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Bobby McMahon

Bobby McMahon

You can see me on Soccer Central most Mondays and Thursdays on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada. I write a regular column for Forbes.com and Soccerly.com and frequently guest on various podcasts and radio shows.


Midweek Premier League – Was It Really Such A Bad Result For Arsenal?

Written by on January 6, 2011 | 37 Comments »
Posted in General

First off, here are the results of the Chelsea poll that ran on the website from Monday to today at noon. The question was where do you think Chelsea will finish in the 2010/11 Premier League?

Remember this is before the loss to Wolves today. There were slightly more than 500 votes cast on the poll and the numbers below have been rounded.

Champions 6%

Runners-Up 6%

Third 28%

Fourth 32%

Fifth 22%

Sixth 4%

Seventh or lower 2%

Go back a little over nine weeks when many pundits had dismissed out of hand the chance of any other side winning the Premier League and I am guessing that 80% of the votes would have been polled in the top two categories. Eleven games later and Chelsea are on a run of form that would be troubling for a side in a relegation battle.

Two wins, four draws and only 10 points in eleven games. Any thoughts that the goals may start to flow again based on three goals against Aston Villa look to have evaporated after being beaten by then bottom of the table Wolves and shut out to boot.

Nine points adrift of Manchester United is a real predicament but Chelsea have to play Manchester United twice. The glass half full crowd could claim that a double against Manchester United and Chelsea is back in contention.

However, the three teams between Chelsea and Manchester United make this a very different proposition and one we have not experienced for some years. For not only do Chelsea have to make up ground on Manchester United they have to hope and pray that Spurs, Arsenal, and Manchester City stumble a few times along the way.

That is one of the reasons why the more nervous Chelsea fans (and perhaps owner) will be more focused on staying in the top four rather than on retaining the Premier League title. At least Spurs took a fall at Everton which kept them in check.

Which brings us to the game at the Emirates earlier tonight. Whenever your two closest rivals draw (and another two lose) it is a good night – step up Manchester United. No doubt about United coming out ahead tonight.

In terms of Manchester City, they set out looking for a draw and it was a case of mission accomplished. However, it will take a lot to convince me that it was such a bad result for Arsenal particularly when placed in the context of the losses inflicted at Everton and Wolves on Spurs and Chelsea. Arsenal had the majority of the pressure against City and they hit the frame a couple of times and the defense was rarely tested by a largely unadventurous City side.

But just as it was a game City could ill-afford to lose it has to be considered the same for Arsenal. And when you place it in the context of the remaining fixtures in a top 5 (it will either stay the same or a team or two will drop back – I don’t believe Sunderland or Bolton have the squad strength or temperament to join the advance group) it becomes a much better result than at first glance.

Here is what we have left in relation to a top mini-league and the current points for each should they win games in hand – essentially placing each side on 22 games each with 16 to play.

Manchester United 50 points

Spurs (a)

Manchester City (h)

Arsenal (a)

Chelsea (h) and (a)

Arsenal 43 points

Spurs (a)

Manchester United (h)

Manchester City 42 points

Manchester United (a)

Chelsea (a)

Spurs (h)

Spurs 39 points

Manchester United (h)

Arsenal (h)

Chelsea (a)

Chelsea 38 points

Manchester City (h)

Spurs (h)

Manchester Unite (h) and (a)

The other four teams would kill to be in Manchester United’s position and United seem best prepared to go on a winning run out of any of the leading group. Nonetheless, don’t go writing off the draw as an Arsenal failure – that would be very premature.

37 responses to “Midweek Premier League – Was It Really Such A Bad Result For Arsenal?”

  1. Soccerlogical says:

    Bobby – Any chance of Kaka saving Ancelloti’s season with a loan/transfer move to Chelsea? Or do you think Mourinho will utilize the Brazilian as a support striker for Ronaldo (should Benzema be benched for poor performances and Ronlado be deployed as a striker as a result of no buys for Madrid in the transfer window).

    Or none of the above?

  2. Derek Taylor says:

    If City and Spurs had both won, would the goalless game have been a bad result for Arsenal?

  3. Bobby-

    This was Arsenal’s chance to win tonight but as they always do they failed to deliver. Things may change but something tells me they are going to find a way to fall apart in the end. They lack the pedigree to close teams out when it matters the most.

  4. Soccerlogical – I will have a Real Madrid/Villarreal piece up in the next couple of days and I suggest that Ronaldo playing as a number 9 is the best option and the one most likely by to be taken Mourinho.

