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Best & Worst of the weekend: Swansea & Manchester United/Bolton

Best…

Swansea’s performance against Arsenal

Such is the nature of the media in this country, I’m sure that most of the emphasis will be placed on Arsenal’s shortcomings – but really, the visitors were only as good as they were allowed to be.

The criticism of Swansea this season has been that despite their concentration of possession, they haven’t always used it particularly decisively. Not so yesterday; the triangles, the pretty patterns, the two touch play – it all seemed to have far more purpose yesterday. A cutting edge. Swansea were excellent and fully-deserved the three points.

A minor point but an important one; the reflex reaction to Theo Walcott’s equaliser was probably the most impressive moment of the game. There are too many sides in the league, and not just newly-promoted ones, who would have become very negative after such a concession. Passive play in the face of big reputation opposition is a default setting for a lot of teams – but Brendan Rodgers’ side showed the benefits of sticking to an original gameplan. Attack with pace, deploy as much movement in and around a shakey visiting defence, and hassle the opposition when they’re in possession in their own defensive third.

Two lovely finishes from Nathan Dyer and Danny Graham as well…

Worst…



Peter Walton’s failure to send off Zat Knight

Every week.

At least when refereeing decisions are given in Manchester United’s favour there’s a semblance of explanation for them. Not so here.

Danny Welbeck is in on goal – or in ref-parlance ‘has a clear goal-scoring opportunity’ – and Zat Knight impedes him. It’s a penalty and it’s a red card. It’s not even contestable. Had the defender been dismissed by Walton, then not even the most partisan of Bolton fans could’ve found an argument to dispute the decision.

The saving grace of course, is that the decision didn’t effect the result of the game, but that doesn’t excuse it. With every decision like this, a new precedent is set – another example that confuses what should be a really straight-forward issue. Last-man commits a foul? Off he goes.

I’ve heard all the arguments about how difficult the job is, how many cameras there are scrutinising, the pace of the game etc – but sorry, this was just a clear failure to apply the rules. Ineptitude at its worst.

Segue out of that quickly – who read Richard Scudamore’s comments about refereeing this morning? Here, if you missed them.

Things we’ll learn this weekend – Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, Swansea

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Are Arsenal genuinely in recovery?

Wednesday’s win against Marseille was important for another reason other than just the Champions League points it earned – it showed Arsene Wenger’s side that they were capable of winning games in a different way. Gritty, determined, and dare I say it – ugly.

Ironic then, that those are the very qualities a side usually needs to have to beat this weekend’s visitors to the Emirates Stadium, Stoke City. A clean sheet in France is one thing, but a strong defensive performance against the most awkward attack in the league would be quite another. What have Arsenal have gained from their trip across the channel? Hopefully a restored sense of belief and a renewed sense of calm in their defending.

How ruthless are Liverpool?

Norwich at home is exactly the kind of game Liverpool have struggled with in recent seasons. Can Kenny Dalglish’s side produce a performance of the same verve as they did against Manchester United? This is the footballing come-down; the atmosphere won’t be as intense, the Sky cameras aren’t there, and there’s no hostility to feed off. However, fail to win tomorrow and Liverpool might as well have lost last Saturday. Stoke need to be put away with efficiency, and three points is a must here.

Will the occasion get to Manchester City?

I just have a nagging feeling about this. Would you be surprised if City scored an early goal, played all the football, but concede two late goals as they try and hang on?
Old Trafford does funny things to teams, and referees, and the worst thing you can possibly do there is play passively. How many points have United won over the years because teams have set-up to play for a point and invariably got breached?

On paper, this should be a City win – they’re so strong in every part of the pitch. Play football and they’ll win, but focus on where they are and what’s at stake and it’ll go wrong and United will pick them off. That’s exactly what happened last year.

How brave will Swansea be?

With the pace they have up front, and the movement, Swansea need to go to Molineux tomorrow lunchtime and attack Wolves. Roger Johnson and Christophe Berra are good defenders, but they’re not mobile – you have to work Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer in behind that back four. Do that, and the Welsh side win tomorrow. This is a league where, as mentioned in the paragraph above, a sensibly positive philosophy is usually rewarded.

If you’re facing a team that have lost five in a row, then the slightest hint of adversity will make them very, very nervous. Mick McCarthy knows that his team desperately need to win, because a loss to Swansea would leave them in a very deep morale hole – and if they concede early, Wolves could disintegrate.

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