Moyes sacked: 3 basic reasons why.

Two tweets brought to an end David Moyes’ 10 months in charge of Manchester United.

And with that “the chosen one” was discarded.

It seemed an uneasy fit from the start. Alex Ferguson may have anointed Moyes as his successor, but that didn’t necessarily mean he would be a similar success. The younger Scot had done stellar work at Everton with limited resources, however managing a global phenomenon like United was something altogether different.

He was handed a six year contract however, with the idea of establishing a legacy like Ferguson’s. At the time many football fans and analysts praised the length of the contract as it would allow Moyes to put his own stamp on the club. So what has prompted his departure with less than a year of that contract gone?

1. Results.

The first reason is the easiest to quantify. As of now, Manchester United are in seventh place in the Premier League. They are 13 points behind Arsenal, who occupy the final Champions League spot. Moyes’ supporters may point to a lack of quality in the United squad bequeathed to him by Ferguson, but it is almost exactly the same roster as that which won the Premier League last season.

Home form in the league was not what United fans have come to expect. Losses to Everton, Newcastle, Spurs, Liverpool and West Brom at Old Trafford helped destroy any European ambitions for next season.

Losses to Swansea in the FA Cup, Sunderland in the Carling Cup, and Bayern Munich in the Champions League  compounded the misery for Moyes in a season which actually began with some silverware in the shape of the Community Shield.

 

2. Playing Style

Manchester United under Ferguson could play a defensive game if necessary. Andre Pirlo was critical in his autobiography of Ferguson’s tactic of deploying Park Ji Sung to man-mark him in a big European game. However United were always a threat going forward, they played the game at a high tempo and could catch opponents on the break should they show the temerity of attacking the Red Devils.

Under Moyes, United played an uninspiring brand of football. There was rarely the sense that they could come back if they went behind in a tie. Build up play was too slow, there was too much emphasis placed on crosses into the box.

The final straw for United fans (and perhaps the board) came on Sunday when they travelled to Goodison Park to face Moyes’ old club Everton. His successor Roberto Martinez has the Toffees playing an exciting brand of football that has seen them challenging Arsenal for fourth place.

Never in over a decade of Moyes’ reign at Goodison, not the thirty-odd years beforehand, had Everton done the league double over Manchester United. After winning 1-0 at Old Trafford earlier in the season, Martinez’ men coasted to victory at the weekend. To an outsider, it would have appeared that the home side were the defending league champions. United’s build up play was turgid and unimaginative, and they rarely looked capable of penetrating a well organised Everton defence.

The contrast between the two sides must have been difficult for United supporters to take.

The Grim Reaper looks on at Goodison Park on Sunday

The Grim Reaper watches on at Goodison Park on Sunday

3. Personality and experience

There is no denying how well Moyes did at Everton. He came across as a man in total control, and earned plaudits from all over due to the fighting spirit he instilled in his team. They finished fourth in the league in 2005, a remarkable achievement given the resources at Moyes’ disposal.

That gave them the opportunity to play European football, but a loss to Villareal in the Champions League qualifier was followed by an early UEFA Cup exit at the hands of Dinamo Bucharest. Subsequent UEFA Cup experience between 2007 and 2009 followed, but the two games against Villareal were Moyes’ only experience at the top level of European football.

He didn’t seem able to handle the increased scrutiny that comes with the Old Trafford job. He rarely looked comfortable at press conferences, and horrified United fans when he said that Manchester City were playing at a level United had to aspire to. It may have been the truth, but it wasn’t a wise admission to make publically.

United’s squad is in need of a major overhaul, and without Champions League football as an incentive, prospective players will look at the manager in charge as a key factor in whether they move to Manchester. Ferguson, Mourinho, Guardiola. They all have an aura about them that entices top players. Moyes, for all his qualities, does not.

 

Lucky loans, Coleman’s class, and mid-table mediocrity: 3 talking points after the weekend’s Premier League action

Loan players strike again:

After all the talk about players loaned from Stamford Bridge, there was a touch of irony that it was Chelsea who suffered at the hands of a loan player on Saturday. One from title rivals Liverpool no less. Fabio Borini scored the penalty which gave Sunderland a much needed three points and condemned Jose Mourinho to his first home defeat in 77 games.

There may have been controversy over whether Chelsea should have been awarded a spotkick before Sunderland were, but Gus Poyet and his team won’t mind. Their luck had to change sometime.

The defeat for Chelsea means they must go to Anfield and win next week to stand a chance of winning the Premier League. Brendan Rodgers might have enough forward talent at his disposal right now, but the least the Liverpool manager could do is send Fabio Borini a very large Easter egg.

 

Seamus Coleman’s wonderful season:

His manager recently described him as one of the best full-backs in the world, and his man of the match performance against Manchester United will have done Seamus Coleman’s burgeoning reputation no harm either.

The Donegal man has scored six goals in the league from right back this campaign, but it is his marauding runs from his own half deep into enemy territory that have really caught the eye. He has a wonderful ability to control the ball at pace and an eye for a pass too. It was his through ball that set up Kevin Mirallas for Everton’s second goal today.

Leighton Baines has been a key player for Everton for a long time now, and with Coleman on the other side of the defence the Toffees can probably claim to have the best full back pairing in the league.

Irish fans will hope that Coleman can be as effective in a green jersey as he has been in blue when the qualification campaign for Euro 2016 begins in September.

 

Mid-table a kind of purgatory:

When there’s nothing left to play for bar league position, it seems that some teams find it difficult to motivate themselves for the end of season run-in. Spurs, Manchester United and Southampton have all been unpredictable in the last few games, but no team seems to be looking forward to the summer holidays as much as Newcastle United.

The Magpies have lost their last five games in the league, most recently at home to Swansea on Saturday. Their poor run of form has coincided with Alan Pardew’s stadium ban, but a lack of motivation has to be a factor too. They have been at the wrong end of some hammerings lately, but on Saturday it was a lack of focus which let them down. Wilfried Bony struck twice for Swansea at the end of each half, with Newcastle players seemingly thinking of the comfort of the dressing room.

Newcastle fans are getting restless, and rightly so. Liverpool fans will be happy though. If Newcastle are this lacklustre with a few games to go, how bad will they be when they come to Anfield for a potentially crucial clash on the last day of the season?

Everton v Manchester United: As it happened

Today’s game comes from Goodison Park, where the focus will be two-fold. How will Everton fans react to David Moyes’ first visit back to the club he managed for over a decade? And can the home-side get back on track in the race for a Champions’s League spot?

