Soccer

EPL Monday: Arsenal Rolls, Martin Jol Sacked & Praise, Yes, For John Terry

Cardiff City v Arsenal - Premier League

Another weekend in the books in the Premier League. Arsenal beat Cardiff City behind an Aaron Ramsey brace. The Gunners were the big weekend winners, as they maintained its first place position and saw would-be title contenders Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool all drop points. Meanwhile Chelsea and Manchester City each won, inching up to second and third — four and six points back — respectively.

Let’s take a look at a couple noteworthy occurrences over the weekend, although there’s not too much time to dwell on them. There’s a full slate of games in the midweek, including David Moyes’ first game against Everton as manager of Manchester United on Wednesday.

Why City Will Probably Still Win the Title:

The three-way Arsenal/Chelsea/City fight will decide the title. All three clubs are alive in the Champions League, adding a wrinkle to the chase for first place in the EPL.

City crushed Swansea City — which is feeling the effects of being a small club playing in both the EPL and Europa League concurrently — Sunday at the Etihad. There are certain situations where the road underdog approaches a match as if it has zero chance to win from the opening whistle. City’s home form has that psychological effect on opponents and it’s produced these seven scorelines this season: 4-0 2-0, 4-1, 3-1, 7-0, 6-0 and 3-0.

Summer signing Alvaro Negredo is up to six goals. He seemed like an afterthought in the summer compared to Jesus Navas or Fernandinho, but the ex-Sevilla striker has made Edin Dzeko surplus parts. Bear in mind, Negredo cost close to $30 million or thereabouts so this level of production was, you know, expected from the City braintrust.

There’s also this insane stat about City’s prowess at home:

https://twitter.com/PCarrESPN/status/407208345872121856

For He’s a Jol-ly Gone Fellow:

FBL-ENG-PR-WEST HAM-FULHAMFulham parted ways with Martin Jol after Saturday’s 3-0 loss to West Ham, which saw the Cottagers produced a grand total of zero shots on target. It was the club’s fifth straight defeat, during which Fulham scored a grand total of two goals as it dropped into the relegation zone. René Meulensteen, Sir Alex Ferguson’s former assistant at Manchester United, inherits the mess at Craven Cottage.

This is the rare coach firing where roughly 99.9 percent of the fan base is on board with the move. Fulham were going nowhere but to the Championship with Jol steering the ship. Fans wanted him gone — boxed up next to the Michael Jackson statue — weeks ago.

The good news for Fulham? Even with the five straight losses, they’re one win away from moving out of the relegation zone. Meulensteen should know the league from his time with United, which is helpful.

The bad? The roster Jol assembled is going to struggle even with a new man pulling the strings. It’s almost like Jol decided to buy a bunch of well-regarded players, hoping if he threw 11 of them on the field together something positive would happen. It didn’t and lately the players didn’t even give much of an effort.

If nothing else, the Jol tenure proved a 4-2-3-1 system anchored by Steve Sidwell and Scott Parker in defensive midfield isn’t going to win you very many games in 2013 or 2014. (Shocker, right?). Relying on Dimitar Berbatov and Darren Bent as the lone forward probably isn’t the party either. Both players can score, but that’s about all they do and rarely make their teammates around them better.

At the very least, if I’m Meulensteen I pin guys like Ashkan Dejagah, Damien Duff, Giorgos Karagounis and Derek Boateng to the bench and find a way to get Bryan Ruiz and Adel Taarabt on the field more often. Breda Hangeland returning to the lineup would be a boost, too, since Fulham hasn’t won since its captain injured his leg in leg October.

Bottom line, with Jol or someone else as manager, Fulham is going to have to fight for every single point this season all the way until May to avoid relegation. The team didn’t seem up for that kind of challenge with Jol writing out the lineup. If you’re a Fulham fan you cross your fingers Meulensteen is able to turn it around.

Credit where Credit is Due Dept:

FBL-ENG-PR-CHELSEA-SOUTHAMPTON

Everybody hates John Terry. That much we know. As eminently hate-able as he is, Terry is putting together a strong season for Chelsea in the center of the Blues’ defense. Terry scored a second-half goal to help the Blues overturn a self-inflicted halftime deficit against Southampton. His defensive partner Gary Cahill also scored, so while Chelsea might not be getting much from either Fernando Torres and Demba Ba in the forward position, it still manages to eek out goals.

The former England captain now has the second-most goals by a defender in the Premier League-era in England.

Terry is much improved under Jose Mourinho and there are rumors David Luiz could be out in January to Barcelona. This is a calculated risk for Chelsea. Terry is 32 and now out of the England international picture. He could have another 2-3 solid seasons left in him. Pace has never been Terry’s strength. He’s a physical player in both penalty boxes and a leader on the field. In short, he is Chelsea. Does that make Luiz — highly-rated initially and now very inconsistent, though talented — surplus parts?

When you can cash in on Luiz without weakening the first-choice team, why not explore it? The club could always shift Branislav Ivanovic inside and open up right back for another place if depth is a concern. Chelsea isn’t exactly hurting for money, but a nice large sum for a player the current manager doesn’t rate doesn’t hurt.

If this happens consider it another indication that the Terry/Frank Lampard era is going to be eternal at Stamford Bridge. Call it the Blue version of Giggs and Scholes.

Life After Leighton:

Everton trounced Stoke City 4-0 Saturday. Most impressive, the Toffees did it without injured left back Leighton Baines. In his absence Costa Rican youngster Bryan Oviedo played a starring role scoring once and assisting on another. It was the 23-year-old’s his second start since moving to England from FC Copenhagen.

With Baines constantly linked to a move away, coupled with Everton’s constant need for money if Oviedo deputizes over the next month like he did on Saturday, selling off the club’s top asset might not be the end-of-the-world scenario it felt like in the summer. Oviedo has a long way to go, but Saturday’s showing is something to build off.

On-loan Barcelona winger Gerard Deulofeu also broke out for Everton Saturday. Enjoy him while he’s here.

Liverpool’s Day Summed Up by One GIF:

For reasons likely only known to him, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers opted to play Martin Škrtel and Kolo Toure in the center of his defense Sunday vs. Hull City. The game ended 3-1 for Hull’s first all-time victory over the Reds.

Here’s Tom Huddlestone’s goal, which ended a two-year scoring drought for the former Tottenham midfielder. Huddlestone hasn’t cut his hair during that time. He might want to wait on a trip to the barber’s since by all rights this should be changed to a Sktrel own goal.

skrtel

With Daniel Sturridge out for at least six weeks with an ankle injury, Rodgers and Liverpool better come up with a Plan B quickly or they can stop thinking about a finish in the Top Four and a long-awaited trip back into the Champions League.

Hull City fans spent the entire match protesting to their Egyptian owner, who wants to change the club’s official name to the Hull Tigers to help improve their brand internationally. Dr. Assem Allam was quoted saying, “I don’t mind ‘City till we die’. They can die as soon as they want, as long as they leave the club for the majority who just want to watch good football.” Well then.

Thank you social media?

Russell Brand is a big West Ham fan. By all account he’s a legit fan of the club and doesn’t just pop-in, buy a scarf and pose for some US Weekly-approved PR shots. Nope, Katy Perry’s ex, poses for these kind of candid shots in the locker room.

Sorry.

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