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Dublin: 3°C Thursday 4 March 2021

Premier League parting shots

A case for Andre Villas-Boas’s defence; vintage Wenger and normal service resumed in Manchester. Miguel Delaney analyses the day’s action

Robin Van Persie personified Arsenal's fist-pumping defiance
Robin Van Persie personified Arsenal's fist-pumping defiance
Image: PA

A case for Villas-Boas’s defence

A huge result at Stamford Bridge today, and not just in terms of the number of goals scored. Having looked like real, hard-bitten title contenders again in recent weeks, Chelsea are all of a sudden nine points off leaders Manchester City.

Of course, as sensational as Robin van Persie was today, the result did largely come down to chaos in Chelsea’s defence – personified by John Terry’s but probably better exemplified by such openness on the flanks. As has been mentioned repeatedly in the hours since the game ended, Chelsea have now conceded as many goals after 10 games as they did in all 38 of Jose Mourinho’s debut campaign in 2004-05.

This is to somewhat miss the point though. First of all, Mourinho built every team from the back up. It was his specialty. And that 15 goals is among the best Europe has ever seen.

Andre Villas-Boas has a very different approach. Everything is predicated on attack. Cohesion there, however, is harder to achieve. Whereas a defence can be constructed with immediate order and discipline, attacking requires deeper understanding. As such, it’s going to be no surprise that Chelsea will occasionally slip goals. In a team whose age ensures there’s a certain amount of transition, it’s going to take time for this to become a true Villas-Boas team. Today, they were someway short of that. But the hope for Chelsea supporters is that Roman Abramovich realises the importance of affording his young Portuguese manager time and not – like some – responding snappily to such a freakish scoreline.

Vintage Wenger… in every sense

By contrast, Arsenal are buoyant again after slowly, steadily – and, occasionally, somewhat sloppily – building momentum. Out of such an atrocious start to the season Arsene Wenger’s side are now very much back in the mix for the Champions League places.

But, while Van Persie’s goal ratio is now reaching preposterous Messi-Ronaldo levels, Wenegr can today be encouraged by the variety and vibrancy of his team today. Theo Walcott’s goal capped a fine performance in which he also put in some superb crosses while Andre Santos’s goal was a glorious break.

Most of all, though, the movement that lead to Van Persie’s first was vintage Wenger: clinical, one-touch, exquisite. Of course, we also saw some vintage Wenger at the other end. But this was still a strong statement of defiance.

Normal service returns to Manchester

After last week’s ludicrous events, it was back to normal for the Manchester clubs as both ground out decent wins.

In that context, United’s win was of course the more important. But, as well as getting them back on track at a ground where they haven’t won since 2007, the victory over Everton also illustrated exactly what they were missing against City. With Tom Cleverley returning to action, United looked much more fluid and inventive. At the other end, Nemanja Vidic provided a solidity to their defence. Against City, the young midfielder might have helped United maximise their control of the first half while Vidic would have ensured they weren’t unravelled so easily at the back. It isn’t a stretch to say the result would have been drastically different with those two at the team.

To give City credit, though, they showed good character again against Wolves. Twice in this game, their exact fortitude was being tested: first when it was 0-0 and frustrating at half-time; second when their team was reduced to 10 men and their lead reduced to one goal when Vincent Kompany brought down Kevin Doyle for Stephen Hunt’s penalty.

But, despite getting nowhere near the level they reached at Old Trafford – which perhaps illustrates how much they wanted that game and how much it exaggerated their performance – Roberto Mancini’s side stepped up in impressive fashion.

  • In the 3-3 draw at Carrow Road, Norwich showed why so many people admired them while Blackburn showed why so many people fear for them. At 3-1, Steve Kean’s side should really have closed the game out. Instead, they capitulated in the face of the kind of proactive attacking that has made them so popular.
  • Bolton and Swansea, meanwhile, appear to have swapped positions and perceptions. Before the season began, many were wondering whether Swansea would be capable of making the step up while Owen Coyle’s side were still considered a refreshing attacking force – even after the slump that followed their FA Cup semi-final defeat. The 3-1 win, however, emphasised how its Swansea who look the much more upwardly mobile – and, interestingly, attractive – team at the moment. Bolton are still suffering the after-effects of that dismal run.
  • Speaking of dismal runs, Wigan have now lost seven in a row. Against Fulham, this was exactly the sort of game to end it. Defeat does not bode well for Roberto Martinez.

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