Roberto Martinez’ side fell to a 3-2 defeat to Crystal Palace in midweek which leaves them a four points behind fourth placed Arsenal, albeit with a game in hand. The Toffees beat United 1-0 at Old Trafford in December, and a win today would give them their first league double over the Manchester side in over 40 years.

United, for all the criticism aimed at them this season, have the best away record in the league. They have lost only four of their 17 games on the road.  They are looking for a fifth successive away win today, which would help them in their bid for European football next season. They lie seventh, six points behind Spurs but with a better goal difference and two games in hand.

Everton will be hoping Romelu Lukaku can come up with a goal or two today. Last time he played a game at home against United, he was playing at the Hawthorns for West Brom on the last day of last season. In Alex Ferguson’s last game in charge, the Belgian international helped himself to a hat-trick in a crazy 5-5 draw. Ferguson’s successor will hope the United defence holds firmer today.

While Moyes did an excellent job with limited resources during his time at Everton, fans on Merseyside have been privy to a prettier style of football this year. The Toffees have not suffered as a result of Moyes leaving, but the work the Scot did during his time at the club shouldn’t escape supporters at Goodison this afternoon.

Team News: 

Everton: Howard (c), Baines, Distin, Stones, Coleman, McCarthy, Barry, Mirallas, Barkley, Naismith, Lukaku. Subs: Robles, Hibbert, McGeady, Deulofeu, Osman, Garbutt, Alcaraz.

Man Utd:  De Gea, Jones, Smalling, Evans, Büttner, Carrick, Fletcher, Nani, Kagawa, Mata, Rooney. Subs: Lindegaard, Giggs, Hernandez, Welbeck, Valencia, Fellaini, Januzaj.

You may have to refresh the page to update content. New posts will appear at the top. Comments on the games can be posted underneath or tweeted to me at @AlanKeane23.

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Full time thoughts: A dominant performance from Everton and they keep the momentum up in their chase for Champions League football. There was less of the intricate passing that has been a key trait of the side this season, but a combination of fast counter attacks and long balls to Lukaku were equally as effective against a lacklustre United.

It was an unhappy return to Goodison Park for David Moyes, and his side simply didn’t do enough to trouble Everton today. There was little imagination on show when it came to trying to find a way past a solid home defence. There is nothing really left for United to play for this season, and their fans will be counting down the days until the transfer window opens and new players can be brought in. It remains to be seen if Moyes will be the man trusted with splashing the cash, however.

93 mins – Substitution. Aiden McGeady gets a few second as he replaces Kevin Mirallas for Everton.

91 mins – Smalling has remained in an advanced position and Wayne Rooney finds him with a perfectly weighted cross from the right. The defender should do better, failing to find the target with a header from close range.

90 mins – 4 minutes added on at the end of the 90.

89 mins – Seamus Coleman gets the seal of approval from former right back Gary Neville. The Sky Sports pundit names the Donegal defender his man of the match. Well deserved.

87 mins – Chance! Rooney gets himself one on one with Tim Howard but the keeper saves well. First real chance of the afternoon for United.

86 mins – Mata gets the ball in space but plays an ill-advised ball to Hernandez behind the Everton defence. He should have realised the Mexican was offside. Lazy play from the Mexican.

81 mins – Mirallas nutmegs Fletcher and wins a free for obstruction. Everton well on top and look increasingly comfortable with the minutes tick away.

80 mins – Coleman again finds space down the right and finds Lukaku on the penalty spot. His shot is blocked away for a corner.

78 mins – Chance! Everton have a numbers advantage as they break from deep. Coleman releases Naismith and his low drive from just outside the box forces a superb save from De Gea who got down quickly to his left.

76 mins – Chance! A cross from the right finds Naismith who has lost  his marker Valencia. The chance is a little difficult as the ball is slightly behind him as he connects but he still should have hit the target.

75 mins – Smalling concedes a corner under pressure which comes to nothing for the home side. However Everton are definitely on top as we reach the last quarter of an hour.

74 mins – Substitution. Last throw of the dice for Moyes as he brings on Welbeck for Kagawa.

71 mins – United have passed the ball almost double the amount of times Everton have this afternoon. 445 to 225. Unusual for a Martinez team to be outpassed at home but they’ve still been more clinical with the possession they’ve had. United still haven’t really created a clear cut chance.

69 mins – Substitution for Everton as Ross Barkley is replaced by Leon Osman. The youngster has put in a good shift at the left of midfield today, although he would more than likely have preferred a more advanced role. It’s all about the collective cause for Everton however, and Osman will contribute solidity in the last twenty minutes or so.

67 mins – Offside called against Mata as he attempts to get on the end of a dinked cross from Kagawa. Howard punches clear in any case.

66 mins – Wonderful powerful run from Ross Barkley as he thunders through the United defence. He’s forced wide however and his shot from a difficult angle fails to trouble De Gea.

64 mins – McCarthy might feel aggrieved after Rooney escapes a caution for the same sort of tackle on the Everton midfielder.

63 mins – Fletcher, in a central position shoots horribly wide after some inventive build up play down the left from Hernandez.

61 mins – Lukaku shoots straight at De Gea after latching onto a through ball.

60 mins –  Substitutions for United. Valencia and Hernandez come on for Evans and Nani. Valencia goes to right back with Chris Smalling joining Phil Jones in United’s central defence.

59 mins – Yellow card for James McCarthy for a sturdy tackle on Mata. The Irish international gets the ball but his trailing leg takes a decent chunk of Mata.

56 mins – Alcaraz rises highest from a Baines corner but can only head straight at De Gea.

52 mins – Baines trips Nani on the edge of the box. Mata’s free kick strikes the wall and Everton clear.

50 mins – Coleman another long run from the Everton defence. He gets inside the box to take a shot but can’t find the target.

49 mins – Smalling gets a yellow card for coming out the better of a 50/50 with Barry.

47 mins – Kagawa stings the hands of Howard with a long range effort. The keeper gathers at the second attempt.

45 mins – First chance of the half for Rooney. The striker finds himself in possession close to the Everton goal but he can’t make enough room to get the shot away.

17:12 – Second half begins. Alcaraz replaces Distin in Everton’s first substitution. No changes yet for United.

Half time thoughts: Everton may not have had the majority of the possession in the first half but they have made the most of the ball when they’ve had it. Seamus Coleman has been a constant threat down the right, with neither Kagawa or Buttner able to keep tabs on him. Kevin Mirallas has worked tirelessly down the right flank for the home side, tracking back on numerous occasions. The home side have created chances too with simple long balls over the top, where Evans and Jones have struggled to deal with Romelu Lukaku.

