United seeks to exploit rivals’ inactivity
United seeks to exploit rivals’ inactivity
United moved to the top of the pile by beating Arsenal 2-1 last weekend and with nearest rivals Chelsea and Manchester City both in action tomorrow, victory at Villa Park would put Alex Ferguson’s men four points clear.
Having beaten Chelsea and Arsenal in their last two league outings, United now embark upon a kinder run of fixtures that includes a trip to Norwich City before home games against Queens Park Rangers and West Ham United.
Wednesday’s 3-1 win over Braga in Portugal means Ferguson can afford to rest players in United’s two remaining Champions League group games, so the domestic title race will now be the number one priority until the end of the year.
Villa are just one place above the relegation zone, and United striker Wayne Rooney says his side should show no mercy as they bid to stretch their lead at the summit.
“There have been games this season where we’ve been fantastic, and there have been games where we’ve had to grind out results,” he told Sky Sports.
“We’re in a good position and we know we can play better football. Now we have a run of games where we feel we can get maximum points, so hopefully we can do that.” Arsenal’s Champions League status is less secure, Tuesday’s 2-2 draw at Schalke having left them in second place in Group A, and last weekend’s loss at Old Trafford saw them fall to seventh in the Premier League.
Arsene Wenger’s side have won just two of their last six games in the league and will be without the suspended Jack Wilshere when they host Fulham, who are level on points with Arsenal despite a run of one win in five matches.
Arsenal have seen Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and even West Bromwich Albion steal a march on them in the race for Champions League qualification, and Theo Walcott says his team must now stand up and be counted.
Everton go into today’s visit of Sunderland in fourth place, but they are hoping to end a sequence of four straight draws, having being denied victory at Fulham last weekend by a 90th-minute Steve Sidwell goal.
West Brom, meanwhile, will have their work cut out away at Wigan Athletic, who are bidding for a third consecutive victory after wins over West Ham and Spurs.
It could be a decisive weekend for bottom side Southampton, who host Swansea City amid speculation that coach Nigel Adkins’ position is under threat after eight defeats in his side’s first 10 matches.
Second-bottom Queens Park Rangers take their bid for a first win of the season to Stoke City, while third-bottom Reading will hope to close the four-point gap between themselves and Villa when they host Norwich City.
Tottenham’s trip to Manchester City takes center stage on Sunday, when the defending champions will seek to bounce back from the 2-2 draw with Ajax on Tuesday that left them hovering above the trapdoor in the Champions League.
Fixtures (1500GMT unless
Wigan Athletic v West Bromwich Albion, Southampton v Swansea City, Stoke City v Queens Park Rangers, Reading v Norwich City, Everton v Sunderland, Arsenal v Fulham, Aston Villa v Manchester United (1730GMT)
Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur (1330GMT), Newcastle United v West Ham United, Chelsea v Liverpool (1600GMT)
Why even the #WengerOut brigade should lament Arsene Wenger's exit from Arsenal
- The Frenchman revolutionised the game in England across all leagues, not just the Premier League.
- After initial success he found the going tough in the second half of his reign, but will still go down as an all-time great.
Over the past few seasons it has been fashionable to view Arsene Wenger as some sort of figure of fun — a man living in the past, left behind by the modern game, but too stubborn to realize it.
In time, though, even the most ardent, frothing-at-the-mouth #Wenger Out believer would have to agree that the Frenchman will go down not just as one of the best managers Arsenal have had, but also among the greatest in English club football.
As with any caricature, there is a hint of truth in the picture created, crude as it sometimes is. Yes, Wenger’s past few years at the Emirates have been painful to watch. Yes, he was stubborn when it came to both activity in the transfer market and belief in his methods and tactics. Yes, it is fair to say he leaves the club, on the pitch at least, in a bit of a mess. And, yes, he should have left two or three years ago.
But if there is one thing that any sane fan should remember about Wenger’s 22 years as Arsenal boss, it is this: He was a game-changer, a manager who oversaw not only a revolution of the Gunners, but also of the English game.
As soon as Wenger landed in England in 1996, he banished Arsenal’s Tuesday drinking club and munching of Mars bars — in their place came stretching sessions and broccoli. Hardly profound or radical in today’s game, but this was the era when change in English football invariably meant no pies and pints on a Friday night.
The technical, passing, possession football that is now the norm for any side with ambitions to remain in the Premier League, let alone win it, and the idea that eating vegetables rather than a tub of lard would help player performance, were brought in by Wenger alone.
He won the double in his first full season in charge, signed unheralded foreign talent such as Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Viera — who went on to become world-class players — and created teams that were a joy to watch, culminating with “The Invincibles” of 2003-04, who won the Premier League without losing a match.
The irony is that the one-time revolutionary ended up being viewed as a throwback, a stuck-in-the-mud anachronism; a manager who harked back to a time when playing with the owner’s chequebook was not seen as the only path to success and when paragraphs were favored over 140 characters.
And that perhaps explains why so many Arsenal fans seemingly wanted him gone: Wenger is not of the Twitter generation, of instant opinions for the 24-hour news agenda and of hype over humility. The man who was once seen as the future stuck to principles that were deemed as belonging to the past.
It is clear there is a lot of bad blood at the club — a ridiculous Facebook post by an Arsenal fan claimed Wenger’s announcement he was leaving made it the “greatest day in Arsenal’s history.”
But for all the bluster and nonsense, Wenger’s legacy will be that of “The Invincibles” — one of the greatest club sides of modern times; of beautiful football played at pace and with artistry; of being a decent, yet flawed, man who was never anything but articulate and courteous.
Having been in charge of Arsenal for 22 years, he is undoubtedly the last of a kind, and in the era of trigger-happy owners, short-term fixes and sensationalism over stability, that is something everyone, even the #WengerOut brigade, should lament.