ANALYSIS: Back-three must go to end Emery road woes

Alan O’Brien 

With six Premier League games remaining, Arsenal have already matched last season’s 63-point tally. Notwithstanding some early teething problems, few would dispute that Unai Emery has quickly swept up the mess left by his predecessor, Arsene Wenger. The Gunners’ longstanding problem with travel sickness, however, is proving more difficult to remedy. Arsenal possess only the 10th-best away record in this league. And Emery has only his own tactical uncertainty to blame. Continue reading

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ANALYSIS: Tielemans tantalises as Leicester’s rotten luck endures

Alan O’Brien 

One point from three successive bouts with so-called ‘Big Six’ sides may not meet Leicester City fans’ exacting standards. But such a paltry return could hardly be seen as abnormal in a league where the gap between the high-flying haves and the mid-table have-nots appears wider than ever before. And yet, look closer at the performances Claude Puel coaxed from his players throughout that trio of tough encounters, and one comes to a surprising conclusion: Leicester could, and perhaps should, have won all three. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Emery diamond stops Sarrismo at source

Alan O’Brien 

Following last weekend’s chastening defeat to West Ham United, Unai Emery’s Arsenal project looked in danger of falling asunder. With that said, the visit of Chelsea, who easily sidestepped the Spaniard’s high-press back in August, looked incredibly ill-timed. Jorginho, Maurizio Sarri’s tempo-dictating pivot, was key to his side’s success on that occasion. But the famously passive Mesut Ozil was the regista’s direct opponent then; Aaron Ramsey, fielded here in Jorginho’s face at the tip of an Arsenal diamond, proved nowhere near as forgiving. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Pellegrini’s big team mentality trumps unpenetrative Arsenal

Alan O’Brien 

If anything, Declan Rice may be too mature for Manuel Pellegrini’s own good. The teenager’s all-seeing performances in holding midfield may have convinced his manager it was safe to revert to 4-4-2 back in November. One central midfielder was therefore dumped, as the 4-3-3 that plugged West Ham United’s yawning early-season gaps fell by the wayside. Fortunate victories over Cardiff, Crystal Palace and Fulham masked the lack of balance this switch engendered. A subsequent festive period run of one win in four, therefore, came as little surprise to more keen-eyed observers. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Cherries comeback finds Hornets full of holes

Alan O’Brien 

Staring down the barrel of a ninth defeat in 11 games, Eddie Howe’s injury-ravaged Bournemouth stood up to be counted. In normal circumstances, rebounding from two goals down to secure a point would usually be seen as a good result. But seven big chances created, to Watford’s one, suggests the Cherries should, in fact, have taken all three. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Silva shown up by New Year stinker

Alan O’Brien 

They say that the thrill is in the chase, never the capture. And for Everton owner Farhad Moshiri, that old aphorism must surely be ringing true right about now. One hopes Moshiri extracted maximum enjoyment from his protracted pursuit of Marco Silva. Because now that he’s got his man, he and the Toffees are firmly stuck in a dead-end relationship. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Alpine Klopp must learn from the original

Alan O’Brien 

Ralph Hasenhüttl has performed miracles before. In under three years, the gregarious Austrian transformed lowly Ingolstadt from second-tier relegation fodder to a mid-table Bundesliga force; no mean feat by any man’s standards. But even Hasenhüttl must have been shocked by the speed with which he reinvigorated Southampton in Mark Hughes’ grumbling wake. Two wins in his first three games, claiming Arsenal’s 22-game unbeaten scalp in the process, suggested the Saints had taken to his high-pressing doctrine like ducks to water. Who could blame him for getting carried away? Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Spurs diamond sparkles as Silva dogma shatters

Alan O’Brien 

This was Tottenham Hotspur’s ninth win in 11 away games. In any normal season, Mauricio Pochettino’s side would be runaway favourites to claim their maiden Premier League crown. But this is no normal season, and neither Manchester City nor Liverpool represent run-of-the-mill competition. Once again, Pochettino’s uncanny ability to conjure magic from comparatively puny financial resources may go unrewarded. But it shouldn’t go unnoticed. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: ‘Tinkerman’ off the wagon as West Ham win again

Alan O’Brien 

Claudio Ranieri all but banished his “Tinkerman” moniker upon leading Leicester City to improbable heights in 2016. The over-rotation of his Chelsea tenure gave way to consistency of selection at the King Power Stadium, much to the surprise of Ranieri’s many media detractors. But tinkering, apparently, is a habit that’s hard to break. And, much to West Ham United’s delight, the Italian very much fell off the wagon at half-time here. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Over-elaborate Eagles miss their chance again

Alan O’Brien 

As soon as news of Wilfried Zaha’s absence filtered through, this result had fait accompli written all over it. Crystal Palace have lost the last 11 Premier League games Zaha has missed, after all. But Tottenham Hotspur were anything but fluent in victory here; again. And Palace, if they were not so insistent upon playing into their visitors’ hands, could well have made them pay.

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