By Bagga Wilks
Arsenal entered the game against Sunderland with their three scoring machines, Fabregas, Van Persie and Walcott, out of commission. Bendtner and Rosicky were expected to provide some punch in the offense and Arshavin in recent games is back to being an explosive player.
Unsurprisingly, without their three guns, Arsenal outplayed Sunderland as the team on the pitch adhered to the ball possession system that Wenger has instilled but for most of the game, no one had the creativity to step out of the system and unleash the unexpected.
The Sunderland game highlights that Wenger is an exceptional coach and an unexceptional tactician. Since Fabregas is hurt, it means someone has to step into the role as the playmaker. Wenger keeps hoping that Rosicky will rise to the occasion but Rosicky in the last two years has been a goal-less wonder and a non-playmaker.
Why wouldn’t the Arsenal coach give that responsibility to the creative and in-form Nasri? Nasri has been scoring goals, beating defenders in the last third and providing numerous assists. That responsibility was not given to Nasri until the second half when Nasri was brought in from the right wing position. He immediately began to work his magic and were it not for bad refereeing his through ball to Arshavin would have meant victory for Arsenal. Arshavin and Nasri combined well and if Nasri had a ninety-minutes crack as the playmaker, the outcome would have been different.
Arsenal faces Barcelona devoid of their scoring machine and if Arsenal is going to go forward in the UEFA Cup, Nasri has to start as the offensive mid-field playmaker.
The danger Arsenal faces, as was obvious in the Sunderland game, is that the two Polish players, Szczesny and Koscielny, seem to have a language problem. That failure to communicate cost Arsenal the Carling Cup. The persistence of that failure to communicate could result in Arsenal making an early exit from the UEFA Cup.
MANCHESTER UNITED FALL FROM GRACE
Sir Alex Ferguson went with his old reliable senior citizens in the match against Liverpool. He started Scholes, Giggs, and the younger crowd of Berbatov and Rooney. In the absence of the suspended Vidic, he brought back Wes Brown to anchor the defense with young Smalling.
As the season enters the final months, Scholes and Giggs are looking like heavyweight pugilists who have discovered that the punch and the reflexes are no longer what they used to be. Rooney, despite scoring a spectacular bicycle kick a few games back, was missing in action against archrivals, Liverpool.
Suarez was the impact player even though Kuyt was the Liverpool player who scored all three goals. Torres is yet to find himself since transferring to Chelsea while Suarez and Carroll have bolstered the Liverpool team offensive capabilities. Dalglish, the new Liverpool coach, who took over from Hodgson, has really made a difference. But if Liverpool is to re-emerge as a powerhouse in the English Premier League, at the end of the season, management has to go shopping for some central defenders and a creative mid-field player.
A.C. MILAN AND INTER MILAN
The race in Serie A is virtually over. Both Milan teams are rolling along like unstoppable juggernauts. Leonardo has managed to turn around Inter Milan’s season and Allegri has done a fine job with A.C. Milan. A.C. Milan squeezed a 1-0 victory over the lackluster Juventus and got a goal from of all persons, Gattuso.
Leonardo and Allegri have different coaching styles. Leonardo emphasizes finesse whereas Allegri places great emphasis on hard non-stop running. Pato had a slight injury and did not play against Juventus but if they are going to have a chance to turn around their 1-0 deficit playing against Tottenham at home in the UEFA league, Pato, Ibrahimovic and Robinho will have to convert and not squander opportunities. Tottenham showed on Sunday against Wolves that they can score spectacular goals but also give up a lot of goals.
The Serie A and the EPL have come down to a two-horse race respectively. In the Serie A, it is Milan and Milan. In the EPL, it is Manchester United and Arsenal. Dortmund seems a runaway in the Bundesliga as Bayern Munich lost again. With Ronaldo out with a hamstring for at least a fortnight, Barcelona is on track to win La Liga. Real Madrid trails and by the time Ronaldo returns to the starting line-up, Barcelona may very well be unreachable. Yet it is only March and spring could be replete with surprises.