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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 and and frequently guest on various podcasts and radio shows.


Rear View Mirror – The Genius of Messi And Variety Spice’s Arsenal’s Life

Written by on January 23, 2011 | 8 Comments »
Posted in General

The Good

Such was the performance of Arsenal on Saturday that Wigan were very fortunate to get 0. It is doubtful that we have seen a 45 minutes of play this season in the Premier League in which one team has been so dominant.

The only thing stopping Arsenal from leading by seven or eight at half time was a profligate attack and a stunning performance of shot blocking from Wigan goalkeeper Ali al-Habsi.

There was an improvement from Wigan (it could not have been any poorer) in the second half but Arsenal scored twice to add to their 1-0 half time lead. Van Persie’s second of three goals was wonderfully executed after a postage stamp pass from Cesc Fabregas.

One thing that has become more noticeable as Fabregas and Van Persie have worked their way back to match-fitness  is that Arsenal have added a little bit of variety. They seem to willing to play more long angled passes out to the wings – especially to Theo Walcott.

By mixing things up a little Arsenal’s build up has become less predictable and it also creates more space between the opponents defensive lines.

It was an team line up that was built around ample pace in midfield and in attack but as it turned out it was the performance of James Collins and Richard Dunne at the heart of the Villa defence that was instrumental in the win over Manchester City.

Collins and Dunne have not had the best of seasons but they were outstanding in repelling the City attack. Collins was especially good making tackles, intercepting passes, winning the ball in the air and throwing his body at goal bound shots.

Still too early to claim that Hearts may be part of a three horse race for the Scottish Premier League but they are making a good case at the moment. Hearts consolidated their third place in the league with a 1-0 win over second place Rangers on Saturday.

It was Hearts’ 12th win in 14 games and pulls them to within two points of Rangers with a game more played. Hearts travel to play league leaders Celtic on Wednesday and are hoping to cut into Celtic’s seven point lead and Celtic have played a game more.

Hearts were the last side to split the Old Firm in the Premier League when they finished second in 2006.

Many find that Barcelona’s dominance has already grown to the point of boredom. I don’t proscribe to that view and instead find that there is something to learn every time I watch Barcelona. Take their opening goal against Racing Santander on Saturday.

As Messi moves into the penalty area 99% of players would have tried to cross the ball behind the defenders or looked to go around the first defender and take advantage of the space that was vacant behind him.

However, there were problems with both options. The first is that penalty area is packed with bodies and even Messi might struggle to find the head of a team mate if he opted for the cross. If plays a low hard cross the defenders are more than likely going to clear the ball for another corner.

If he opts to take the defender on and drive to the line there is some decent defensive cover behind the first defender and again the most likely outcome is a corner after a defender blocks Messi.

Messi instead acts counter intuitively and cuts back across the penalty box and into defensive traffic. But by doing so he wrong foots the Santander defenders as they move to counter his move. Messi then plays a wall-pass with Villa who has made himself available by coming ever more slightly deeper and when the return pass is delivered into the space behind the Santander backline Messi then has a clear run on goal.

Christopher Samba may in some ways be the antithesis of Barcelona but there are many ways to contribute to a game. Blackburn struggled early in the game against West Brom and found it difficult to establish any sort of domination. But Samba’s play at both ends of the field was really important in turning the game Rovers way.  When he went forward at set plays he was a constant treat; defending he made some crucial interceptions and blocks.

Dimitar Berbatov netted a hat trick but it was Ryan Giggs that floated over the turf on Saturday against Birmingham. It is easy to let the present dictate superlatives but there are few that would dispute that Ryan Gigs through his two decades of football has been a joy to watch.

The Bad

Manchester City looked tired, fatigued and jaded in the game on Saturday against Aston Villa. You would not have needed a fortune teller to predict that Villa would come out on an emotional high after signing Darren Bent in midweek.

Nonetheless City looked ill-equipped to deal with a turbo-charged Villa. By the time City got their bearings Villa were 1-0 and had a lead to defend. It was noticeable how devoid of attacking ideas City were when faced with a team that quickly got goal side but that also that carried a counter-attacking threat.

Two recorded shots on target is testimony to a disappointing City effort.

After forecasting that we would see nearly as much of David Beckham as we would of the Spurs – Manchester United last Sunday I was proved wrong by only a handful of Beckham shots.

