Is Per Mertesacker The Best Centre Back In The Premiership?

September 30, 2013

Cast your mind back to early September 2011.

Our club was reeling from the loss of two key players (Fabregas and Nasri) and had made a terrible start to the season, capped off with a humiliating 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford.

Three days after that awful thrashing and with the transfer window about to slam shut, Arsene Wenger went running round Europe with his shopping trolley like a slum-dweller from N17 on a looting trip at the Pound Store during the annual riot season.

Anything he could lay his hands on went in the cart. Or so it seemed.

The Press – and a not insignificant minority of the Arsenal fan base – were quick to scream “Panic Buys.”

And indeed when Arsene got home and tipped his shopping out on the floor it was a mixed bag.  From the bargain shelf there was the mystifying inclusion of a job lot of Pot Noodles (Park Chu Young); there was a big round tin of Brazilian beef, well past its sell-by date (work it out); there was some fine Spanish ham and, finally, a giant German sausage.

As supporters it was hard to know quite what to make of it.

Mikel Arteta was a known quantity – a midfielder of skill and intelligence, though injury prone. Even if people weren’t setting off rockets in celebration, his arrival from Everton felt like a solid signing.

But the others?

Let’s face it, we had never heard of Park Chu Young or Andre Santos, so it was hard to get excited about them.

But Per Mertesacker was a different kettle of sardines. Even if we weren’t fervent watchers of the Bundesliga we all knew that Mertesacker was a very tall German international centre back with 70-something caps.

Remember, this was the summer when our clear need for a new central defender had led to strong campaigns in favour of us signing Gary Cahill, Chris Samba, Phil Jagielka and even Richard Dunne, who is older than dandan.

The one thing all those Premiership defenders had in common (apart from Dundun) was their price tag: all of them were supposedly going to cost well north of  £15m. The big German – with all that international experience – was only £10m.

I remember Mertesacker’s first few games for us. In his debut outing we beat Swansea 1-0. The German looked a bit disorientated and there were worrying signs that pace was not his strong point (it was rumoured that once, when playing in Switzerland for Germany, he was overtaken by a glacier).

His second game was a 1-1 away at Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League (GiE in his match report commented on how Mertesacker’s pace was exposed), then there was an away game at Blackburn Rovers – a 4-3 defeat in which our defence fell apart like an Ikea shelf unit assembled by Stevie Wonder.

The press – still gorging on the ‘Arsenal in crisis’ story – were quick to write off Mertesacker as an ungainly, tardy waste of money.

The trouble with the media is that once they have given someone a label, it takes them years to remove it.

As far as they were concerned Big Per was a disappointment and wasn’t cut out for the Premier League. Some of them are still saying that even now. Given the general despondency around our club back in Autumn 2011 it is hardly surprising that quite a lot of fans agreed.

But let’s put things in context: Mertesacker had joined a team that was in utter turmoil – both from a sudden influx of new faces and from the emotional fall-out of the Man Utd defeat and the late departures of Cesc and Nasri.

He was in a new country, a new league, with unfamiliar team mates. If he had slotted in like a world beater from Day One it would have been the greatest footballing miracle since the noisy neighbours trained an ape to wear their tatty shirt and kick a ball.

History often hysteria look foolish, and if you think back to Arsenal’s slow-but-steady recovery in the 2011-12 season you’ll see that Armageddon never quite happened: we weren’t relegated, we climbed up the table, we “minded the gap” and we finished third.

And one of the biggest factors in our return to form was the tardy Teuton himself: the lumbering giant, the heavy-legged Hanoverian, the sluggish Squarehead. Except that by now most Arsenal fans had realised that if his legs were sometimes slow, his mind was like Usain Bolt when it came to reading the game of football.

Even by late September of his first season the Big F*cking German (as we now fondly called him) was earning these sorts of write-ups in the AA match reports: “Best game yet, calm and assured,” (Jamie, after we beat Bolton 3-0 on September 24th); “Reads the game so well, he can intercept the ball or break up the play higher up the pitch than one might expect… The BFG is growing into his role with us, a pleasure to see that,” (26 May after our 2-1 victory over Olimpiacos on September 28th).