United have kept the ball well in the middle third, but they just haven’t been able to find a way through the tight Everton defence. Crosses from either side have yielded few positive results, and maybe Wayne Rooney needs to stay closer to goal rather than dropping back into an already crowded midfield.

In the second half as United chase the game, Everton will have more chances to break with the speed of Coleman in particular a key asset. It’s set up to be an unhappy return to Goodison Park for David Moyes.

45 mins – A Rooney corner ricochets off Gareth Barry and into the arms of Howard. That’s the last meaningful action of the half and the teams leave the field.

42 mins – GOAL! Mirallas. Juan Mata takes Baines out of it witha  late tackle. Clattenburg plays advantage as Everton advance with the ball. Coleman has the time to pick out Mirallas with a fine through ball which the winger dispatches low across De Gea into the far corner. Everton fans using the medium of song to question whether David Moyes is viewing the game.

38 mins – The home side were almost in again. They break from the midfield but Mirallas slips at  the edge of the box before they can take full advantage of a 3 v 3 situation.

35 mins – Everton have created 7 chances to United’s one so far. Intricate interplay down the right between Coleman, Naismith and Mirallas almost results in chance number 8 for Lukaku. The Belgian can’t get on the end of Mirallas’ cross.

32 mins – United have had a lot of possession in this first half, but the majority of it has been in the middle of the park. The away side lacking a cutting edge so far.

30 mins – Yellow card for Phil Jones for the handball by the way.

26 mins – PENALTY! Third time lucky for Everton. The home side break and Lukaku lets off a shot from the edge of the box. Phil Jones dives to block and the ball clearly hits his hand. Leighton Baines takes the penalty and drives it straight down the middle to keep his 100% scoring record from the spot this season. 1-0 Everton.

21 mins – Big chance for Everton! Lukaku does extremely well under pressure from two defenders to head a ball into the path of the unmarked Naismith. He had enough time to take a touch but puts his first time shot well over.

18 mins – Another shout for handball but referee Mark Clattenburg having none of it. A snapshot from Naismith hit Johnny Evans on the elbow as he dives to block it but again there was little he could do. No complaints from Everton players in any case.

17 mins – Nice diagonal ball from Rooney finds Smalling at the byline. He manages to pull the ball back across the box, but Howard gathers easily.

15 mins – Shouts from Everton fans for a handball as Chris Smalling tussles with Lukaku in the box. Looked to hit the defenders hand but he didn’t seem to know much about it.

14 mins – Nani, Kagawa and Mata showing some nice passing and movement in tandem early on for Manchester United.

10 mins – Seamus Coleman is the player most likely to make an impact so far. His runs down the right have been Everton’s best outlet in the first ten minutes.

8 mins – A Coleman cross eventually makes its way to Barkley. He blasts his left footed half-volley well over the bar.

7 mins – Fairly even in the opening minutes. Neither side able to make progress beyond the middle third.

2 mins – First rampaging run from Seamus Coleman. The Donegal native glides past Kagawa and Buttner before mis-hitting his cross.

1 min – Chris Smalling is at right back for Manchester United. Phil Jones starts in the centre of defence.

16:10 – And they’re off!

16:08 – Moyes gets booed by a sizeable portion of the home fans as he emerges from the tunnel.

16:07 – Teams are out on the field. Minutes to kick-off.

16:05 – Nani in the Manchester United side today. Moyes must be hoping the Portuguese winger can keep one of the Everton full-backs quiet. Coleman and Baines have ten goals between them this season.

16:00 – After Arsenal’s convincing 3-0 win away at Hull, the onus is now on Everton to get a win and keep up the pressure on the Gunners. Two Podolski goals after Aaron Ramsey’s opener leaves Arsenal four points ahead of Everton with a game more played.

15:45-

15:40 – Marouane Fellaini only makes the bench on his return to Everton, following his £27.5m move to Old Trafford on transfer deadline day last September.

15:35 – 

 

 

3 talking points after weekend’s FA Cup and Premier League action

Pressure is on Liverpool from here on out.

Yesterday’s victory over Manchester City makes Liverpool the outright favourites for the title. They may still have to play Chelsea but their form is such that they should fear no one at Anfield.

In the run up to yesterday’s crucial clash with City, Brendan Rodgers did all he could to take the pressure off of his side. He pointed to the expectations of both sides at the beginning of the season and told the press that all the scrutiny was on Manuel Pellegrini’s expensively assembled outfit. Rodgers can’t expect anyone to buy the “no pressure line” from here on out.

It doesn’t matter if you start the season hoping to make the Champions League or to just avoid relegation; if you are top of the table with 4 games left the pressure is no longer on the teams below you. No matter how understanding your fans are, or how calm the players appear in interviews, expectations rise and nerves jangle.

Liverpool go to Norwich next weekend with the Canaries desperately battling against the drop. Jordan Henderson, a stand out performer all season, is suspended for three games after a rash tackle late on yesterday.

It goes without saying but every game Liverpool play from here on out will be tougher than the last. The weight of 24 years is upon them.

Arsenal celebrate close call against Wigan.

Arsenal players’ celebrations in the aftermath of Saturday’s FA cup semi-final were worthy of FA Cup champions. Perhaps it was the adrenalin coursing through the veins following a penalty shoot-out, or relief at still being in the hunt for silverware this season, but celebrating a win over a Championship side (even if they are current FA Cup holders) is not something to shout about.

It’s unlikely that former Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira, or indeed his nemesis Roy Keane, would find something worth celebrating in such a narrow win. For much of Saturday’s game it looked like Wigan would be on their way to a second consecutive FA Cup final. The Latics were aggressive and persistent in closing down Arsenal and in players like Callum McManaman they had the ability to worry the Gunners’ defenders.

Arsene Wenger may yet leave at the end of this season, and if he is to leave Arsenal the gift of a first trophy in almost a decade then his side will have to perform much better in May’s decider against Hull City.

Luck plays a part at both ends of the league.

Everton went to Sunderland at the weekend desperate to leapfrog Arsenal into the fourth and final Champion’s League spot. Their opponents needed a win to kickstart a climb from the bottom of the table.

The two sides huffed and puffed for the majority of the game, with few standout performers. Gerard Delofeu was perhaps the most likely to make a difference and in the 75th minute it was his cross that deflected off of Wes Brown and past a stricken Vito Mannone.