    Do we really think that Mourinho would support a move to prop up a team that (a) fired him and (b) is a rival in the Champions League?

    I would see Kaka as someone that also adds cover should Ozil get injured or press him for the starting position.

  5. Trick question? “If City …. had both won” then Arsenal could not have drawn.

    If you mean Chelsea and Spurs had both won then it still would not have been a bad result based on the fixture list that remains. With Chelsea and Spurs losing it put an even better complexion on the result.

    The ESPN commentators went on about the result leaving Arsenal 2 points behind Manchester City but I never heard then talk of a game in hand let alone the wider context of the fixture list.

  6. Gbenga – I am interested to hear from Arsenal watchers on this one but in the games against Chelsea, Birmingham and Manchester City I felt there was a solidness to Arsenal that has not been seen for a quite a while.

  7. Derek Taylor says:

    Oops…my bad on the typo.

    Just testing to see if you really believed that the draw isn’t a bad result.

  8. We are even cos you caught my typo on the original article.

  9. Mike says:

    The result in itself should be seen as a disappointment, as one would hope a (almost) fully fit squad to win at home, especially given the excellent performance. Arsenal had problems this season with quite a few teams from outside the top-5, and at the moment, Manchester United having two games left to play against Chelsea is not exactly a disadvantage, though that may not be true in March/May when they meet.

    It is hard to argue that the Arsenal/City result will not be seen as a good thing at Old Trafford, which implies it is a bad one for Arsenal. The title race is a zero-sum game.

  10. RabidDeathMoose says:

    Being a good result for one team doesn’t automatically mean it’s a bad result for another. In this case with United winning it’s seen as a good result for them (Arsenal’s draw) but since both Chelsea and Spurs lost it can also be considered a decent result for Arsenal, especially since as it was already mentioned, they have a game in hand over City.

    The way in which Arsenal drew the game can be looked upon favorably as well (unlike City) since they bossed the vast majority of the contest and hit the woodwork some 3 or 4 times.

  11. John Bladen says:


    At the risk of sounding overly profound (Oh God), the recent forms of both Chelsea and Liverpool aren’t all that surprising.

    If we look at the actual opponents both faced early, their respective starts aren’t shocking at all. Going from memory a bit (always a big risk for me…), LFC played Arsenal, Man C & Man U through the first five games. Chelsea, the record tells me, started WBA, Wigan, Stoke, WHam & Blackpool.

    Ok, so Blackpool aren’t easy to play against (as it turns out!), but it’s no surprise Chelsea looked like a juggernaut against those opponents, while LFC made some of their less confident fans fear relegation after five games.

    Fast forward a couple of months, of course, and LFC are in mid table (still worrying to some fans, but frankly, this is where their talent level should put them, IMO. They aren’t a top 6 team any more. Firing Hodgson would not change that), Chelsea is falling – perhaps a further than they should, yes, but their 6 goal/gm pace was never going to carry on very long, and United, City & Arsenal are at or near the top.

    Sure, it hurts when your club falls to Wolves (unless you are a Wolves fan) or W.Ham, but most clubs drop a game or two that they shouldn’t throughout a season.

    Now, if only we could make the gunners’ attacking players actually shoot for the net when they are alone just outside the 6 yard box…

  12. John Bladen says:


    Re: Ian Darke & McManaman

    I give them a pass on some of the post game comments… they were clearly just filling time for the network (why? cut to highlights of the other matches, pls). Maybe we should be thankful they didn’t break into song…

  13. Mike – “Arsenal had problems this season with quite a few teams from outside the top-5” – realizing that there is a slight difference between the bottom half and teams outside of top 5 but nonetheless Arsenal have the best record in the Premier League against teams in the bottom half of the table.

    Another point of interest in this season’s Premier League is the trouble teams are having winning away from home. I have been meaning to do an article on it but have yet to get round to it. It is a continuation from last season when the league hit an all time low in away wins. It appears that based on historical averages away wins have dropped while draws have increased.

  14. John Bladen – First of all (assuming it was you) thank you for a sane comment on the Globe and Mail article of a couple of days ago on Toronto FC’s vision of playing Total Football.

    Your point regarding Chelsea’s start was the one I made many times on FSR during the first couple of months of the season. However, I picked out December as the month that would tell us a lot about Chelsea; what I did not expect was their poor form in November.

  15. Derek Taylor says:

    @ John Bladen:

    In regards to the opponents both teams have played so far this season, Chelsea is 8 points behind last season’s pace. Liverpool is 9 points off. Compared to last season, they’re both a disaster so far.

