Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: “We made defensive mistakes. We came back to 2-2 and the most important thing was not to make a mistake. But in the last two games we have done that. It’s unbelievable. It happened at Fulham the same. For a team of this experience it is difficult to explain but I’m hopeful that it will not be deadly.” – Arsene Wenger.
Runner-up: “It was an important game, after the win against City, to show we are really confident and we are back. Everyone’s coming back and in great form. We still have some injuries but when everyone is fit, it will give us the strength to win the title. We need to rest and focus on the next game. We’re going to win the league.” – Patrice Evra.
Today’s overview: Arsenal’s defeat in Wales dominates the back pages with Thierry Henry’s clash with an Arsenal fan the lead in many newspapers.
Looking at the game itself, John Cross writes that “Swansea gave Arsenal a football lesson” whilst the likes of Jamie Redknapp, Richard Williams and Paul Hayward queue up to lavish praise on Brendan Rodgers’ side.
There are also reports from Newcastle’s win over QPR and a fair amount of transfer gossip with much speculation surrounding Dimitar Berbatov and the Mirror claim an exclusive that Liverpool are set to move for Jermain Defoe.
Elsewhere, Steven Howard defends Steve Kean, Sam Wallace has an excellent article on Ravel Morrison and The Sun have news of a noisy party round at Stevie G’s.
Thierry Henry clashes with an Arsenal fan: The Sun, Guardian, Mail and Telegraph all lead with Thierry Henry’s clash with an Arsenal fan after the defeat at Swansea. Riath Al-Samarrai writes “Thierry Henry was involved in an angry confrontation with a fan after Arsenal’s shock defeat at Swansea on Sunday. The Frenchman appeared to invite one of his own supporters down on to the field in an aggressive manner after the Gunners were out-passed and outwitted as Swansea came from behind to win a pulsating clash 3-2. Henry, who came on as a 63rd-minute substitute and gave the ball away in the build-up to Swansea’s winner, was enraged by a comment from the away end. The on-loan Arsenal legend, who completed a fairytale return to the club with a late winner against Leeds in the FA Cup last week, was leading his team in applauding the Arsenal support when one fan is understood to have vented his fury at the players. A club spokesperson confirmed that Henry had said: ‘No matter what, you should support the team.’ Television footage, however, appears to show Henry angrily gesticulating and aggressively shouting towards the terraces.”
Stuart James adds: “Arsenal could not contain their anger after succumbing to a defeat that leaves them struggling to hold on to Chelsea’s coat-tails in the race for the Champions League qualification places. First Thierry Henry became involved in a row with one of the travelling supporters. Then Arsène Wenger fiercely criticised Michael Oliver, the referee, accused Nathan Dyer of diving to win a penalty and lambasted a dreadful defensive performance from his team. Henry’s set-to with an Arsenal fan came after the final whistle, when the players went across to applaud their followers. It is understood the striker, who had replaced Andrey Arshavin in the 63rd minute, clashed with the supporter after taking unkindly to his criticism of the players, the Frenchman telling him that he should support rather than berate the side.”
Antony Kastrinakis claims to know more about the spat from a “source.” “A small group of supporters slammed the players — prompting an angry response from striker Henry, who only rejoined the club on loan from America last week. The Frenchman appeared to have a heated exchange with one fan, making gestures before storming off the pitch. A Gunners source said: ‘Thierry had encouraged his team-mates to go and acknowledge the fans and show their appreciation for the people who made the long journey to Swansea. Unfortunately one or two of them had a few things to say and expressed their disappointment. One in particular was shouting ‘Where is the heart and the character and the fight?’ Thierry shouted back ‘Get behind the team and support the players and don’t be negative.'”
Swansea 3 – Arsenal 2: John Cross pulls no punches. “Do not listen to the excuses. Arsene Wenger was beaten at his own game as Swansea gave Arsenal a football lesson. City outpassed, outfought and outmanoeuvred the Gunners in a superb win that should be about their strengths as well as the visitors’ frailties. We could be here all day discussing Arsenal’s weaknesses. Defensively they were a shambles, picked apart time and again by Swansea’s brilliant passing game. It was a victory celebrated by home fans as if they had won the league. Considering nine years ago Arsenal were top of the Premier League and Swansea bottom of the Football League they were entitled to celebrate. Wenger has only himself to blame, not the penalty decision, pitch or fixture congestion. Look at the failure to sign cover at full-back for the sake of a few weeks’ wages. For a club like Arsenal, it is unforgivable to have centre-backs filling in at full-back. Surprise, surprise, they were completely exposed.”
