Monday, 23 January 2012

Manchester clubs trump the north London cards

So Manchester gained the whip-hand over north London on Sunday as City beat Spurs 3-2 and United beat Arsenal 2-1.

Manchester City only just squeezed over the line against Tottenham with a last-gasp penalty taken by a player who might not have been on the pitch on another day, as Mario Balotelli supposed "stamp" went unpunished, but might have resulted in a sending-off on another occasion. My opinion is the same as Lee Dixon's on Match of the Day: there was enough doubt about the action to merit no action. Indeed, it may be that Howard Webb didn't even see it as his head was partly turned away when Balotelli's foot came down.

Perhaps, however, Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp should use his words to Gareth Bale and Jermain Defoe for failing to convert a glorious chance seconds before Balotelli's telling spot kick. It's all about points of view, isn't it?

And so it was in the Arsenal v. Manchester United game as Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was roundly criticised and booed for substituting the threatening Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with Andrey Arshavin as minutes ran out at the Emirates. The fact that Arshavin was ineffectual in preventing United's winner would not help Wenger's case. But he must have had his reasons. He said: "Arshavin is captain of the Russian national team. You have an 18-year-old kid making his first Premier League start and a player who is captain of his country and they are querying the substitution?"

Although no manager - including Wenger - can be right 100% of the time, I am staggered that Arsenal fans can doubt the man (trophyless for six years or not). Look around, you Gooners. If you sacked Wenger, who would be your ideal managerial candidate?

Monday, 16 January 2012

Why do we have corners in football?

Many years ago my grandfather, who was not a great football follower, asked me (as a teenager) why, when a defending team put the ball over the goal line, was a corner kick given.

"Well," I replied, "that's the rule: if the defending team puts the ball over the goal line, a corner is awarded."

I had missed his point.

"Yes," he said, "but why is a corner given? Why is play restarted by kicking the ball in from the corner of the pitch?"

I couldn't answer him. I had no idea and still don't. I suppose someone came up with the idea as being a good way of giving the attachking team a chance to score when the defending team had knocked the ball out of play past their own goal line.

Perhaps a more pertinent quesion for football would have been: why do players throw the ball in with their hands when the ball has gone out over the touch line? That is a bit odd.

About 15 years ago there was an experiment at a low level (approximately Isthmian League level) where they played a season kicking the ball rather than throwing it. Presumably it didn't prove a success, or we'd all be doing it now.

Odd rules when you examine them, but maybe they show that not all is wrong in football, and some things are just right.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Third round weekend delivers as expected

It proved to be an interesting FA Cup third round weekend (as it so often is), from Paolo Di Canio's Swindon Town knocking out Premier League Wigan Athletic to Thierry Henry making a dream comeback for Arsenal, scoring the winner against Leeds United.

The Manchester derby didn't disappoint as we had the return of Paul Scholes, a dubious sending-off of Vincent Kompany as United roared into a 3-0 lead, and a stirring effort to peg United back from City - yet the half-time pundits on both ITV and Sky would have had City "accept and settle for the 3-0 defeat so that it wouldn't get any worse"! A pathetic assessment, and one that would no doubt have had any City fans growling with anger.

Crawley Town pulled off a giant-killing, by dumping Bristol City out of the cup, and Macclesfield Town (2-2 with Bolton Wanderers) and MK Dons (1-1 with QPR) came close and get a second chance.

As for Henry - fair play to him, and will be interesting to see if he can deliver in the Premier League, but from a Leeds United's fan's perspective, the overwhelmingly biased coverage by ESPN on Monday night was little short of disgraceful.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Where to look for Round Three shocks

As ever, when FA Cup third round day comes around, we all look for shocks. Of course, it's no longer "a day" as the third round is spread over four days this year, starting with Liverpool v Oldham tonight - no shock there, I'm sure.

The majority of the ties (26) take place on Saturday, so where might the shocks come?

Barnsley might knock out Swansea City at Oakwell given Brendan Rodgers's propensity to turn his nose up at anything that's not devoted to survival in the Premier League. Crawley Town could prove a tough trip for Bristol City. Fleetwood Town against Blackpool could be a tasty local encounter, but it's hard to see anything other than a Blackpool win.

For a real giant-killing, Macclesfield Town might fancy their chances against Bolton Wanderers, whose form has not been inspiring in the Premier League this season, but their recent 2-1 over Everton might have given them the boost they need.

Recent cup-fighters and form-team Cardiff City might also think they've got a good chance against West Brom at the Hawthorns, and it may depend on the strength of the side Roy Hodgson puts out.

On Sunday the might of Manchester meets head-on at City, with United probably having the bigger need to win, following back-to-back defeats. Without doubt, it's the tie of the round.

On Monday Leeds United travel to the Emirates, but it's hard to see anything other than an Arsenal win, despite the same tie last season going to a replay after a 1-1 draw at the same ground.