Scraping the barrel
Few of us like a Monday morning, but The Fifth Official does, for it brings with it a chance for him to point the finger and laugh. Here he pulls out the pretty, the puzzling and the downright pig-ugly from a week brimming with potential victims.
Feed the Ox and he will score
This was the precise moment Arsene Wenger's reign reached its lowest ebb. Having been humbled in midweek by a nothing more than ordinary Milan side, Arsenal then trooped up to the North East to be slain by a tracksuited manager who looked imbued with energy and fresh ideas, in stark contrast to the tired, lifeless old man next to him, waving his arms around in that vortex of a puffa jacket. Seriously, bands at Glastonbury have played in smaller tents than Arsene's coat.
With five minutes left and Arsenal staring down the barrel of a second deflating cup exit in four days, the trophyless troop turned to that token tactic employed by the team that are so often referred to as their nemesis, Stoke City, as they launched a long throw into Sunderland's penalty area a la Rory 'the quarterback' Delap. As admissions go, this one was utterly demeaning. After all, Arsenal don't even have any tall players.
Arsenal fans sang "Feed the Ox and he will score" during the match, and they were proved right. Sadly, the only net England's Euro 2012 saviour found was his own. After lambasting his players in Milan on Wednesday, Wenger this time gave them the verbal equivalent of a cuddle, while in the background Arsenal's blinkered board were said to have finally sanctioned the kind of lavish spending spree that the club have needed for the past decade. Even that may still be too little too late as far as RVP is concerned, with Spain flashing its big, brown 'come to bed' eyes at him.
Arsenal fans have spent seven years waiting for the future to arrive so another few months won't hurt eh?
The Chelsea hotdesk
The bleak mid-winter is a time when managers are shown up to be men or mice, as February's icy grip envelops the vulnerable in a headlock and refuses to let go. Andre Villas-Boas has been imprisoned in a chilly ice hotel of despair for months now, and is fast running out of friends in West London after his Chelsea outfit seemingly refused to negotiate their way past the Championship's whispering death unit led by Chris Hughton.
The club's approach to team talks seems to be inspired by the office-based concept of hot-desking, and clearly Didier Drogba's number was up as he conducted Chelsea's half-time motivational speech in the tunnel, imploring his charges to discard the high line haughtiness their gaffer insists on. Nothing AVB does seems to turn out right; every change is booed, every piece of tactical tinkering derided by a feckless and aggressive home support.
Had he not appointed AVB personally, Roman Abramovich would surely have given him the finger by now, even if it cost him the customary £15 million to do so. Chelsea's fans are in no doubt as to who they want - calling for the ultimate Portu-geezer to replace their current Portuguese pretender. Only trouble is, their temporary football consultant of choice, Guus Hiddink, has just got a new gig in Russia, so they might have to wait a while before the Premier's League's youngest gaffer is put out to pasture.
Bearing in mind who creepy Crawley were up against, manager Steve Evans' pre-match mind games were about as nonsensical as a three-bar fire in an igloo. The plump Glaswegian likes to think of himself as a no-nonsense gaffer in the guise of another famous Scottish export, Fergie, but his utterances prior to kick off made him look more like a no-sense manager.
Claiming a side led by Tony Pulis are populated by nothing more than "Championship players" is tantamount to telling the Klitschko brothers their surname sounds like a Ukrainian knocking shop. If Evans was intent on winding the Potters up it worked, as Rory Delap steamed into the sort of challenge Tony Pulis forgets is a big no-no in the eyes of today's contact-shy officials.
Pulis took his frustrations out on the poor fourth official, who had no escape from the Welshman's fury, but a questionable penalty becalmed him, before Peter Crouch - one of Stoke's beanpole players Evans joked he'd need stilts to combat - pocketed his first goal for months. With a notable chunk of the big teams out, Stoke are a leading contender for the 'tie no-one wants', and Liverpool got it.
Merseyside has a new cult hero from South America. Thankfully, this one plays in blue and is a little less high profile than his unhinged Uruguayan counterpart down the road. Having maligned Everton's malingering Denis Stracqualursi on several occasions, it is only right to give the Argentinian striker his props when he proffers up the good.
It is fair to say that Straq attack endured a painfully low-key first few months in English football but, among the errant touches and seemingly pitiful close control, the 24-year-old was laying the foundations for his new-found glorified status by displaying a quality that British football fans value above all other - a good engine. Hurtling round the field, snapping into tackles and a willingness to throw your head into a skip full of whirring chainsaws if required will get you noticed, and by goodness it has.
Denis proved a real menace to Blackpool on Saturday and his potent cocktail of never-say-die attitude dashed with occasional moments of clarity meant the Toffees had this one nailed inside six minutes. Stracqualursi took his goal in the uncomfortable nature to which we've become accustomed, killing Royston Drenthe's corner stone dead with a shanked shot, before toe-poking home from three yards. Textbook.
That's more like it Suarez
Finally, some light relief for all concerned at Anfield and an episode involving Luis Suarez that was so free of the gut-churning bleakery of recent times it almost provoked a round of the giggles. Of course, the super Seagulls played their part, with a hat-trick of own goals, each as hapless at the other, that made one wonder which one of them would get to keep the match ball.
After last Sunday's much-needed wave of contrition, a quiet week was followed by Liverpool's biggest win since 2009, an FA Cup quarter-final place, and even a move which saw their £20 million winger provide his first assist of the campaign for their previously out-of-touch £35 million striker. If and when they do get rid of Andy Carroll, they could do worse than replace him with Brighton defender Liam Bridcutt, because that boy looks lethal in front of goal.
But, as is usually the case this season, the abiding memory of the match was reserved for Uruguay's finest export since Obdulio Varela (look him up). A suitably demure Kenny Dalglish demanded Suarez take a late penalty to boost his striker's dented confidence, but his spot-kick was weaker than the out-of-date milk set aside for the Anfield cat. Suarez is attending Old Trafford to watch Ajax this week, though, so this welcome period of calm may not last for very long.
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