With such tight margins at the top and bottom of the table, that one goal could go a long way to seeing Sunderland relegated and Everton playing in the Champions League. Such is football.

Advantage Liverpool in race for Premier League title

Ten wins out of ten for Liverpool, and even if it wasn’t a ten out of ten performance today, all associated with the club won’t care. A 3-2 win against Manchester City leaves them five points clear at the top of the Premier League table.

Steven Gerrard was close to tears after the final whistle, the Liverpool captain debriefing his side in front of an ecstatic Kop. There is no player who deserves a league title more, but for vast swathes of the game today Manchester City looked like they might take the driving seat in the race for Premier League glory.

Liverpool started the brighter, with Raheem Sterling bamboozling Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart in the box before coolly converting in the sixth minute. Manchester City’s cause wasn’t helped by the loss of Yaya Toure with less than a quarter of the game gone. A knee injury led to him being replaced by Javi Garcia, with Fernandinho taking the Ivorian’s position as the most advanced central midfielder.

Garcia simply doesn’t have the mobility of Toure or Fernandinho, and throughout the rest of the first half Liverpool ran at City again and again. Minutes after Toure went off Martin Skrtel doubled the home side’s advantage with a header from a Steven Gerrard corner and it looked like Liverpool  could do to City what they have done to many teams at Anfield this season and run riot. Pellegrini’s men were thankful for the half-time whistle.

The second half seemed to be from a different game entirely. City began to dominate the midfield exchanges, with David Silva in particular a constant threat. It was he who made the breakthrough, prodding home in the 57th minute from a James Milner cross. Milner had come on for Jesus Navas and offered a little more physicality as City pressed for an equaliser. It was Silva again however who created the second goal for his side, when neat link-up play with Samir Nasri allowed him the space to get a shot off on goal. Glen Johnson’s attempt to block only served to divert the ball beyond Simon Mignolet.

The Kop was quieter now, and with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge not really able to make an impact on the game Manchester City looked the more likely to take the three points. Suarez in particular would have concerned Brendan Rodgers, as the Uruguayan was booked very early on and was involved in a few incidents throughout the game. He may have cut down on his diving antics for the most part but on one or two occasions today he was fortunate that Mark Clattenburg did not brandish a second yellow.

Liverpool did what title contenders must however, and scored against the run of play. Much of the credit will have to go to a player who will want none. City captain Vincent Kompany snatched at a clearance in the box and only found the onrushing Coutinho. The Brazilian still had much to do with the ball slightly behind him but the number 10 finished with aplomb.

In the closing stages Pellegrini pushed Garcia forward as City pressed for another equalizer, but even a Jordan Henderson sending off for a rash challenge late on was enough to derail Liverpool. On a day of remembrance for the 96 souls lost in the Hillsborough tragedy, Liverpool have given themselves the opportunity to make the perfect tribute 25 years on.

Chelsea still have to come to Anfield in a few weeks time, and there are enough games left for there to be twists and turns in the title race yet. Brendan Rodgers may play down the significance of today’s win, but with each victory the expectation grows on Merseyside. How Liverpool deal with the pressure will determine whether or not they lift the Premier League trophy on May 11th.

Arsene Wenger should leave Arsenal this summer

It’s not something to be said lightly. After all, no current Premier League manager has served for so long or given so much to the game. Yet this summer Arsene Wenger should leave Arsenal.

Arsenal have not won a trophy since the 2005 FA Cup. That same competition represents the club’s only chance of silverware this season. A win after extra time and penalties this evening leaves Arsenal facing either Sheffield United or Hull City in May’s final. However should Arsenal end the agonising wait for an accolade, it must be Wenger’s swansong, not the beginning of a new chapter for him at the club.

The Frenchman may have the final say on whether or not he signs a new contract, and indeed there has been talk of him being handed £100m to spend in the summer transfer window, but the time is right for Arsenal’s longest serving manager to go.

Incredible to say about a club who have consistently qualified for the Champions League, but Arsenal are stagnant. Their seasons have predictable peaks and troughs. This campaign, while they and their fans remained defiantly certain that their excellent pre-Christmas form would carry through to the end, everyone else waited for the implosion.

It wasn’t Schadenfreude on the behalf of  non-Arsenal supporters and analysts, it was just recognition of the Arsenal condition. Consistently inconsistent. The past few seasons have followed the same narrative. A slow start, concern over Champions League qualification only appeased by a strong finish from February to May.

This season however, boosted by the capture of Mezut Ozil and the form of Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal started strongly. They looked like genuine title contenders in the first few months of the campaign, but it just couldn’t last. The usual problems arose. A lack of strikers, poor performances against the other top teams, a lack of leadership when games got tight.

Heavy defeats to others in the title race have derailed Arsenal’s season and left them fighting for a place in the Champions League once more. Whilst shipping five and six goals against Liverpool and Chelsea respectively, what was more alarming for Arsenal fans was their capitulation to Everton last Sunday.

Watching the game at Goodison Park, there were two major talking points. It was striking to see how much Roberto Martinez’ side looked like the Arsenal of old. A team that passes the ball with aplomb and tears opponents apart with the speed of their play. The second thing was just how indecisive Arsene Wenger was when it came to substitutions.

He’s not a manager to make hurried changes, but with Arsenal 2-0 down at half time to the team threatening to put a stop to their incredible Champions League qualification record,  something had to be done. Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman were causing all sorts of problems down the flanks. Santi Cazorla was playing too central, allowing Baines space a player of his class can exploit. On the other side, Romelu Lukaku wasn’t being picked up by either Lukas Podolski or Nacho Monreal. This led directly to Everton’s second goal.

With Aaron Ramsay back in the squad after injury and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also available, the break or just after was the time to bring these players on and give the Everton midfield and defence something to think about. When did Wenger make these changes? With an hour gone and Everton 3-0 up.

Wenger can’t shoulder all the blame for not making changes in time. The players he selected to start the game have to step up and perform. That just didn’t happen and as a result Arsenal were blown away, not for the first time this season. Leaders seem few and far between on the pitch. Tomas Vermaelen is the captain but with a fully fit squad the Belgian would not make the starting XI. Why is a certified starter not handed the arm-band, someone such as Per Mertesacker or even Jack Wilshere? Because there is no one on the team right now who has shown the necessary leadership to be captain.