    With Chelsea, we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised at some of the different results this season. Losing at Arsenal (instead of last season’s win) is believable. Same (to a lesser degree) for the game at Anfield. Turning a Villa win into a draw, and dropping 3 at Wolves…awful.

    Liverpool: dropping 3 (vs. last season) vs. Wolves, 3 vs. Blackpool and 2 vs. Sunderland…yuck.

  16. Russell Berrisford says:

    Dropping 3 points at Wolves was bad enough for Chelsea, but what was even worse was that they rarely looked like coming back from going an early goal behind.

    Admittedly I was flicking between three games but last season the Wolves goal would have been under siege and I saw no sign of that yesterday.

  17. Soccerlogical says:

    As a punter, my first criteria before picking ANY “winner/draw no bet” is whether the CURRENT team creates enough chances to come back from a 1 goal deficit.

    With Malouda and Essien blowing cold, Benayoun injured and Lamps just returning.. I would sooner bet on a Liverpool home win against a bottom 3 side than a Chelsea home win. They need to dump Kalou and get a Benayoun-like player ASAP.

  18. Stingy Voyeur says:

    Sir Bobby,

    What’s your take on Mancini’s parked bus at the Emirates?

    Personally, I think it’s bad for football. City did not even get one shot on target. City has this astronomical budget and parks an expensive Ferrari bus. If you’re going to park a bus it might as well be a frugal Fiat inside of an expensive Ferrari. Managers like Mancini is why I hate to watch the Italian national team and Serie A. Negative, boring, anti football. Bad for the game and a cowardly way to play. Cheers to TFC going Total Football philosophy and not Italian.

  19. John Bladen says:

    Thanks, Bobby. I can’t remember the comment, but if it was under my name it was me.

    I assume it received the usual “yer talkin’ out of yer ass”/thumbs down response from the TFC faithful…

    Yes. Chelsea’s form hasn’t been good. That said, they are getting older, of course. And they haven’t been buying the way they once did. I don’t consider it a bad thing (except for rabid Chelsea fans) for the EPL top and bottom to move loser together.

    So, is this early returns as clubs prepare for Platini’s Financial fairplay rules? Or just an aberration?

  20. John Bladen says:


    Hmmmn. I don’t think I suggested that Chelsea and Liverpool were as good as last year. Clearly they aren’t. But do you think they (LFC in particular) are playing below their talent level?

    Obviously, in games against Wolves, both did (though I have to point out, Wolves very nearly stole a point v Man U in early November). But in general, when you look at their approximate positions in the table and their talent level (especially keeping in mind injuries and illnesses), I don’t see any great surprises. Chelsea should be a bit higher, but I wouldn’t have expected them to lead the league at this point.

    Now, surprises? Ok… Blackpool… hands up everyone who had them in mid table come January…

    And the thing is, they’ve done it the ‘right’ way. They didn’t spend their EPL TV cash on released has-beens in a failed attempt to cling to the premiership. They bought a couple of fairly low cost short term players (still with impressive lists of legal troubles… maybe that’s the key…) to augment the squad that won their place in the EPL last year.

    Maybe they will hit the skids and end up relegated. It is still possible. But I hope not. I’d love to see a small team prove that you don’t have to be financially reckless (or wrecked) to survive in the EPL.

  21. John Bladen – I have a UEFA financial fair play regulations article in mind; hopefully next week.

    Here is a piece of speculation re Chelsea. What if Abramovich’s purchase of Chelsea was part of a risk management strategy? For an investment of 500M (when we include players) Abramovich bought himself a global profile and “insurance” against the Russian state going after him and his fortune on trumped up charges.

    For normal working stiffs like ourselves it seems ludicrously expensive but at that time I believe his wealth was estimated in the 16B range. That would mean 500M comes in around 3% of his wealth.

    He has his profile, he is obviously on-side with the Russian leaders – maybe he has achieved what he set out to do and he has a good deal of interest.

  22. John Bladen re Blackpool – there is also the knock on effect. How many owners are pointing at Blackpool when managers come looking for a transfer pot or when agents want bigger contracts?

    I think it many have been Barry Glendenning who threw out the idea of Holloway for Liverpool. If they are looking for reincarnation of the Spirit of Shankly then they could do worse do you think?

  23. Sting Voyeur – I think Mancini is managing to the situation – he never showed himself to be a negative coach during his time in Italy whether it was with Fiorentina, Lazio or Inter. In fact if there was to be a criticism of Mancini while in Italy it would be that his teams were too cavalier.

