Alright, the FA Cup action is back. We’re in the 5th round and there have already been a couple of upsets. One of them is at crisis club Arsenal who lost to Sunderland away 2-0. They beat them 2-1 on the same ground in the league last weekend, albeit aided by a last-minute goal by departing hero Thierry Henry who was at the London club for a brief loan spell before going back to the States where he plies his trade in New York. Americans and their weird league schedules, eh?
The other upset (Which will not be given as many column inches) was by football league side Leicester City who beat Norwich City, who are the best promoted club this year in the EPL (Based on head-to-head encounters and on league position). They are currently lying in 8th in the table. Chelsea were another Premiership side that struggled vs. lower league opposition as they were held by Birmingham 1-1 at Stamford Bridge.
Alarm bells are ringing around the camps of both London clubs. Arsenal basically blew their last realistic chance of silverware this year with that defeat in the North East, they are currently 4th in the Premier League table 17 points behind leaders Manchester City, been thumped 4-0 by AC Milan at the San Siro in the Champions League and struggling for form. Henry’s inevitable return to the States has come as a harsh reality check for Gunners, after some impressive cameos as a sub or even as a starter, they are back to square one. Demotivated young squad and facing yet another summer of uncertainty with team captain Robin Van Persie set to be embroiled in another ‘will he leave or will he not’ debacle that Gunners fans are all too familiar with (Ashley Cole, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Thierry Henry himself if memory serves me right a few summers ago).
Chelsea, another capital club that is in trouble, they are not even in the top 4 of the league at the moment (Albeit they are tied with Arsenal on points and goal difference). Just like Arsenal last week, they are set to play a tricky away tie in Italy vs. Napoli. They are still in the FA Cup and have to play a replay away at Birmingham since they failed to beat them earlier today (As mentioned before in this post, they disappointingly drew 1-1).
The situational circumstances at each club are different, but the level of expectations at each club can be said to be similar. In Arsenal’s case you have a man who has been in charge for almost a decade and a half, been there, done that and won all the domestic trophies that he could have. He has a fierce reputation for nurturing young talent and for managing and preparing his teams in a methodological and progressive manner. His detractors claim that his over-reliance on what could be best described as less-experienced squads and his stubbornness to change his tactics when things are not going his team’s way are the main reasons why the club are facing another bleak season. Arsenal have not won a trophy since 2006, this is not a very welcome piece of information for diehard (Or shallow) Arsenal fans, especially since the club is admittedly one of the best run clubs in the UK (Examples of poorly run clubs at the moment and/or recent years include Portsmouth, Rangers and Leeds United).
Chelsea on the other hand is a club seemingly hell bent on change. Well, the club itself may not be like that but the club owner is. Roman Abramovich is probably one of the most well-known impatient businessmen out there and his hunger for success cannot be questioned. This is a man who has no issues in quarrelling with and disposing managers whom have won his club trophies they could never have imagined being in contention for a decade ago. Despite Roman’s obvious lack of understanding of how the game runs and how time and objective support are essential factors in breeding success has meant that the craved instant success has eluded him and his men in blue. After spending around 28million pounds just to get rid of a manager (Carlo Ancelotti) and his backroom staff and to poach another manager in the form of Andre Villas-Boas to win him the title he craved the most: The Champions League aka. Good ol’ ears. The signs are not promising though and judging from the owner’s increasing number of visits to Cobham, Chelsea’s training center tells of a frustrated owner who is not very happy with how things are going.
Now why am I bothering with other clubs so much? Well, my own club (Liverpool FC if you are not aware) are playing in about 18 or so hours in the abovementioned FA Cup’s 5th round against lower division club Brighton. The majority of realistic Reds fans entered this season with some cautious optimism. A good cup run and a league finish high enough to grant us access to either European club competition would have been welcome.
We have been beleaguered with a string of draws, some were tame and lackluster ties, and some were ones where we were unlucky to get the full 3 points. The squad took some time to gel together with so many new faces at Anfield in some key positions. Injuries (Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva) and suspensions (Luis Suarez and Jay Spearing) certainly did not help, neither did the dip in confidence and/or form (Pick as you like) for supposedly key attacking players Andy Carroll and Dirk Kuyt.
Despite all this, we are 7th in the league and 4 points away from 4th placed crisis club Arsenal. Still in the FA Cup (For another 20 or so hours when our game vs. Brighton, and we are playing at Wembley for the first time since 1996 in the Carling Cup next we0ek vs. Cardiff City (While the stadium was being built we’ve been to 11 finals I believe. Not bad at all).
After every uninspiring and disappointing draw or defeat there were some fans that called for King Kenny to be sacked. Now regardless of what happens in the next week vs. Brighton and Cardiff City) we should look at things with some perspective. This is only Kenny’s first full season in charge, we are already in a cup final and are doing okay in the league considering the problems we have had on and off the pitch. We have done well against the top sides as well, beat Arsenal and Chelsea away, drew vs. City at home when we should have won, drawn vs. Manchester United at home in a bad-tempered league clash and yet we beat both Manchester clubs in the cups. Not a bad season so far at all, all what I am asking for here is some objectivity and support to the gaffer. We have a good director of football, a good academy that is finally producing some impressive talent and the club’s current owner seems to genuinely care about the club at the moment rather than his own interests and wallet size.
You’ll Never Walk Alone