Mar 202008

After tonight’s games, everyone in the Premiership has played thirty, and has eight to go, so for once we can make an honest assessment of our chances.

United are of course the favourites. After a predictable win over Bolton where Ronaldo proved that he’s practically the only person that scores for them anymore, they lead the way by three points, and with a huge goal difference advantage a swing of four is needed to overturn them. Meanwhile, we’re second, and with Chelsea drawing 4-4 for the second time this season (Chelsea, Villa and Spurs have now all drawn 4-4 with each other) they sit two points further back.

Some of the words that have been spoken over the last week would have you believe that we’re languishing twenty points from the top, rather than three, with a season disappearing down the toilet as quickly as last year’s. But the reality is that this is the first time in many years that three sides have a genuine chance. Chelsea are not the force they were under Mourinho, but with neither Arsenal or United on top form, they can’t be discounted.

A lot more should be clear after this weekend, and you suspect that if United beat Liverpool, whoever doesn’t win from Arsenal and Chelsea is out of it. Often the games between the top sides are cagey, but draws suit no-one as we’ve found to our cost in recent weeks, so Sunday promises to be a cracking day of football.

Chelsea should be without their unspeakable left back, after a shocking challenge on Alan Hutton tonight, and the ferocity with which he and his teammates, inevitably led by the consistently annoying John Terry, protested even his yellow card made a mockery of the FA’s plans to raise the level of respect given to officials. Every year they ‘clamp down’ on hordes of players chasing the referee, but do you honestly think Chelsea will get anything more than a little slap on the wrist?

Arsenal news has been dominated over the last couple of days by Alex Hleb, who it is claimed went to meet with Inter officials when out in Milan for the Champions League tie recently. The defence of his agent [or associate of his agent] was laughable, right up there with the best of the ‘honest guv’ excuses:

“It’s true that Hleb saw Vigorelli [associate of the company that represents Hleb] and they went out from the Melia Felix but it’s not true that they went to talk to Inter. They went for an ice-cream. We are sorry that Mr Wenger took it badly and complained because we have a good relationship with him.”

An ice-cream? It’s such a lame excuse that it might even be true.

Either way, Hleb is the centre of much speculation at the moment, which cannot be helping the squad, or indeed his own performances which, Milan aside, have been poor of late. While that may seems a churlish criticism, his early season form suggested that the peak of his career (he will be 27 by the end of the season) would be prolific. He doesn’t have much time left to improve.

Unfortunately, the thinness of the squad means that the team picks itself at the moment, which has the dual effect of tiring players, and providing no competition for them to keep their place.  But Wenger showed last season that he is happy to sign a player to improve a position even when apparently strong there (Sagna’s arrival baffled many, but looks a masterstroke now), and a new wide midfielder, preferably one not allergic to shooting, would be fantastic.

That need becomes more obvious if Eboue really is moving to Barcelona, a deal that would confuse and delight me in equal measure. It is not often that the possible departure of a first team player unites the fans of a club against him, but such is the depth of the hole Eboue has dug for himself.

Wenger being Wenger, however, he’ll probably let Hleb go and promote from within, perhaps the much vaunted Carlos Vela, whose performances for Osasuna are impressing more by the week, and who finally arrives in the summer. I’d be surprised to see him appear any more than the likes of Bendtner though.

Finally, is there a more punchable face than this one? 33 goals and counting, but please stop calling him a winger.

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