Early in his Arsenal career I said he reminded me of David O’Leary in the way he read the game and was able to snuff out trouble before it got serious.

Since then he has got better and better and is now one of the first names on our team sheet. When all our defenders are fit, the only question for the manager is whether he should be partnered with Koscielny or Vermaelen.

What’s more, he is clearly becoming a leader at the club, both on and off the pitch (as Arsene Wenger mentioned recently). You really get the sense that he is loving life at Arsenal and in London and even the journalists are belatedly beginning to realise what we Arsenal fans have known for quite some time now – that he is a top quality player.

In the weekend’s win at Swansea he had an 87% pass success rate; he won the one tackle he had to make; he made four successful clearances out of four attempted; he succeeded in both his attempted headed clearances and was victorious in all four of his aerial duels.

But what the stats don’t show is that he was always there to receive the ball and be the calming presence in our back line.

Which brings me back to my original question: is our Beanpole Boche the best central defender in the EPL?

His competition would come, I guess, from the likes of John “Jeremy Kyle has my family on speed dial” Terry; Gary “not to be confused with Tim” Cahill; Vincent “Two’s” Kompany; Martin “no Halloween mask necessary” Skrtel and Jan “Badly Advised” Vertonghen.

Some of them have qualities that the BFG lacks – mainly speed, as has been discussed. But in their overall contribution to their team’s defensive units I don’t feel any of them is currently better than our commanding Kaiser.

It is rumoured that Arsenal are planning to offer Mertesacker a three year extension on his contract, which expires at the end of next season. I hope it’s true and I hope the business is concluded quickly.

He may be a beanpole, but beanpoles are there to help things grow – and Per is certainly helping his Arsenal colleagues grow into a formidable unit.

RockyLives


Arsenal Serge to the Top.

September 29, 2013

Who would have guessed that not so long ago this game would have been thought of as one for the purists? Not me. But that was how it was billed and rightly so as Swansea are a fine footballing team, this generous complement only works, of course, because Arsenal are an even better footballing team.

That said, we had to go through the ringer to prove it because that was one of the most nail biting games I have had to suffer in a while, but win we did, and three valuable points were brought back to North London and if that wasn’t good enough, results around us couldn’t have gone better if we had fixed them the night before: Manu and City losing, spuds and chavs drawing, what, somebody pinch me?

Onto the game, we were poor, well more precisely the attacking part of our game in the first half was poor; Swansea looked far more threatening going forward and I will stick my neck out and say that they had better quality attackers than we did. Michu, Dyer and Routledge are better than Giroud, Wilshere and Gnabry. Fortunately our defensive unit was in superb form and dealt with everything that Swansea threw at us.

We were getting nowhere fast, gone were those beautiful passes by Ozil into space for players to run onto when he first arrived; the kind he played week in and week out to Ronaldo at Real, these gems had to be abandoned as none of our attackers were capable of making the runs or in Giroud’s case, capable of controlling the ball well enough, this forced Ozil to have to try and beat more men than I am sure he would have liked which often led to him being tackled and losing possession. Some have criticised him, not realising, in my opinion, that circumstances forced him to play that way.

And then, just before half time, it happened, like a shaft of bright light shining through a thundery sky, Gnabry, clearly fed up being on the wing, answered the question of where he plays by making a powerful run through the middle, passing at least three men before laying of a perfect ball for Giroud — who wasted it. This was it, Gnabry had arrived, he is not a winger he is an Aaron Ramsey; people used to refer to this kind of player as a Steven Gerrard but that seems soooo passé now.

gnabry scores

Gnabry started the second half with a new found confidence; he never got chastised for moving into the middle so he tried it again a few times and it worked, he also impressively started tracking back and then to make his day just about as perfect as it could get he scored his first goal for the Good Guys. It was pretty much the only way we were going to score: a slow build up made up of accurate passes, enabling us to find a way around the Swansea defence to set up someone with a goal scoring chance; on this occasion it fell to the young German .