Wilshere and Ramsay are definitely future captain material, but they are still young and raw and they need a Patrick Vieira like figure to bring their game on to the next level. Paul Scholes may have drawn the wrath of Arsenal fans for his assessment of Wilshere on Sky Sports a few weeks back but he doesn’t seem the type to court publicity for his opinions. He was just giving his honest opinion.  A Jack Wilshere playing to his full potential would not just be good for Arsenal but for England too.

That is where Arsene Wenger has failed most blatantly, and perhaps the main reason the Gunners have not won a trophy in a decade. Wenger has not brought in a leader to replace the likes of Viera, Martin Keown and Tony Adams. Cesc Fabregas may have become that player had he stayed. Wenger has placed an emphasis on talented youngsters and while that project was and remains admirable it is nothing without the grit that a good leader adds to a side.

Ironically, the one player that could have contributed that leadership, albeit on a temporary basis, was Kim Kjallstrom. The Swede came to Arsenal in January, incredibly while nursing an injury that has kept him out until now. His experience may have been exactly what Arsenal needed for the second half of the season, but the decision to take him on injured, even with his parent club paying the wages while he remained out, was ludicrous.

Arsene Wenger’s detractors will point to Gervinho, Andre Santos, Sebastian Squillaci and others as examples of his inadequacy in the transfer market. That doesn’t do the man justice, as he was also responsible for signing Thierry Henry, bought for £11m and one of the bargains of the Premier League era. Nevertheless, the fact that flop Andrei Arshavin was Arsenal’s record transfer signing until Mezut Ozil shows a stubbornness on Wenger’s part to move with the times financially. While he has bought in some excellent players at reasonable fees, with Santi Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain two recent examples, he has yet to adequately replace Cesc Fabregas in the centre of midfield. Bringing in the 30 year old Mikel Arteta in the same transfer window that as Cesc left, with all respect to the former Everton man, was insufficient compensation for the loss of the younger Spaniard.

Manchester United have been criticised this season for their poor performances, and much of the blame has been put on the board and David Moyes for failing in the transfer market last summer. The last minute purchase of Marouane Fellaini at an inflated price has been questioned and rightly so. The Belgian has yet to prove his worth, and that money may have been better spent on a ball-playing central midfielder. But what of Mezut Ozil’s transfer to Arsenal? £42m for the German who, while undoubtedly a spectacular creative force, occupies a role in the team that other players already at the club could have filled.

The acquisition of Ozil brought Arsenal’s spending over the past three years close to £150m. This has been offset of course by the sales of key players Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri for a combined total of around £80m. The loss of this caliber of players certainly impacted on Arsenal’s ability to challenge for trophies, but it must be remembered that Tottenham Hotspur spent over £100m last summer and now look set to change managers for the second time since. Spending lots of money, whether you are a top six club or QPR, leads to expectations from the board and from the fans. Failure to meet those expectations usually proves to be the end for a manager.

David Dein leaving Arsenal in 2007 no doubt hindered Arsene Wenger. As Arsenal’s vice-chairman, he had a big part to play in transfer dealings during first decade of Wenger’s reign. Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas… All of these players were bought on Dein’s watch. In the interim, the club has been less of a force in the transfer market.

Thierry Henry was the first big-name player to leave in the aftermath of Dein’s departure. In the seven years since, Samir Nasri, Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas, and Gael Clichy to name but a few have followed suit. Wenger said in the summer of 2011 that if Arsenal sold both Fabregas and Nasri the club could no longer be called ambitious. Both players left in August. Former Arsenal player Niall Quinn said recently that if Wenger was to stay at Arsenal past the end of this season Dein should be reappointed. Given that Dein left due to irreconcilable differences with the rest of the board, his return to Arsenal is unlikely.

Dein’s exit left Wenger without a key ally, and it has shown in transfer dealings in the meantime. With the exception of Ozil, there has been no major financial investment in a player in recent years. What Arsenal fan can honestly say that Arsenal have bought a world class striker since Robin Van Persie came to the club in 2004? Eduardo had the potential before his leg-break, but Chamakh? Gervinho? Even Giroud can’t be considered in the same bracket. Wenger’s supporters may point to constraints put on the manager while Arsenal continue to pay off the Emirates Stadium, but if £42m can be spent on Ozil, then why could Arsenal not secure the quality striker they desperately need? Wenger’s reluctance to buy a proven goal-scorer in January has cost them dear this season, with Nicklas Bendtner the only senior replacement for Giroud.

Wenger cannot bring the club any further. Three losses on the trot and the “Wenger Out” brigade are in full voice. Three wins and they are title challengers, before another loss has Wenger vilified by certain sections again. There is no consistency on the field, and no consistency to some of the support off of it. The average level-headed Arsenal fan, who appreciates how much Wenger has done for the club, must also recognize that the time is approaching for the Frenchman to leave. The average Arsena fan is grateful for the Arsenal legends Wenger brought to the club, for the Invincibles, for the style of play that at times made Arsenal better to watch than Barcelona. But the average Arsenal fan, without setting up Facebook pages on the issue, surely knows that it’s time for a new manager to come in and breathe new life into the team.

Wenger’s battles with Alex Ferguson and later Jose Mourinho were some of the most fascinating in Premier League history.  The trophyless Arsenal narrative would be but a bed-time fairytale for young Spurs fans were it not for goalkeeping errors in the 2006 Champions League final and the 2011 Carling Cup final. Arsene Wenger introduced a style of play to the Premier League that entranced Arsenal fans and neutrals alike, but this summer he must leave before his legacy is tarnished.

Sheffield United and Hull will have other ideas but an FA Cup to end almost a decade of drought would be the perfect goodbye gift from Arsene to Arsenal.

 

 

 

Courtois conundrum for Atletico raises issue over loan system

Tomorrow afternoon we will know the make-up of the Champions League semi-finals. After overcoming Barcelona, Atletico Madrid will be hoping to avoid Chelsea in the last four, and indeed the final should they make it.

Why? It’s not because they fear Jose Mourinho’s side, but rather because their first choice goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is on loan from the London side since 2011, and were Atletico to field him against his parent club, it would cost them in the region of €3m.

While there is no denying the short-term benefits of loan arrivals to smaller clubs, the system is weighted in favour of clubs like Chelsea. Clubs who can afford to buy high quality players then send them on loan to gain experience instead of parachuting them immediately into the first team. These high quality players in many cases end up playing in the same league as their parent club, yet clauses in the loan deal stipulate that they cannot compete against them.