However, the director in charge of Arsenal v Wigan must have been told to up the quota as we sufferred through shot after shot of Becks and his kid sitting at the Emirates. You could hear by commentator Martin Tyler’s tone that he had almost run out of ways to link Beckham and the game as the camera shots came fast and furious.

Strange that the moment when Beckham could so easily have been linked to the action on the field the director chose to completely ignore it – Van Persie skying his penalty over the bar and far away.

Stats Facts

Dimitar Berbatov completed his third hat-trick of the season on Saturday. This one came against Birmingham and Berbatov became only the third player to achieve a hat-trick of hat-tricks in a Premier League season. Alan Shearer did it twice while Ruud Van Nistelrooy was the other.

Maybe it is time to hear from all the “Berbaflop” writers from a year ago?

What team has won seven and drawn one of their last eight games, have a positive goal difference for the season and yet are still bottom of their league? That would be Dundee. After a 25 point deduction for going into a second Administration Dundee have 11 points and hold up the other nine teams in the Scottish First Division.

The good news is that they only trail second from the bottom Stirling Albion by a point although Stirling have three games in hand. However, with half the season remaining there is hope that Dundee can avoid automatic relegation and perhaps even a relegation/play off should they finish 9th – Ross County are four points up on Dundee with two games in hand.

More importantly though is the survival of the club and coming out of Administration.

Liverpool’s 3-0 win away to Wolves was the first time in 13 away Premier League matches that they have scored more than a goal in any of these games.

Kieran Richardson became only the seventh player to score for Sunderland this season.

The last minute equalizer from Aaron Lennon gave Tottenham a precious point away to Newcastle. It was the first time in 22 Premier League meetings between the two sides that the game finished as a draw.

The penalty Wigan gave up to Arsenal was the first they had conceded this year. No matter, Van Persie skied it although Gary Caldwell was sent off for the foul on Fabregas.

Frederic Piquionne’s sending off  against Everton was not only the first red card issued to a West Ham player this season but the first shown in a Premier League match involving West Ham.


You would have got 3/1 on an Everton – West Ham draw.

Player of the Weekend Nominees

Ali al-Habsi (Wigan Athletic)

Robin Van Persie (Arsenal)

James Collins (Aston Villa)

Raul Meireles (Liverpool)

Ryan Giggs (Manchester United)

Christopher Samba (Blackburn Rovers)

Thiago Motta (Milan)

Remember to tune in to Monday’s Fox Soccer Report to hear the winner.

You can get updates through RSS (top of the page), follow at Twitter BobbySoccerRep, or on Facebook

8 responses to “Rear View Mirror – The Genius of Messi And Variety Spice’s Arsenal’s Life”

  1. Pep 5 Jose 0 says:

    Nice review Bobby. My pick for player of the week goes to Robin van Persie. The Dutchman got his first EPL hat trick and should have had at least a fourth, if not more. That is, if it were not for Ali al-Habsi who would have got my vote if the score was a bit tighter. I can remember thinking to myself during the first half of that game that Ali could very well be on his way to PotW honours and that a goaler should get it one of these times. But that would not be a good idea this week for Arsenal Nation. He can always get his clean sheet v ManU instead.

    The bonehead of the weekend was Piquionne. He was on a yellow and gets a second for the post goal celebration. Very stupid. His team goes to ten men and concedes shortly thereafter. The lad very well cost his team two points due to not using his head for more than a hat rack.

    Yes, ManU beat Arsenal at Old Trafford 1-0. But the Gunners had key guys coming back from injuries who did not start and came on about the 70′ mark (namely RvP and Cesc). Also, Wenger did not start Theo that game and the speed element he brings to the team does change the way the opposition plays AFC. Now, Arsene knows his best XI, and barring key injuries, ManU is not likely to beat Arsenal as it did earlier this season (on a very fortunate and speculative header). Speed kills. And speed with skill even more so. Having both Theo and Nasri out one the wings is the recipe. So too, for Harry Redsnapper to have Gareth Bale as a winger and not as a fullback, but I digress.

    Bojan Watch: Got about ten minutes. 0 goals, 0 assists, and did little of significance … unfortunately.

    Mancini Watch: Did remove The Tool at about the 60′ mark. However, I cannot lay any blame on him for this one. His team just did not perform and let their gaffer down. He could, however, consider reducing The Tool’s playing time a further 60′ for the benefit of the team.