Serge took his chance well. With a goal to the good it forced Swansea to take more risks in their pursuit of equalising which in turn gave us a lot more space and the possibility of hitting them on the break, which is exactly what we did. Within five minutes of going ahead we had a golden opportunity to score again through Ozil, unfortunately he missed but that just set the scene for Ramsey to save the day again. I have run out of meaningful superlatives and it isn’t even Christmas. The man is a goal scoring machine. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

rambo v swansea

The game looked like it was just going to peter out with Arsenal cruising to the finishing line but a well worked goal from Swansea put pay to that, it was up off the sofa, pacing in front of the telly time.

We got there of course and with hind sight I can now see how well Wenger managed to deploy his limited resources. Wilshere and Gnabry are not wingers and that is why I was so bold above to suggest that Swansea had a better quality attack. But needs must as they say; would this game have been the same with a fit Arteta, Cazorla and Walcott available? No it wouldn’t — we would have crushed them.

Lastly, I would like to show some respect where respect is due: after the Aston Villa opening game debacle, when many Arsenal supporters including some on this site where still questioning such things as the harmony between the management and the board; Wenger’s ability or inability to sign big money players and the most hennas, “spud envy” pointing far too respectfully at all the new signings being made in N17. Well, while this sea of excrement was going on one loyal blogger on this site stood firm and put his money where his mouth was and bet that Arsenal would be top of the League on October 1st.

26 May 1989…….I salute you.

Because we are top of the league, say we are top of the league.

Quick player ratings.

Szczesny: top game, plucked everything out of the air and did well when needed to get down. There was an incident in the first half but look at the back pass and you will see who is really to blame. 8

Sagna: Wenger must have promised him big things as he is playing better than he ever has. 8

Mertesacker: So, so good, so calm, so commanding I really want to give him the MOTM but for their goal. 8

Koscielny: Another solid display from the other half of our amazing centre-back pairing 8

Gibbs: disciplined performance from England’s future LB. 8

Ramsey: I can’t think of anything else to say, MOTM. 10

Flamini: hands up all those who thought he would be able to keep Arteta out of the starting line up when he was re-signed? Not me. He is getting better and better every week. 8

Wilshere: playing wide left is obviously not ideal but he did what he could. 7

Gnabry: I thought he was a waste of space, it was if Arsenal were playing with a man short – and then he made that run. Things will never be the same. 7

Giroud: a difficult day for Ollie, his inability to hold the ball and beat a man will lead to a “Super Quality” signing coming in and ultimately taking his place. 7

Ozil. The honeymoon period is still in full swing. I just can’t wait until Cazorla returns. 7

Written by LB


A challenging evening ahead ……..

September 28, 2013

Big game for both teams. Swansea need to push ahead with their recent run of results – beating Palace, Valencia, WBA and drawing with Liverpool is proof that last season’s surprise package are still a very good team. They have had a very difficult opening fixture list already played MU, ‘Pool and Spurs.

There is a growing belief that this Arsenal team have potential to do very well and a win at the Liberty Stadium would heighten expectation even further.

Swansea: I watched the draw with Liverpool and it was a very entertaining game which Swansea would have won but for some inexplicable play from Jonjo Shelvey. Hard to believe but Shelvey is a decent player away from the Anfield hell-hole.

There is quality throughout the Swansea team. At the back there is the (supposed) AW target of Ashley Williams, and he is just the type of player we like; strong in the tackle, good in the air, a natural leader and the beating heart of the Swans. Upfront the much admired Michu and the record signing Bony, who has scored 6 goals in 7 starts.

There is pace down the flanks with the spoilt brat Dyer and Routledge. An enduring memory of last season was Dyer’s tantrum after not being allowed to take a penalty at Wembley – a perfect example of the Me generation. Hard workers in midfield and a quality keeper make Swansea a tough prospect, especially at home.

Michael Laudrup seems to be a spiky personality with there being press-talk of his problems with the Swansea BoD, but he certainly knows how to create a football team. Anyone (even Evonne) could go to Old Trafford and get into the top 4 but what makes a great manager is the ability to build a team. SAF did it many times as has AW., Laudrup appears to made of the same stuff. As he remains loved at both RM and Barca, his future is assured. Future Arsenal manager? Possibly.