A case in point is Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian striker joined Chelsea for around £17m (including add-ons) in 2011. After a relatively underwhelming debut season, the 20 year old has matured into an exceptional attacking threat. Not for Chelsea, however. He joined West Bromwich Albion on loan in the summer of 2012 and went on to score 17 goals in the league for his adopted club. That was more than any individual playing for Chelsea managed that season. He scored for the Baggies against Liverpool, and netted a hat-trick against Manchester United on the last day of the season before returning to Chelsea for the summer.

On transfer deadline day last September, despite featuring in two of Chelsea’s early league games, Lukaku moved to Everton on loan after being deemed surplus to the requirements of Jose Mourinho. This season he has again been in good scoring form, with 13 so far. He (along with other loanees Barry and Delofeu) has been a vital component of Everton’s pursuit of Champions League football, and of Chelsea’s title tilt. His two goals in the first Merseyside Derby of the season prevented Liverpool from taking all three points. He scored last weekend against Arsenal to once and for all dump them out of the race for the Premier League trophy.

It didn’t go unnoticed by other managers in the league that Mourinho may have loaned out Lukaku primarily to take points off of Chelsea’s direct rivals. The fact that he couldn’t play against his parent club may also have shaped the title-race. In a tight game at Stamford Bridge in February, Chelsea took three points with a late John Terry goal.

The Blues aren’t the only team who have used the loan system to their advantage however. When Sunderland beat Chelsea 3-0 in November 2010, on loan Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck put in a man of the match performance, scoring one in the process.

It might be naive to hope for a system where on-loan players can line-out against their parent club, particularly in the same league. But when it obstructs a young player’s opportunity to play in the biggest games, such as it could with Courtois, then the system is inherently flawed.

After three years as Atletico’s number one, the Belgian will decide on his future at the end of the current campaign. Chelsea view him as a long term successor to Petr Cech, and he may return to Stamford Bridge in the summer to challenge the Czech keeper next season. But were he to miss out on either a Champions League semi-final or final because his presence in goal would disadvantage his parent club, the only parties that would benefit would be Chelsea and Daniel Aranzubia, Atletico’s number two.

 

Bayern Munich vs Manchester United as it happened

After Real Madrid and Chelsea secured their places in the Champions League semi-finals last night, there are two more spots up for grabs at the Allianz Arena and the Vicente Calderon tonight.

With the score 1-1 in both games, Bayern Munich host Manchester United while Atletico Madrid welcome Barcelona to the Spanish capital.

This live blog will have regular updates on the Bayern-United game, but I’ll keep you informed of important goings on in Spain too.

Manchester United had concern over Wayne Rooney but he appears to have recovered enough to start the game tonight. Marouane Fellaini and Rafael sat out United’s last training session yesterday and won’t be available. Juan Mata, who put in an excellent performance against Newcastle at the weekend, is cup-tied.

Bayern Munich are without Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez due to suspension tonight. Thiago Alcantara, a former Manchester United target, is still out injured, as is Xherdan Shaqiri.

Team News:

Bayern Munich: Neuer, Dante, Ribéry, Mandzukić, Robben, Boateng, Götze, Lahm (c), Müller, Alaba, Kroos

Subs: Raeder, van Buyten, Rafinha, Pizarro, Weiser, Hojbjerg, Weihrauc

Manchester United: De Gea; Jones, Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Fletcher, Carrick; Valencia, Rooney, Kagawa; Welbeck.

SubsLindegaard, Büttner, Ferdinand, Giggs, Januzaj, Young, Hernandez

You may have to refresh the page to update content. New posts will appear at the top. Comments on the games can be posted underneath or tweeted to me at @AlanKeane23.

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Full time thoughts: Bayern make their third consecutive Champions League semi-final but United wave goodbye to the competition. They won’t be dining at Europe’s top table next year. The first half wasn’t one for the neutral, as both sides failed to carve out many clear-cut chances. The second half started slowly too before an absolutely stunning goal from Patrice Evra sparked the game into life. That goal woke Bayern up and they replied immediately through Mandzukic.

Two more goals killed off the United challenge but in reality besides Evra’s goal the away side offered very little in attack. Wayne Rooney was clearly effected by his toe injury tonight. He had United’s best chance with the scores level but couldn’t direct a shot on target with the goal at his mercy. He looked uncomfortable striking the ball all night.

Bayern advance, but they have much to do to make the finals. They weren’t quite at their best and will face more potent opposition next time out.

90 + 3 mins – The final whistle goes at the Allianz Arena. In Spain too, Atletico Madrid have beaten Barcelona 1-0.

90 mins – Three minutes added. 1999 all over again? Probably not.

87 mins – Great strength shown by Pizarro to get a shot away under pressure from Vidic. He shrugs off the challenge but can only find the arms of De Gea.

86 mins – United players increasingly frustrated as this game nears its conclusion. Evra fouls Robben near the touchline.

83 mins – Substitution for Bayern. Claudio Pizarro on for goalscorer Thomas Muller, who receives a standing ovation.

80 mins – Substitution for United. Januzaj on for Danny Welbeck. The striker will look back with regret on his squandered chance at Old Trafford when he had just Neuer to beat.

No more goals to report in the other quarter final. Atletico are ten minutes away from a famous victory over Barcelona. 1-0 since the 6th minute, 2-1 on aggregate.

78 mins – Mandzukic could have added to United’s woes just now but he couldn’t make contact with an Alaba cross from the left.

75 mins – GOAL BAYERN! 3-1 on the night as Arjen Robben slaloms through the United defence and his attempted shot takes a heavy deflection off Vidic and past the helpless De Gea. That should be that.

73 mins: Bayern with 22 attempts to United’s 4 and 74% possession so far. Substitution for United as Hernandez comes on for Fletcher. Rooney will drop a little deeper. United have just over quarter of an hour to rescue this game.

71 mins – Good tackle from Vidic in the box on Muller. Sixty thousand Bayern fans scream for a penalty but the ref rightly gives a corner.

69 mins – Yellow card for Patrice Evra. The Frenchman brought down Robben as the winger looked to be straight in on goal.

66 mins – GOAL BAYERN! Thomas Muller gets a toe on a whipped cross from Arjen Robben! 2-1 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate. If United score another they will go through, so all is not lost for David Moyes’ men. That was Mullers 5th goal in this season’s Champions League competition.

64 mins – Mandzukic rises highest to head a corner just wide. Rafinha is on for Mario Gotze as Guardiola makes his first substitution. That presumably means Philip Lahm will go to midfield with the sub slotting in at right back. Slightly defensive substitution from Pep there?