Jamie Redknapp hails the Welsh side. “It was a privilege to be at Swansea on Sunday – the whole place is buzzing and they are showing what a community club can achieve. All of their outfield players on Sunday have played in the Championship or lower. But they are not afraid to play their football and two players key to it are Joe Allen and Leon Britton. They want the ball, they keep it and they outplayed Aaron Ramsey. Arsenal have lost six away games this season and have the worst goals against record on their travels in the division. Swansea devoured Johan Djourou and Per Mertesacker with sharp passing and movement. Robin van Persie now has 20 goals in 20 away games in the Barclays Premier League. But so much of his brilliant work is allowed to go to waste.”
Richard Williams was impressed with Swansea’s spirit. “Nine years ago to the day, Swansea were at the bottom of the fourth tier and Arsenal were top of the Premier League. Here they were fighting as equals in a contest of strike and counter-strike, with the points taken by the side showing more self-belief and resilience. The Welsh side’s response to going a goal down after five minutes was replicated when Arsenal drew level at 2-2 with 20 minutes to go. They simply kept going with a driving confidence that Arsenal never quite matched.”
Paul Hayward revels in Swansea’s “carpet football.” “This was one of the great Premier League victories: a landmark for all clubs wanting to be part of the cabaret. The Thierry Henry comeback tour was undone by a side who conquered Arsenal with the exuberance of their passing and grace under pressure. After the second of two consecutive slick interchanges by Swansea City deep in their own half, and with a thrilling game ticking to its end, Arsène Wenger wheeled away and puffed his cheeks as if to say: ‘This lot are too good, this is too much.’ Arsenal’s manager has devoted his professional life to the cultivation of artistic principles and here, against newly-promoted opponents, the spirit of Barcelona rose up to confound Henry (who played the last half-hour), Robin van Persie, the goal machine, and Aaron Ramsey, the Wales captain, who was outshone by Leon Britton and Joe Allen in midfield.”
Newcastle 1 – QPR 0: Martin Hardy concentrates on Sparky Hughes. “He lasted just three minutes before the confines of the dugout proved too constrictive. Just after half past one, Mark Hughes was back in football management and at 1.33pm, officially back in business. At that point it was with instructions to Luke Young about giving his new team more width. At that point, as for the first half hour, the new headmaster had a classroom sitting to full attention, players who had listened to what had effectively been a week of cramming. He barely left his technical area all afternoon. By the end, however, Hughes was back in more familiar territory, brushing his right hand over his left in anger at the lack of tempo from his new players, and then lobbing a big insult at Chris Foy, the referee.”
David Pleat pinpointed the introduction of Hatem Ben Arfa as key to the outcome. “Earlier Newcastle had aimed long in an attempt to utilise the aerial presence of their big front men. But now Ben Arfa spread the play, held the ball and cleverly switched the point of attack. Newcastle mixed and matched their players and rotated positions. Up front only Ameobi, shielding the ball well, held his position. Ben Arfa spent time both centrally and wide right later on, when his intricate footwork baffled the more powerful Clint Hill.”
Transfer gossip: The Mirror claim an exclusive: “Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish is ready to test Tottenham with a £10million offer for unsettled Jermain Defoe. Dalglish is looking to shake up his attack this month after Liverpool’s faltering form has left them struggling to finish in the top four. The proven scoring record of Defoe would add a new dimension to the Anfield attack – and Liverpool hope to agree a fee with Spurs despite the Londoners’ title ambitions. Spurs boss Harry Redknapp wants a new striker himself and watched Marseille’s Loic Remy yesterday. If Redknapp adds a new face, that would push Defoe further down the pecking order and nearer the White Hart Lane exit.”
Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov is set for talks over a return to Bayer Leverkusen. (Mail)
Dimitar Berbatov could be on his way to Bayern Munich for £8million (Sun)
Chris Samba will consider going on strike if Blackburn continue to turn down offers for their unsettled captain. (Mail)
Bolton boss boss Owen Coyle is ready to swoop for Tottenham’s Giovani Dos Santos in a £4million deal. (Mirror)
Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill wants Senegal striker Papiss Cisse – but faces a massive bid and fitness gamble to get his man. (Mirror)
Harry Redknapp jetted out to France yesterday to watch Marseille striker Loic Remy. (Sun)
Wigan v Manchester City: Alan Hansen looks forward to toinight’s match. “When you are part of a team who are winning every game in sight and it suddenly stops happening, it is a scary position to be in, but that is where Manchester City find themselves as they prepare to face Wigan Athletic in the Premier League on Monday night. Having suffered four defeats in eight games, tonight is a test of nerve for Roberto Mancini and his players. They are in a mini-crisis and, if they pick up anything less than four points from Wigan and Sunday’s clash with Tottenham, then you are looking at a full-blown crisis because there is a chasm of difference between feeling invincible and wondering where your next result is going to come from.”
Blackburn: Steven Howard puts together a defence of Steve Kean. “There cannot have been many managers who have had to withstand an orchestrated campaign for their removal by the local paper, a high-profile constituency MP, ex-players and thousands of supporters. And withstood it with so much style. It takes an awful lot of inner strength to remain upright on the burning deck of a ship that seems to be heading in only one direction. To walk along the touchline in front of the firing squad. To emerge from the dug-out to a torrent of abuse when things again are going wrong. How many times this season has Kean appeared just one game from the sack only to bounce back like the incredible Rubber Man?”
Refereeing in the Premier League: James Lawton argues that the “Flap over refereeing leaves the top flight looking amateurish.” “It is the mushroom cloud of controversy which builds, routinely now, from game to game, around something which used to be known as the simple art of tackling. The latest example which put Newcastle’s gifted and frequently combative Yohan Cabaye out of the game had consequences which you would like to think might just provoke the Football Association into something more resembling crisis mode. The fact Chris Foy – whose dismissal of Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany led to the player’s four-match suspension and an inevitable analysis of any challenge which doesn’t involve the phrase, “after you, Claude” – was once again the presiding judge is guaranteed to increase the clamour.”
Ravel Morrison: Sam Wallace writes a fine piece on what this troubled youngster’s contract demands at Manchester United mean in the wider sense. “United will doubtless grumble about the relatively intense media coverage of the player. That is fair to an extent. There was a lustre about the stories of a kid with the potential to be the new Paul Scholes that made everyone want to know more. But the interest in Morrison also says something about the way in which the struggle to sign or develop the best teenagers has become more highly charged and more high-profile than ever. The market in young footballers is almost as ruthless and as lucrative, not to mention as global, as that for established players. It was always competitive but, with the resources given to academies now and everyone chasing the Barcelona utopia, it has taken on a new significance. Witness the urgency with which the Premier League strong-armed the Football League into re-writing the academy rules under the new Elite Players’ Performance Plan (EPPP) last year.”
Rhodri Giggs: Ryan’s brother gets it all off his chest in The Sun. “Devastated Rhodri Giggs believes jealousy drove his soccer star brother Ryan to steal his wife Natasha. Rhodri, 34, said she was the one thing he had that Ryan, 38, lacked. The Man United ace had an eight-year affair with Natasha, 29. Rhodri — still struggling to come to terms with the affair — is convinced the United wing legend just had to be competitive — even in love. He said: ‘He took Natasha despite him having everything and me nothing. She was the only thing I had and he did not — so he took it.'”
Stevie G’s noisy party: Also in The Sun we learn that “Cops were called to a party at England footballer Steven Gerrard’s mansion at 4am yesterday after a complaint about noise. A neighbour reported loud music coming from the £3million house. The Liverpool star, 31, is thought to have arranged the bash attended by his team-mates as a belated Christmas party. A club insider said: ‘A load of players were there and they all brought their WAGs. Stevie’s missus Alex looked like a million dollars and all the girls were glammed up.'”