Arsenal: We are so blighted with injury in the forward areas that Mr Wenger will be forced to play Mr Giroud upfront on his own. Yes – the Christmas tree formation, with Özil , Jack and Ramsey running hard to create a forward line. It has worked before and we have enough attacking talent in midfield for this to be a successful tactic.

Theo’s absence allows Arteta to come back into the team and The Flamster to stay rooted as DM. I look forward to seeing how Arteta performs further forward. Of course, this assumes that neither Gnabry nor Bendtner start the game and given they both played the full 120+ mins at WBA, it seems a reasonable assumption.. My hope is that both sit on the bench until required and we play a slightly defensive game. The surprising possession stats. against Stoke show that we can sit back and attack on the break.

My team:

swans v arse

Problems arise due to the absence of Rosicky and in particular Cazorla who could really make this formation work.

We are on a remarkable run of form. 8 winning away games on the bounce and just the one stupid referee induced loss in a very long time (can’t be bothered to check the stat). Can this Arsenal team really be this good or is it purely that we haven’t played any quality opposition? Today is yet another test.

With confidence high and both teams committed to attacking football the prospect of an exciting game lies ahead.

COYRRG

written by Big Raddy


Arsenal Arsenal’s Friday News Round-Up.

September 27, 2013

Friday can often be a bit of a dead day for Arsenal related news at least until the Manager’s press conference in the late afternoon. Much of the news has been touched upon over the course of the last several days in the various excellent posts and the myriad comments by AA regulars and others. Just in case you missed the major news items of the week, here’s a round-up of some of them.

Sunday. Arsenal went back to the top of the Premier League with a handsome 3-1 win against Stoke City at Emirates. Mesut Ozil supplied all three assists in a demonstration of just why Arsene shelled out £40.2 million for him. Goals by Aaron Ramsey after just five minutes, Mertesacker on thirty six, to restore the lead after Cameron had equalised for Stoke on twenty six minutes, and a rare headed goal by Bacari Sagna wrapped it up on seventy two minutes.

Monday saw the publication of Arsenal’s Statement of Accounts and Annual Report 2012/2013, a fairly healthy set of figures despite a fall in pre-tax profit to £6.7 million from £36.6 million in the previous year. The club have no short term debt and a cash reserve of £119.7 million, of course these figures do not include the summer transfer dealings, so at least £42.2 million must be deducted due to the purchase of Mersut Ozil.

Commenting on the results for the year the Club’s Chairman, Sir Chips Keswick, said:

“It is my job to ensure we steer further along the course we have set. We must continue to grow commercially to provide the Club with the best opportunity to achieve success and we must do this in a way which remains true to our values and which ensures and protects the long-term sustainability of the Club”.

It was later revealed that Theo Walcott would be out for some weeks after requiring surgery on a groin and pelvic injury.

Wednesday’s Capital One Cup brought yet another away win, to add to the fine run of form, a mostly young side gaining a win on penalties after a 1 – 1 stalemate against West Brom. There is no need for me to add to the excellent match report posted by 26may89 yesterday. Our reward for the win is a juicy home tie with Chelsea in the next round.

Thursday brought the news that Mikel Arteta was subbed on Wednesday not through injury but merely cramp. For which we are all mightily relieved.

Friday. Read all about it!! Long interview with Stan Kroenke in this morning’s Telegraph Sport Section. Kroenke is in for the long haul, there’s money in the kitty Oh! And Arsene is staying!

Have a good weekend all.

 Written by Norfolk Gooner


The kids did us proud – Match report

September 26, 2013

What can I tell you about our League Cup game against West Brom? Not a lot, just a few comments based on the seven microseconds of coverage the BBC made available, the Radio 5 commentary and a few bits and bobs from the tinternet.