61 mins – Wayne Rooney misses what looked like an easy chance! The goal seemingly at his mercy after Welbeck slid the ball across the six yard box, the United striker scuffed the ball wide.

57 mins – GOAL BAYERN! Mandzukic with an immediate response for the home side. A close-range header after a cross from the right hand side. You wait all night for a goal and then two come along at once. Away goals cancelled out, the sides are level and one must score to go through. Game on!

56 mins – GOAL UNITED! Patrice Evra with a screamer into the top right hand corner from 20 yards! Great work by Valencia in the build-up to get a cross in from the right.

54 mins – It’s taken until the 54th minute but Manuel Neuer finally has to make a save. He gets down to his left to save a Kagawa effort from 20 yards. One you’d expect him to save really.

53 mins – Vidic takes one where it hurts. blocking Mandzukic’s shot from the edge of the box.

52 mins – This game really needs a goal to liven things up. Neither side posing much of a threat yet though.

46 mins- Smalling lands awkwardly after corner number two for United early in the half. The young defender is ok.

20:47 – Second half is underway.

Half time thoughts – Of the two sides, Manchester United can claim to have had the better half. The away side have been fairly solid in defence, albeit against a lacklustre Bayern Munich performance. Neither side seem eager to throw caution to wind just yet, which is understandable with so much at stake. However Manchester United need a goal and so the second half should be a more open affair. If United push forward they are liable to be caught on the break by the pace of Ribery and Robben on the Bayern flanks but it’s a risk they have to take if they are to progress to the semi-finals.

45 + 1 mins: Boateng blasts a ball high and wide to end the first half.

45 mins – One minute added at the end of the half.

43 mins – Robben takes on four United players in the box and lets off a shot when he should perhaps have found his teammates in better positions. Smalling blocks for a corner which comes to nothing.

39 mins – Lahm takes Evra out on the edge of the Bayern box, hurting the United full-back but the referee waves play on. Carrick eventually puts the ball out so his team mate can get attention.

37 mins – Kroos has an attempt from the edge of the box which fails to threaten De Gea’s goal.

35 mins – Manchester United comfortable with everything Munich have thrown at them so far. The home side haven’t been at their best as of yet. A bit ponderous in attack.

30 mins – They’ve reached the half hour point in Munich and it’s all very tentative at the moment. Neither side really committing going forward because both fear a counter attack.

27 mins – Yellow card for Vidic for climbing all over Mandzukic.

26 mins – Ribery with a shot from distance after Valencia failed to close him down properly. Fizzed past the near post but De Gea had it covered.

23 mins – Bayern with a lot of possession in the last five minutes…

Whoops! Forgot to mention that Atletico Madrid have taken the lead against Barcelona! 1-0 on the night and 2-1 on aggregate after Koke scored in the 6th minute.

20 mins – Intricate play from Gotze releases Ribery. The Frenchman is flagged outside after he squared the ball to Muller in front of goal.

16 mins – Antonio Valencia has a goal disallowed for Manchester United! Both he and Kagawa were offside as a cross came in from the left and the Ecuadorian finished to no avail.

12 mins – Plenty of crosses early on from Bayern Munich. Not many reaching their target as of yet. Curious to see them deviate from their usual passing game but they do have the imposing figure of Mandzukic up front.

7 mins – Huge chance for United! Rooney gets the ball in space in the Bayern box and all he had to do was slide it left to Kagawa. The Japanese player had the time and space for a shot on goal. Rooney eventually opted for the shot himself which was easily blocked.

6 mins – Rooney instigates United’s first attack with a cross from the left. Dante clears easily.

3 mins – First half chance for Bayern as a Robben cross finds Thomas Muller. He fails to direct his header on target.

1 min – The field opens up for Arjen Robben who brings the ball from the half-way line to the edge of the box before distributing to Ribery. A cross from the Frenchman fails to find Mandzukic.

19:45- The teams are out and we’re underway!

19:40 – Philipp Lahm reverts to right-back tonight for the home side. He’s been playing a lot in midfield under Guardiola this year but with Mario Gotze back in the side and Thomas Muller dropping back into the centre, the captain moves back to defence. He’s been so good in his new midfield role, Roberto Martinez brought Leighton Baines to watch the German play recently. The Everton manager thinks Baines could make the transition to midfield in the years to come.

19:35- Bayern haven’t won in three games, their longest drought since early 2011. Though that could be something to do with the fact they have the Bundesliga wrapped up for a few weeks.

19:30- Guardiola on Sky Sports. Playing down talks of a second successive treble for Bayern, saying the focus is on getting to the Champions League semi-finals. The coach says his side will attack tonight, and that it would be mistake to play for the draw.

19:20-  Gary Neville has been tweeting his thoughts on how United can go through to the semi-finals;

19:15- United need to score tonight, with Bayern taking an away goal from Old Trafford. The omens are good as Bayern have not won their past four home games against English opposition. The first loss in the streak was against Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League final at the Allianz.

19:12 – David Moyes on Sky Sports now. Talking about Bayern’s high back line and how United must exploit it.

19:00- So with 45 minutes until kick-off the teams are in. Shinji Kagawa starts for Manchester United tonight following an impressive display as a half time substitute in the first lef. Wayne Rooney also makes the first XI, having had a pain-killing injection after his toe injury.

Mario Mandzukic starts up front for the home side, the Croatian setting up Bastian Schweinsteiger’s goal at Old Trafford after coming on as a substitute. Mario Gotze begins in midfield instead of the suspended Schweinsteiger after being limited to a substitute appearance last week.

 

Premier League: 3 talking points after the weekend

Liverpool making their own luck:

Two penalties against Manchester United a few weeks back and two penalties yesterday at West Ham have been crucial to Brendan Rodgers’ side finding themselves top of the table with five games remaining.

However that’s not to say Liverpool have been getting it all their own way, as shown by West Ham’s equalizer yesterday. The fact is that Liverpool wouldn’t be getting penalties were they not creating chances, and they are top of the league by virtue of playing the most exciting football this season. They could still lose out if Manchester City come to Anfield next Sunday and win, but Brendan Rodgers deserves great credit for how his side have come from fourth place outsiders to title challengers.

Also, if there is a highly contested decision during a game, either video technology should be available to the referees or there should be no replay of it on the big screen. There can be no half measures. Liverpool players pointing to the big screen at Upton Park yesterday, screaming at the referee to watch Andy Carroll’s foul in the build up to West Ham’s goal while the referee refused to do so was farcical.

