1. Arsenal’s defence is in danger of ruining their hopes of a Champions League spot
At the start of the season, Arsenal’s defensive problems had supposedly been rectified, with the addition of Gunners legend Steve Bould to the coaching staff being largely credited for the side’s apparent transformation at the back.
However, while there were encouraging signs initially, these indicators have turned out be nothing more than a false dawn.
The Londoners’ tendency to be the arbiters of their own downfall is illustrated by the fact that they have made more errors leading directly to a goal than any other team in the Premier League this season.
Arsenal have been as inept as ever at the back in recent games, with last night’s 2-2 draw with Liverpool providing further evidence of their deficiencies. Both the Liverpool goals were avoidable, while the hosts could have easily conceded at least one more, when Wojciech Szczęsny ill-advisedly tried to dribble the ball past an onrushing attacker at one point in the first half.
The Gunners’ attack contains the excellent Santi Cazorla and the improving Olivier Giroud, but if players such as Per Mertesacker and André Santos continue to be relied upon, the prospect of Champions League football next season looks highly doubtful.
2. Wayne Rooney is still an integral part of the United side
YouTube credit: Stephen Montfort
Rooney has not always been at his best this season, and has clearly been outshone by the irrepressible Robin van Persie.
Indeed, the Dutchman’s dramatic rise to prominence has been so impressive that some have questioned whether United even really need the England international any longer.
Yesterday however, the 27-year-old emphasised his continuing worth to Alex Ferguson’s men, with two archetypal poacher’s goals, as his side narrowly beat Southampton 2-1.
His immense value and significant contribution to the club over the years is further reflected by the statistic that he has now scored more braces than any other player in Premier League history, bar Thierry Henry and Alan Shearer.
So despite Van Persie’s excellence, Rooney cannot be written off and should remain one of the first names on the United teamsheet, provided he maintains his fitness.
3. Wes Hoolahan deserves a full 90 minutes next Wednesday
Of the few Irish players regularly playing Premier League football this season, Wes Hoolahan has been among the four or five most consistently excellent.
He was superb again last night, and got a decisive goal, as the Canaries picked up a respectable point at home to Spurs.
Therefore, on account of his form, Trapattoni must seriously consider starting the ex-Shelbourne man for Ireland’s upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
Hoolahan could be an invaluable asset to his country, particularly as he is one of the few Irish players who has looked effective playing as the most attacking midfielder in a 4-5-1 formation – a set-up that Ireland should seriously consider for the trip to Sweden in March.
At the very least though, he deserves a full 90 minutes of action in order to showcase his talents in Wednesday’s friendly with Poland.
4. It’s one of the weakest Premier Leagues of recent times
In the Champions League earlier this year, two of the four English sides, including the reigning league champions, Manchester City, exited the competition prematurely.
Moreover, despite qualifying for the knockout stages, both Arsenal and Manchester United have rarely looked like serious contenders for the trophy.
And the past week has added further support to the notion that England’s domestic game is in decline.
Several of the league’s supposedly best teams have failed to beat ostensibly inferior sides in the FA Cup, while even more tellingly, the League Cup final is being contested by Swansea and Bradford.
Granted, top-tier sides seldom play their first XI in these competitions, but the amount of money they put into developing their squads means they should still be able to overcome the likes of Oldham and Brentford without undue difficulty.
And even after having had the luxury of being able to rest players for the cup, over the past 48 hours, Manchester City and Chelsea, two sides with title aspirations, have failed to beat QPR and Reading – teams who are currently in 20th and 17th position in the table respectively.
5. Adam le Fondre is England’s most underrated striker
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When asked to name the best striker in the league so far this year, most neutral observers would suggest either Robin van Persie or Luis Suarez.
Reading’s Adam le Fondre may not be as naturally talented or as eye-catching as either, yet his recent goalscoring record is comparable with both his more illustrious counterparts.
Following his two late goals against Chelsea last night, he has now scored 12 in total this season, including six as a substitute and five in his last three matches.
Therefore, the English striker is in form that’s as good as any striker in the league at the moment, and as a consequence, deserves to be regarded with greater respect.
He will, at the very least, expect to start for Reading more regularly in their upcoming matches.