But I can tell you that:

1. We won;

2. The first half was crap;

3. With a squad shredded by injuries, the kids from the Academy Squad featured heavily; and

4. The Arsenal fans were in great voice.

Taken from the away end by chas

Taken from the away end by chas

OK, there are a few other things to say. The most important bit was how the game was won with the kids holding their nerve to prevail in a penalty shoot-out, against more experienced opponents and on their ground. The performance may not have been a slick classic, but winning in those circumstances could be the making of some of those youngsters.

Nicklas Bendtner made his first appearance in an Arsenal shirt in over two years. His reputation amongst fans has gone from bad to worse in that time, so it was sensible for a bit of humble pie to be eaten in the run-up to the game. And from what I saw, while he was certainly no world-beater last night, he was committed to the cause. His reaction when the winning penalty went in confirmed that. And he also made the goal we scored, when he received the ball from Gnabry, turned, paused while Eisfeld’s run opened up a chance and then played in the other young German with a perfect through ball. Well done to Eisfeld for slotting it home, but the goal was the creation of the big Dane.

He should have had one himself in extra time, when Gnabry played him through for what should have been a one-on-one but Bendtner took an age to compose himself for his shot, perhaps thinking the defenders were further back than they were. Unfortunately West Brom’s Dawson was able to catch Bendtner and dispossess him before he could get his shot away. The absence of preseason matches was there on display.

There will be plenty who will take a pop at Bendtner, and God knows he deserves it plenty of the time, but I thought he showed a real determination to contribute. It’s no minor thing that he took the first penalty in the shoot-out, that is taking responsibility.

Another serial under-achiever, Fabianski, had a pretty busy night and did well, making a number of good saves. He couldn’t stop Berahino equalizing ten minutes after we’d taken the lead, but that had more to do with our defenders leaving Berahino too much space when a recycled clearance from a corner was lobbed back into the box.

It was disappointing to hear relatively little being created by Arsenal in open play, though it did sound like things picked up significantly in the latter stages, in particular with the appearance of Olsson, Bellerin and Akpom from the substitutes’ bench. The 17-year old Akpom got especially positive reactions from the Radio 5 commentary team – I’ll definitely look out for that performance once I can see some proper coverage of the game.

A penalty shoot-out felt inevitable from a long way out, not that that alleviated the sense of dread about how the kids would do. That pessimism seemed well-founded, when Serge Gnabry missed our second penalty and the more experienced West Brom players (Reid, Rosenberg and Morrison) confidently despatched their first three spot-kicks. An early exit seemed very much on the cards, with West Brom on the verge of victory. Then Kris Olsson stepped up and scored (just about, the keeper was close), to make it 3-2. West Brom’s fourth penalty taker, Craig Dawson, bottled it, and put his kick well wide. The scores were level and the momentum was suddenly with us.

Next up: Chuba Akpom. The talented lad from Newham, who wasn’t even a year old when Arsène Wenger became Arsenal manager, held his nerve and put his kick away, the scores were level and we were in sudden death mode; the next miss would likely be terminal for that team’s continuation in the competition. And so it was: West Brom cracked again, when Morgan Amalfitano also blazed his kick wide, and now it was us about to kick for the win. We’ve seen plenty of failures in penalty shoot-outs down the years, but it was something of a relief to see an older head for the final kick: Nacho Monreal put his one away without undue fuss, and was rapidly bundled by some very enthusiastic young Arsenal players who’d sprinted form the centre circle.

Celebrations at wba

So there you go, our winning away record was extended to 11 competitive games in all competitions and our winning sequence is now eight games. We are into the next round, and once again we have a tough draw: we will play Chelsea at Ashburton Grove on 29 or 30 October, days before we begin a rapid sequence of games against Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United in the space of eight days. I don’t know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing to get tough draws in cup competitions, but we’re on a roll, with draws against Fenerbahce, Napoli, Dortmund, Marseille, West Brom and now Chelsea. Still, it’s better than facing Bradford and Blackburn…..

The Arsenal away contingent at the Hawthorns were fantastic last night, they were the loudest bunch in the house throughout. The Radio 5 bods were impressed at their old school refusal to sit down and the fact they had turned out in such numbers for a midweek League Cup game in another part of the country. Well done to Chas & Co, they remained in fine voice in what was, other than the shoot-out, largely a forgettable game and one in which our opponents were often on top.

