During the arduous English Premier League season, teams falter at the sight of the home stretch. Fulham seems to be experiencing a free fall until they encountered the troubled Manchester United and eked out a draw. Crystal Palace which appeared doomed to relegation has gotten renewed life under the tutelage of Tony Pulis. Hull City that was coming on strong has hit a rough patch and has joined the race to the bottom. Cardiff City remains a lost cause as they were beaten by their cross-town rivals, Swansea, 3-0 over the Sochi weekend.
Nonetheless, the game of the week was Liverpool’s devastating defeat of Arsenal which has knocked the Gunners out of first place to third place, behind Chelsea and Manchester City. Liverpool is perched on fourth.
Arsenal has improved this season but even though they “toyed” with first place, the team from the beginning of the season lacked true grit. Under the right circumstances, Arsenal is capable of playing attractive football. They have a bunch of creative players that can make mediocre teams look bad.
But Arsenal falls apart when they confront precision passing teams like Manchester City or Liverpool. Manchester City trounced Arsenal by scoring a half dozen goals and this weekend, Liverpool in the first half exposed the wobbly nature of the Arsenal mid-field and the lack of pace of their defenders.
It appears that with a third of the season remaining, Arsenal has peaked too soon. Ozil is not having the impact on games as he did at the beginning of the season. Giroud is experiencing a scoring drought. Ramsey even before his injury had become less of an impact player and the injury to Wilshere has impeded his development.
They certainly miss Walcott’s pace who is lost for the season. But Wenger lacks the adroitness of a Brendan Rodgers in putting together a championship team. The Arsenal players do not complement each other as too many have the same attributes. The mid-field with Arteta, Flamini, Wilshere, et al, is far from stellar and lacks an outstanding defensive mid-fielder like Alex Song. The team lacks leadership on the field and fails to adjust at crucial moments of a game.
Rodgers may not win the EPL this year but he has put together a team for the future. Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling and Coutinho are young lions who will grow and heighten their level of ferociousness. Coutinho in his come-back from his shoulder injury was far from sharp but as he displayed in the Arsenal game, he is growing into a top class playmaker who deserves to be included in the Brazilian squad for the World Cup.
The three S's at Liverpool are the most potent attacking force in the EPL. Sterling has come a long way this season and has benefited immensely from playing with Suarez and Sturridge. Rodgers has bolstered the mid-field and the last four. Gerrard has played well as the defensive mid-fielder and Henderson is now an asset in mid-field.
Rodgers has shown what it takes to construct a first class professional soccer team. Wenger seems wedded to Euro-cultural homogeneity, a strange blindness in an age of globalization. Arsenal’s quest for greatness is diminished with Wenger at the helm whereas Liverpool is on the cutting edge of achieving greatness. Ball Harambee By Bagga Wilks