    As for Serie A being negative – don’t agree. There are far more coaches in Serie A trying different formations and tactics than you will find in the Premier League in my estimation.

  24. John Bladen says:


    Interesting. I hadn’t considered that. Berezhovsky and some others have probably paid more for their ‘escape strategies’ than RA did, and they no longer have their Russian revenue streams either. Of course, like Khodorkovsky, BB wasn’t anywhere near as chummy with Bad Vlad it is healthy to be…

    Re: Holloway.
    Hmmn. Good one. I hadn’t considered that… but Holloway (from the little I’ve seen of him) does remind me of Bill Shankly’s approach to the game. I think he’d be a good hire for any EPL club (assuming he is available… if I were Blackpool I’d make sure he isn’t).

    I wonder if he is someone who would appeal to the Henry group? They “look” like they want a big name Manager. Having said that, they hired Francona for the Red Sox, who was hardy high profile…

    A couple of my Kirkaldy friends and I were discussing the “who replaces Hodgson” thing at New Years. The general concensus was that it would be madness to fire him, but that it is virtually certain to happen. Whither, then?

    Know who we settled on? Big Sam. Not because we thought he was the best choice (we really, really didn’t), just ‘because’. If a club is letting the fans choose when to fire the present manager, why not let them elect the new one by popular vote as well…

    I enjoyed the exchange today, Bob. Thanks.

  25. Stingy Voyeur says:

    Sir Bobby,

    What is Mancini’s fascination with playing 3 holding MFs? OK, Yaya plays more advanced now but he was a holding MF @ Barça and I wouldn’t exactly call him a creative MF. He insists on playing that pedestrian tool Barry who is totally useless in my humble estimation. All he does is pass square balls and act as a pylon for the likes of Nasri and Ozil (at the WC). And he has often insisted on playing Milner ahead of Johnson. For me, I’d rather have Johnson ahead of Milner as AJ has more pace, creativity, and is far more dangerous. Also, if Mancini couldn’t find a way to implement Adebayor into this lineup than what is he cooing to do with Dzeko? Play him as a fourth holding midfielder and hope to catch more teams on the break? Much prefer seeing Barça’s philosophy or Arsenal’s (Barça Light or Diet Barça … half the taste and calories) than City’s. I understand Mancini is trying to manage the situation (playing at the Emirates) but he wasn’t even trying to win and I think that what Cesc was saying to him at the end of the match. It’s a cowardly way to play. Like the way Chelsea played at Barça in the first leg UCL SF a couple of years ago. It should not be rewarded (and ultimately wasn’t then). Tottenham did not play that way when they visited the Emirates and they came away winning that game (salute to Rednapp). Chelsea did not play like cowards at the Emirates and I couldn’t see Man U capitulating to cowardice at the Emirates. If you want to be Champions then play like one and not like a cowards. It’s bad for the future of football when bus parking wins championships … like Italy 2006.

  26. Stingy Voyeur says:

    Sir Bobby,

    It would not have been unjustified for Roberto to have received a red card at the end of the match.

    Anyhow, good work on the Soccer Report and keep up the fine analysis. You are one of the commentators on the tele that doesn’t count Arsenal out of the EPL title and does not worship on the Beckham alter. Beckham’s always been overrated as a footballer and I really don’t know how he’s going to help Tottenham. Sell jerseys maybe …

  27. Stingy Voyeur – Ya Ya Toure play the old Patrick Vieira role perhaps?

    I cannot disagree with you on Gareth Barry – said at the beginning of the season that he would have trouble lasting till season’s end. However, he seems to have a difficult time getting dropped no matter how poorly he plays.

    David Silva is the one who can give City something different from just behind the strikers – great wee player.

    The introduction Dzeko will be interesting – can’t see how they can play him without changing the formation radically.

  28. John Bladen – re Big Sam and allowing the fans a voice. Images of the French revolution, the guillotine and the baying mob comes to mind.

  29. Stingy Voyeur says:

    Sir Bobby,

    Two questions. 1) Can (or, better yet, will) The Arsenal top the table by season’s end? 2) Will Chelsea get a CL spot?

    Personally, I see Chelsea (or make that Chel$ki) getting rather long in the tooth. If they were boxers we could say that they are shot or got old over night. Rather aged. A fine red gets better with age … Chelsea, not so much.

    I’ll go out on a limb here. My crystal ball shows me @ season’s end:
    1 The Arsenal (they’ll be rested after their Barça adventure)
    2 Man Utd
    3 Tottenham (& to beat Milan in UCL; know you don’t think so)
    4 Man City
    5 Chelsea (Roman to enjoy Europa League fixtures next year)

  30. Stingy Voyeur says:

    Nothing spells doom for a side more than malaria. Here’s a call for all EPL sides to invest in proper bed netting.

