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Premier League – Arsenal Stand Firm

Liverpool gather their thoughts and Arsenal stand firm in this week’s Premier League action.

Reds back on track

Brendan Rodgers is such a stupid dumb-dumb. Get this: he’s such a dumb-dumb manager that Steven Gerrard chose to sign his life away to that Minor League Soccer Organization club in America where Becks used to play just to get away from the dumb-dumbness of his gaffer. LOL! Huh? Wait, what? Liverpool are the second-most in-form club in the entire Premier League? Yeah, well…all he’ll ever be is second! The dumb-dumb.

Yeah, so during that whole Gerrard-gate where Rodgers and his Reds seemed to be deconstructing themselves right before our eyes, Liverpool actually kind of sorted itself out. Their 2-0 win at Aston Villa over the weekend makes it 14 out of their last 18 possible league points, a tally only bettered by Southampton. They now sit 8th in the league, though recent form points towards an upward trajectory in the season’s second half.

True, many of their problem’s remain: minimal goalscoring threat, goalkeeping uncertainty; but matters are being addressed. The repeated inclusion of Lucas Leiva over Joe Allen has solidified an inconsistent midfield, giving the necessary rigidity in front of defense and behind the attacking merits of Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana, and Philippe Coutinho. Also, according to the man himself, Daniel Sturridge will be returning “soon.” The England striker has been rehabbing in Boston with the Red Sox’s medical staff, and his timely return will likely be the difference between top-four and back-to-the-barracks. The Reds’ next five league matches come against West Ham, Everton, Tottenham, Southampton, and Manchester City. So, yeah, Danny Boy…if you could expedite that “soon” to “asap,” I’m sure Brendan and company would be very, very, very grateful.

Elia introduces himself

Southampton’s remarkable campaign continued on Saturday with a 2-1 away victory at Newcastle. New January signing Eljero Elia tallied a brace for his new club, quelling any debate over the Dutch international’s move to England.

Eljero Elia’s case isn’t so curious at a first glance. A pacey winger who shone brightly as a teenager fails to meet the monumental expectations set before him: get in line. In truth, we could look at only Dutch wingers and see many similar cases to that of Elia’s. Ibrahim Afellay has had an eerily similar journey, going from PSV to Barcelona, only for his career to stagnate, though injuries could be somewhat to blame (but really, it stands to reason that he would’ve struggled to get into any of Guardiola’s sides even with a clean bill of health). You can even look at current PSV speedster Memphis Depay as the prime heir to this cursed throne, although the 20-year-old is still a few years from earning either boom-or-bust potential. The point is, players of Elia’s ilk often bust.

Elia’s career began really picking up steam while at FC Twente during Steve Mclaren’s reign at the club. His performances eventually earned him a transfer to Hamburg, where he became the “next big thing” in Dutch football. He debuted for the Netherlands in 2009 and went onto represent the Oranje at the World Cup in 2010, even playing in the final against Spain.

And that’s really where it all went awry for Elia. A 2011 move to Juventus proved foolhardy; he would only make four appearances for the club, and this was before the Conte glory years. His next and most recent permanent move was to Werder Bremen, where he’s been an inconsistent disappointment. He’s been there ever since. Until Koeman came calling, that is.

Koeman’s budding success with Elia has the potential to be the ultimate feather in the Dutch boss’s tender Saints career. Over the summer, Koeman gained a bit of fame for telling Inter-loanee Saphir Taider to pack his bags after being unconvinced by the Algerian’s commitment levels at training. So it’s quite clear that Koeman is willing to give incoming — even enigmatic — players a chance to the first-team as long as they prove their worth. Taider didn’t, but Elia obviously has. And seeing as the entire club structure of Southampton is designed with that same ethos in mind, I’d say this marriage couldn’t be more perfect.

Gunners fire away from home

Arsenal pulled off one of the PL season’s shock results this weekend by upsetting Manchester City 2-0 at the Etihad. Goals from Santi Cazorla (pen.) and Olivier Giroud capped off an impressive un-Wenger-like performance from the Gunners.

Arsenal weren’t supposed to win this game. Not this Arsenal, at least. There was a time not very long ago when they would’ve almost definitely won this game; when Arsenal away to City was a locked three points for the Gunners. But those days died when Sheik Mansour went Manc and Arsene Wenger went senile. We’re so far beyond those days now that neither club even inhabits the same football ground as they did back then. These are different days, plain and simple. Nevermind the additional fact that Wenger chose to deploy such uncertain quantities as Francis Coquelin, Hector Bellerin, and Nacho Monreal against the defending PL champions, equipped with a returning Vincent Kompany. Nevermind that, because even with a full-strength Arsenal and a B-plus City squad, you’d still expect the Gunners to cough it up in the end. It’s just they way of the land these days.

But on Sunday, Arsenal did win. And I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or not.

The perceived belief is that Wenger is so unbelievably stubborn with his coaching methods — based on the droves of success he had with Arsenal in the early 2000’s — that he refuses to accept the game’s general shifts over time. He refuses to adapt. Because of his pre-and-post-Invincible sides, decorated with such luminaries as Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, and Robert Pires delivering an effective, attacking brand of football, Wenger is weighed down by the illusion that he can recreate that magic in today’s footballing world. He can’t, of course.

But Sunday proved that there is a route he can take. I’m not saying he should — I particularly have a soft spot for the enigmatic idealist— but it’s there if he cares to see it. Because when they do it, when they — Wenger included — choose to sacrifice aesthetic for function, and inturn just get the damn job done, you’re left wondering why they don’t do this more, or all of, the time. And that makes Arsenal’s current existence of wishy-washy nothingness even harder to reconcile.

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