Arsenal Beat Manchester City 1-0: Let's start with the game of the week before delving into the real topic of discussion. It took 85 minutes and a thunderous strike off the boot of Mikel Arteta to put Man City eight points away from league leaders Manchester United. With a team as well coached as United, the race seems to be a done deal, even if Roberto Mancini can conjure up a good enough tactical plan to win the the remaining game between the two teams. Mario Ballotelli was given a red card in stoppage time, although he deserved the punishment much sooner as he had indulged in numerous dimwitted challenges earlier in the match. For Arsenal, a string of quality games has altered their season goal from just sneaking into the top four to being in a great position to leapfrog Tottenham into third place. Something that I've been noticing a lot lately on Twitter and on comment sections across the Internet is that Arsenal fans have been very negative about young Aaron Ramsey, but maybe that is a topic best saved for the Short Fuse.
Newcastle-Skill or Luck? As previously discussed, Newcastle are the Premier League's surprise team even after all their good left over the summer. Is it luck or skill? While there is no denying that the current talent on the team is legitimate, the construction has seemed random. Newcastle are a historic club that have been plagued time and time again by poor transfer decisions. Overpaying for players like Michael Owen who are past their prime and not embracing any sort of statistical analysis have caused them to plummet as far as relegation. For more information on those previous failures, read "Soccernomics," an interesting book going behind the scenes in soccer.
But there are certainly signs that an actual change in policy has taken place. They sold us part-time forward, part-time professional klutz Andy Carroll for over 20 million dollars more than his actual worth. A couple years back, they would have been content to sit on a career of 8-15 goals a year as they dwindled in the middle of the table. However, they exercised the transfer golden rule of sell high. The question is whether they had a choice in making the sale. Looking at their table position at the time, it is apparent that they were not good enough to have any chance at pushing for Europe while at the same time were in no danger of being relegated. Selling Andy would not have any severe impact on their table position, especially with the experienced Ameobi and young guns Leon Best and Nile Ranger ready to come in and score goals. Financially however, it was a different tale. Mike Ashley, a man who has twice in his short tenure as Newcastle owner put the club up for sale, has had a reputation of being a bit tight fisted and disconnected with management. Such a large sum of money surely caught Ashley's eyes, maybe even leading him to pull the trigger for reasons besides the betterment of the team. Even with Ashley's possible wayward interests however, I do believe that the club had planned months in advance for the time when a big club would come knocking on the door with literally millions of dollars. Skill 1, Luck 0
Then came the eventful summer in which many players came but even more left. In all honesty, Newcastle were a complete wreck from ownership to management to player behavior. Some of their more loyal players left after feeling disrespected and angry at their treatment (or lack thereof) from the staff. To say that there was any strategy or planning amongst the madness is crazy. Proof of the chaos was when they sold one of their up and coming stars in Jose Enrique to Liverpool for millions less than his worth. They should feel very fortunate that the players they did buy ended up having career seasons and extended hot streaks. Skill 1, Luck 1
Soccer is unique because of the impact a manager can make on his team just through his tactical decisions alone. While Alan Pardew has fielded the right players at the right times, some tactics are highly questionable. In my eyes, his biggest gaffe came a few weeks ago at the Emirates against Arsenal. Pardew threw out a fairly aggressive initial side and had obviously told his players before kickoff not to be afraid to get on the counter-attack. Sure enough, Newcastle scored first against the run of play. After a quick Arsenal equalizer, Pardew's strategy inexcusably changed. Instead of going after a porous defense, he opted to go ultra-defensive, letting the best flowing team in the EPL do whatever they wanted. Predictably, Arsenal won at the death after playing a second half where it appeared an anti-trust lawsuit was in place for monopolizing possession so thoroughly. I find it ridiculous that a team with top four aspirations could possibly roll over so easily and without reason. If Pardew had let his players do their normal jobs, they would have even had a chance to get a win. I see Alan Pardew as a decent manager who has been in the right place with the right players. Skill 1, Luck 2
The decision to buy Cisse was smart, although perhaps a rather easy decision. Skill 2, Luck 2
After going through all of Newcastle's actions from the past year and a half, I'm still totally undecided on a simply funky Toon turnaround. Share your opinion in the below poll and comments...