    Bent Watch: 1 goal (game winner), 3 points. He is already putting a completely different complexion on a team I had thought prior to be a complete disaster. His pace and goal scoring threat adds a different dimension to what was in his stead (especially Carew). Already starting to pay dividends on that inflated premium paid? Indeed. And I, for one, definitely thought that Villa overpaid.

  2. Roger says:

    Great website! Speaking about Barcelona, I don’t think that watching Barca is boring. But I can see why people get bored of the lack of competition for them in La Liga. Right now, as it stands, not even Real Madrid can compete. On to competing with Barcelona, what do you think about teams ditching the offside trap against them or at least not playing so flat in the final 18. Would this combat the short wall pass to thru balls behind they like to play? Maybe the defenders should cheat a little back. I guess the question is how do you defend against them? What do you think?

    The thing about Ryan Giggs is he very seldom has a bad game. He is so consistently good, and then a few times a year he his lights out. Like last Saturday. He played with speed, energy, and confidence.

  3. Ursusarctos says:


    “Strange that the moment when Beckham could so easily have been linked to the action on the field the director chose to completely ignore it – Van Persie skying his penalty over the bar and far away.”

    Naughty …

    “Liverpool’s 3-0 win away to Wolves was the first time in 13 away Premier League matches that they have scored more than a goal in any of these games.”

    Ha! But this was only LFC’s first away match of the season (Blackpool last week was too soon) where they actually tried to play attacking football on the road, instead of meekly sitting deep and aiming to avoid defeat with a 0:0 draw.

    … Ok, he’s gone, I’ll stop the anti-Woy rhetoric …

    If I’m reading the Scottish First Division table aright, were it not for the points deduction Dundee would be leading on GD? Argh … But if GD is the first tiebreak in Scotland, at least that’s one less point (in effect) that Dundee need by season’s end to avoid the drop, given their vastly better differential. Hope everything works out, Bobby – I didn’t realize that there might still be worse to come in March.

  4. Dundee’s next hurdle is later this week (January 28 I believe) when they are due to bring a creditors proposal forward. The good news is that the amount owing is less than expected – now around $4m rather than $5.5M. Good and bad news is that the club are going to pocket around $250,000 selling striker Leigh Griffiths to Wolves; the bad news of course is that they will be losing a goal scorer. For Wolves fans – you are getting a pacey and direct striker who is still raw but has an eye for a goal and is well worth a gamble at $250K. You will need to be patient though – he is not ready for the Premier League. The best you might expect is the odd late substitute appearance. Anything else would be a bonus.

    File under irony – Stirling Albion have just hired Jocky Scott as their manager. Jocky is a Dens legend as a player and managed the club three times. He was fired last year when Dundee were top of the Scottish First Division. Jocky also spent time with the Seattle Sounders in the NASL.

  5. AntonioSaucedo says:

    No La Liga team may be able to compete against Barça, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a competitive league. Last year Aleti finished 6 –if my memory serves me right– and won the Europa League. That’s depth. I predict this year will be no different, meaning, Spanish teams going far in Europe but lagging behind the mighty Catalans. BTW, next year will see the other Catalan side in Europe. Espanyol are kicking some serious behind at the moment and show no signs of slowing down.

  6. Gus Keri says:

    I second UA statement.

    By the way, on any other week, Meileles would the POTW. The only thing that was missing is a hat-trick. But wait! He is not supposed to. This was his best in Liverpool shirt since coming aboard.

    Liverpool reminded me of the good old days with a wonderful display. But I am trying to keep my feeling in check. there were too many false dawns before.

  7. Theo van Nasregas says:


    I hear you. You’re preaching, at least with respect to me, to the La Liga choir. Too many people think that La Liga is just a Spanish version of the SPL with only two top teams. But it’s far more deep than that. Athletico and Sevilla have recently won the Europa/UEFA Cup. One year, the final was between two La Liga teams. Also, three of the final 16 in the UCL are from La Liga and Valencia almost beat out ManU to top their group. Theo the Contrarian says that La Liga is the best league on the planet (especially technically). But nobody listens to old Theo. That game on the weekend between Valencia and Malaga was an absolute firecracker with goals, 2 reds, drama, etc.

  8. Theo van Nasregas says:

    What’s going on in Spain is a testament to just how special this Barça squad is and not an indictment of the quality of the league.

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