There may be questions about what the presence in the squad of so many callow members of the Academy squad, and a couple of players most of us expected to have left by now. There may also be questions about first teamers like Mertesacker and Arteta being asked to play up to 120 minutes when we have an important and demanding run of two league games and a Champions’ League game coming up. This fear was made worse when Arteta was substituted, possibly as the result of an injury. Hopefully, that won’t turn out to be true. And fair play to the kids, they did us proud.

I’m afraid I can’t give ratings, I haven’t seen enough of the game yet to make those judgments. But it seems that Fabianski, Mertesacker, Monreal, Bendtner, Hayden, Jenkinson, Bellerin and Akpom all did well, and that Gnabry and Miyaichi had off-nights.

Written by 26may89


Young Guns Primed …. The Return of the Striking Viking?

September 25, 2013

The games coming like London busses. The Interlull followed by two games a week – but tonight we have the very enjoyable opportunity to see how deep our squad is.

Whether we win or not depends upon how WBA and Steve Clarke approach the game. If as I suspect they put out a first 11 then we are in for a tough evening, if like AFC they go with a weakened team, then we should see an exciting game.

The Capital/Milk/Rumbelow’s/League/Littlewood’s Cup is one we should have won in the past couple of years. The painful loss to the soon-to-be relegated Birmingham is a memory which needs to be replaced by silverware, but my guess is that Mr Wenger will insist his priorities lie elsewhere. Inevitable given our growing injury list.

The one area we could not “stomach” another injury was the attack. With Ox and Pod both out for the foreseeable future it is a blow to hear of Theo’s injury. Young Didit told me over the summer that Mr Walcott was our most valuable player and much would rest upon his fitness – I have to agree. Theo gives something to the team no-one else can and that is searing pace; he may not be the most lethal striker but he scares the bejeesus out of defenders.

It will be a big night for one of our players in particular – you know the one – that Danish nutter. It is good he will make his return away from the “cauldron” that is the Emirates, a cynical crowd could badly affect him. If Nik hits the ground running he could be a major player for us, sadly the evidence of the past few seasons suggests it may be a forlorn hope.

Unbelievably Fabianski was injured on Friday!  I really feel for the man – he has done nothing wrong and yet every time he gets an opportunity he suffers an injury.

Gnabry’s promotion to the first team causes problems. He will be needed at the weekend and this opens up a place for either another MF – Eisfeld most probably or another forward. . Little has been mentioned about our missing man, Mr Park. He is back in training with the first team, so why not let him try and earn his corn?

Unknown

Come on Arsene, Make the Marketing Dept. happy

We have some experience in the squad and the game is well timed for the return of our Club Captain and the man with Lego hair.

My team:

001cc1

We can have one of our midfield geniuses on the bench in case of problems, but my inclusion of Park (no, it’s not a joke 😀 ) shows just how bare the cupboard is. Of course, Mr Wenger could choose to start Akpom but I think his time will come – he doesn’t appear strong enough as yet.

As to West Brom. Quite frankly I know next to nothing about them (apart from them employing traitor Anelka.) I am sure they are hard-working and will sweat blood to beat the Mighty Gunners. However, much like the first team, your pre-match writer is taking a day off from researching the opposition!

Much depends upon how Mr Wenger views the CC.  I think he views it purely as a chance to give his youth players experience and if they do well then review at a later stage, as such the draw of a PL side away from home was unfortunate. However, a trophy is there to be won, so let’s go out and win one.

images

Just because it makes me happy

COYRRG

written by Big Raddy


Arsenal Well Placed in Wide Open Title Race

September 24, 2013

What an interesting weekend that was as far as the title race is concerned.

In addition to our game I was lucky enough to watch Chelsea against Fulham, Liverpool versus Southampton and the Manchester derby.

This feast of football left me with some very clear conclusions. Firstly, that most other teams – and their players and their fans – are humungous chuff-munchers. But then most of you knew that already.

Secondly – and more pertinently – I saw nothing to deflect me from the view that Arsenal can be serious title contenders this season.

