar after Alexis Sanchez’ agent ruled out a Kop move.
Redknapp to meet QPR owner Fernandes over January transfer targets Anelka and Cole (Mail) Harry Redknapp will meet Queens Park Rangers owner Tony Fernandes this week to discuss the club’s transfer window plans. Redknapp will have £10million to spend in January but is expected to rely largely on loan deals. Liverpool’s Joe Cole and former Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka are targets.
Harry poised for battle Fulham and Udinese over £1.5m French starlet Sylla (Mail) Fulham and Queens Park Rangers are among clubs watching France Under 21 international Yacouba Sylla. The Clermont midfielder has been attracting interest from Udinese and Stuttgart also and is available for £1.5million.
Bruce is on for Fraiz (Sun) Steve Bruce has been given the go-ahead to launch a £7million swoop for Sunderland hitman Fraizer Campbell. Hull boss Bruce needs a striker in the January transfer window to boost his side’s promotion hopes.
Ferdinand could leave United in 2013 with interest from US and Middle East (Mail) Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand will decide on his football future in the new year. Ferdinand is expected to be offered a one-year extension to the United contract that runs out in the summer after overcoming back problems to play regularly for the last 18 months. However, the 34-year-old has interest from the Middle East and America and is attractive to other clubs in the Barclays Premier League as well.
Ince-ing away (Sun) Kirk Bradfoot admits Blackpool are expecting to lose Tom Ince in January. The £6million-rated winger is a target for Liverpool.
Liverpool join race for France U21 Isimat Mirin after being priced out of move for De Vrij (Mail) Liverpool are among clubs monitoring French centre-back Nicolas Isimat Mirin. The 21-year-old graduate of the Clairefontaine academy has established himself as a regular in the Valenciennes side but is out of contract in 18 months.
Poyet’s Austin bid (Sun) Brighton are preparing a £4million bid for Burnley goal-machine Charlie Austin. The striker has netted 22 times in 24 games this term.