  31. Vegasjaz says:

    Would Chamakh (spelling?) have been a better selection than Bendtner?

  32. VegasJaz – I think if Chamakh had come on then the only option would be to play him through the centre. That then raises the question of what do you do with Van Persie.

    Option 1 would be to play him through the centre with Chamakh but that changes the shape of the side and leaves Clichy potentially exposed if Richards should venture forward and combine with Adam Johnson.

    The other is to move Van Persie out to the left side then you lose the movement and mobility of the Dutchman – I think Chamakh is an excellent player but not necessarily for every occasion

    Don’t necessarily want to keep on beating on McManaman but I think viewers should expect a little bit more tactical insight than (paraphrase) “Arsenal need to pump the ball into the box.”

  33. Scott says:

    It was not a bad result. But I thought Arsenal deserved the win anyway.


  34. John Bladen says:

    Bobby & Vegas:

    I think we were all a little surprised by Wenger’s selections up front late in the game. Putting Bendtner out wide seemed a bit odd.

    Just to clarify, Bobby, are you saying that moving to a straight 4-4-2 w either Bendtner or Chamakh up top would have left Clichy exposed or trying to play either in the 4-3-3/4-5-1 (or any of the other more or less equivalent/meaningless numerical formations they bombard us with these days…) would have exposed Clichy?

    Not that I would expect brilliant tactical comment from either Darke or Macca (I like them as commentators, tho), but they did sound surprised (as I think we all were) that Bendtner played wide rather than modify the formation a bit (or pick an alternate winger to sub on).

    Wenger’s addition of Chamakh was good, in my opinion. Unfortunately, he was an answer to last year’s problem (no Van Persie, thus Arshavin had to attack defenses 1-4… and he was never going to win many aerial battles…).

  35. No exactly. If you were going to stick with a 4-3-3 but two through the middle there was no one to pin Richards back. If you go 4-4-2 you are changing the shape of the side late in the game and that comes with a risk – particularly after pressing all game and with legs tiring. Also I don’t see 4-4-2 being more attacking than 4-3-3.

    I didn’t think Bendtner playing wide was that surprising as we have seen in in that position before or on the right side. It also gives an option with a ball deep to the back post and a bigger man coming in from a wide position – although I can’t recall Arsenal actually playing such a ball.

  36. Gbenga Subair says:


    You are very correct and their seem to be this level of tenacity and ruthlessness in them never seen since the days of Bould, Keown, Viera, and Adams who took no prisoners back then. The games you mentioned, I watched them also and noticed how they didn’t panic when Birmingham started getting rough on them in the early stages of the game. Time will tell, but I am looking at key matches when they meet Chelsea, Man U, Spurs and others in the latter stages of the season. I felt they had the Man City game but weren’t decisive enough to go for it. The season gets interesting before the Champions League starts late Feb.

  37. Wenger's Love Child says:

    Uncle Bobby, Vegas, and John,

    Here’s another vote for someone scratching their head over Arsene’s late game substitutions. Personally, I believe Bendtner is Danish for “farm implement”. But, if you are going to bring him on and use him as a ‘Plan B’ then he would be best utilized centrally up front and by moving van Persie to the left. RVP is far better with the ball at his feet, picking out a pass, and is more mobile than the Dane. Also, Bendtner provides the stronger aerial presence than RVP up front. That being said, I would have preferred seeing Chamakh substituted on and used centrally instead of Bendtner if you’re going to use that approach (with RVP moved wide again in a 4-3-3).

    As for a change in Arsenal’s formation I believe that would have been a huge mistake. They play 4-3-3 and have all year. They’re not suited for that style. Also, they were bossing the game with Man City and the game is at the Emirates. Keep the pressure on City and keep them on their back foot. Bring in some fresh legs yes, change shape no.

    Personally, what was needed in this game for Arsenal was a little better clinical finishing and someone brought on to unlock the stingy City defense. So the insertion of the much maligned Arshavin was a good choice. I would have taken off Wilshere for Arshavin and moved Nasri into Wilshere’s spot along side Cesc and made the front six look like this:


    I believe this is Arsenal’s strongest attacking lineup. If van Persie is struggling with match fitness late then Chamakh as a straight substitution would be prudent. I still like Wilshere and believe he should be utilized but this type of game was begging for the skill set of Arshavin’s finishing and passing abilities.

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