Norwich board take big gamble:

An underwhelming campaign thus far from Norwich City has led to the sacking of manager Chris Hughton. While lying fourth from bottom with five games left is bad enough, the fact that four of those five games are against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal leaves Norwich with much to do if they aren’t to be playing in the Championship next season.

Whatever the dire circumstances Norwich find themselves in, is it wise to sack Hughton at this stage of the season? Admittedly the team has been uninspired under the former Republic of Ireland international all season, but what makes the board think that this will change under the tutelage of youth team coach Neil Adams? Are they hoping for that “new manager effect” that sometimes lifts teams particularly in the early stages?

That doesn’t always happen. Ask Pepe Mel, the West Brom boss since December and Hughton’s final adversary as Norwich manager.  His first win didn’t come until mid March.

The final four games against the big sides pale in comparison to Norwich’s fixture next weekend. They come up against fellow strugglers Fulham in a game that could see the Canaries go eight points clear of Felix Magath’s side with a win. Depending on other results, three points for Norwich may leave them in 13th place by Sunday evening. For the club to disrupt the preparations for that game by sacking Hughton is a huge gamble.

 

McCarthy and Coleman thriving under Roberto Martinez:

Everton’s performances this season have been wonderful to watch. Yesterday was one of the best yet as they dismantled an Arsenal side who not three months ago were among the favourites for the title.

They may lose some of their key players during the summer if they cannot make their loan deals permanent. Striker Romelu Lukaku is certainly one they would like to keep, but Gerard Delofeu will more than likely return to Barcelona and Gareth Barry may also move on.

One thing is sure however, Martinez will be doing all he can to keep hold of Republic of Ireland internationals James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman. The pair have been key to Everton’s fight for a Champions League spot all season. Gareth Barry last week heaped praise on McCarthy, saying he was one of the best midfielders he had played alongside. Seamus Coleman is almost a certainty to be named in the Premier League team of the year. The Donegal man has been in outstanding form, chipping in with important goals from full-back.

All this is good news for Irish football fans, and if Everton manage to hold onto both players then they will only improve further under the astute Martinez. Darron Gibson may return from a serious knee injury before the end of the season, and with Aiden McGeady at the club since January, Martinez has a crucialrole to play in the development of important Ireland players in the Martin O’Neill era.

 

Featured Image: GETTY Images

Premier League Preview: Crucial weekend at top and bottom

Last weekend’s round of games saw a shift in power at the top of the table. With Manchester City and Chelsea both dropping points, Liverpool took full advantage with a convincing win over Tottenham Hotspur.

In the race for a Champions League place, Everton’s victory over Fulham saw them keep the heat on Arsenal. Fulham meanwhile remain rooted to the bottom of the table, five points from safety.

West Brom and Cardiff City played out a six goal thriller at the Hawthorns last time out, with a last gasp equaliser keeping the Welsh side within touching distance of safety, albeit with a game more played than last week’s opponents.

Here are the crucial fixtures this weekend:

Manchester City vs Southampton, Saturday, 12.45pm.

City dropped points at Arsenal last time out and need a win in today’s early kick-off in order to keep the pressure on Liverpool. They’re favourites against Southampton however, having lost just one of their last 19 Premier League games. Southampton had big win against a lacklustre Newcastle last weekend, consolidating 8th place in the table.  They haven’t lost in their last two meetings with City, drawing 1-1 at St Marys earlier in the season.

Kenyan midfielder VictorWanyama could make a return for the visitors. Sergio Aguero has resumed training but remains unavailable for City selection.

Chelsea vs Stoke, Saturday, 5.30pm.

Mistakes have cost Chelsea dear in their last two games. A John Terry own goal at Crystal Palace and three defensive mistakes against PSG have halted their momentum. Mourinho is less concerned about the defensive mistakes than he is about his strikers inablilty to score goals however, and it’s likely that an overhaul of the attack will take place in the summer.

Stoke won 3-2 at the Brittania in the reverse fixture and have four victories in their last five games. Interestingly, for all the criticism leveled at the Potters’ style of play in the last few years, they have only scored two headed goals all season. That’s the lowest of any side in the league.

Eto’o is still out for the home side, but Stoke welcome back Jonathan Walters from suspension.

Norwich vs West Bromwich Albion, Saturday, 3pm

Both sides hover just above the relegation zone and defeat for either side would mean a nervous run-in. The Canaries are unbeaten in last six at home and a victory could see them move up to 12th in the table. Pepe Mel has failed to turn West Brom’s season around. The midlands outfit have won just one of their last 21 league games. However a win at Carrow Road would put them level with today’s opponents with a game in hand.

Leroy Fer, who scored in victory against the Baggies earlier this season is still unavailable for Norwich. West Brom have received a boost in defence with the influential Jonas Olsson back from suspension.

Everton vs Arsenal, Sunday, 1.30pm.

The Toffees welcome Arsenal to Goodison Park for a high-stakes encounter at Sunday lunch-time. Everton are four points behind the Gunners with a game in hand. Roberto Martinez’ men have won their last four games in the league and have only lost one at home all season. The last time these sides met in the league it ended in a draw, however Arsenal took the spoils in the FA cup earlier this year. Victory for Everton puts them in the driving seat for fourth place, but they have the tougher run-in on paper.

Ross Barkley should be passed fit after being substituted with a calf complaint against Fulham last weekend. Aaron Ramsay makes a welcome return to the Arsenal squad for the first time in 2014 following a thigh injury.

West Ham vs Liverpool, Sunday, 4pm.

liverpool suarez carroll west ham southampton man city norwich west brom chelsea stoke

“Yeah… I’m just gonna go.”

Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll came to Anfield in January 2011 as a result of Fernando Torres’ move to Chelsea. Looking back now, it’s unbelievable to think that Suarez was the cheaper of the two. The Uruguayan has been in scintillating form this season, and has the opportunity to break the Premier League scoring record before the end of the season. He’s two goals from making it his own, and with six goals in his last five league appearances it’s difficult to see him not adding to that tally today.

West Ham will prove a different proposition for Brendan Rodgers’ men to the spineless Spurs outfit they encountered last weekend. Andy Carroll, now a permanent Hammers player following his £15m move last summer, will look to outmuscle an often-times defensively frail Liverpool back four, with another former Liverpool player Stewart Downing supplying balls into the big centre-forward.

Lucas Leiva made his return as a substitute for the Liverpool last weekend, and could make the starting line-up for the first time in almost three months. West Ham should have captain Kevin Nolan fit after coming off with a back problem in Monday’s win over Sunderland.