Let’s start with the Manc derby, which pitted Arab oil money against institutionalized favouritism. In this case petro-dollars won out over patronage.

Man City, in fairness, looked good as they have done in their home games this season. The movement up front from Aguero and the Fat French Pitchwarmer in particular was first class. But away from home it’s been a different story for the Sky Blues, with defeat at Cardiff and a tame 0-0 draw with Stoke.

They will certainly be in the mix towards the end of the season – the strength of their squad almost guarantees it – but if they don’t find more consistency soon they could be playing catch-up come April.

Then there’s the Surrey half of Manchester. Frankly they were awful. Brave Sir Robin did not play (here’s hoping his “thigh injury” represents a bit of karmic payback) and the rest of the team was bereft of creativity.  The only time Rooney looked up for a fight was when Kompany knocked off his alice band. Meanwhile watching Fellaini lumber around like a deranged totem pole made me feel very pleased he did not come to The Home of Football this summer. Give me the Flamster any day.

In United’s favour, they have a lot of players in and around the squad who have won the league and who have the habit of winning. That may be enough to keep them in the race, but I have my doubts.

They were poor champions last season (no-one in years to come will be talking about the great United team of 2012-13) and without Ferguson’s influence over the match officials they have lost an advantage which must have been worth 10 points a season. (Incidentally, Mark Halsey’s memoirs have revealed that many refs had way too close a relationship with Surralex – the sort of you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours relationships that would be deemed deeply unethical in most professions. There should be an inquiry but I’m not holding my breath).

The more I think about it the more I come to the conclusion that Ferguson retired last season because he did not think United would be serious contenders any more. Right now they are in danger of the sort of top six finish that David Moyes is very comfortable with.

And so to Liverpool. After their three-games-three-wins start I was reminding anyone who would listen that this is still Liverpool; that they have a prize prat for a manager and that the wheels will inevitably come off.

Two games and one point later for the Scousers, I see nothing to change my mind. Yes, they still have Suarez champing at the bit to come back – but they had him last season too and it wasn’t enough to get them into the top four.

In the West London derby the unfashionable dull team with lots of money beat the unfashionable dull team with less money. But Chelsea were a bit lucky to get the win and were unconvincing throughout.

On paper they have a creative midfield that’s almost a match for ours (in place of Ozil, Cazorla, Wilshere, Arteta. Ramsey, Rosicky read Mata, Oscar, Hazard, Willian, Lampard). But whereas our creative midfielders are playing for a manager who craves beauty and creativity the way a Spudder craves a top four finish, the Chav midfielders are under the yoke of someone who demands organization, discipline and defensive-mindedness above all else. Our square pegs are in square holes, Mourinho’s are in round holes.

I still think Chelsea will be serious title challengers, if for no other reason than Maureen has been so successful in all his jobs. But right now it looks like he has a set of players who don’t suit his style of football, so maybe it won’t be all plain sailing for the 10-year-old club

As for Arsenal, well, we put in a decent “seven out of ten” performance against Stoke. And before we get too carried away with our start to the season, someone in comments pointed out that in the equivalent five fixtures last season we took 15 points, so we’re actually three points down on last year.

But you get the feeling that something positive is brewing in N5. It started after the defeat to the Spudders last year and has gained momentum ever since. Adding a genuine superstar to the mix has given an extra psychological boost and has lifted the fans too.

Right now I don’t see any team that’s better than us, either in their current form or in the strength of their squad.

I deliberately haven’t mentioned our noisy neighbours because I did not see their game. It looked bang on for a 0-0 draw, but they snaffled a late winner – just like they did so often last year, courtesy of Ape Boy.

This time round they have no chimp, but they managed to get the result anyway. I think they will struggle to gel all their new players and I expect them to get beaten by the Chavs next weekend – but you never know: maybe this is the year when the two North London teams fight it out for the title. If so it would be tremendously exciting (not to mention nerve-wracking).

If I had to predict the end-of-season top five today it would be this:

Arsenal

Chelsea

Man City

Spuds

Man Utd

What do you think?

RockyLives