Meant to do this yesterday, but here are a few thoughts on the first weekend of games in the top flight.
1. Underestimate Arsenal at your peril. On Friday, I was having a chat with a friend of mine who is a Gooner. He was moaning about how long it had been since his team had won anything, their lack of signings (didn’t Thomas Vermaelen do well?) and that they should be aiming to win the title rather than just finish in the top four. Wenger also came in for some criticism. I told him that Wenger’s got his own philosophy of playing and has built at least two exceptional teams in his image since he’s been at Arsenal. His transfer policy is commendable and the attractive football they play is so lovely to watch. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that terrific performance at Everton solves all their problems but it was simply breathtaking. The way they moved the ball so effortlessly and the fact that the underrated Denilson, criticised in the wake of their early defeat at the Cottage last year, struck such a brilliant opener would have put a smile on the manager’s face. Also, it probably wasn’t a good idea to pick a member of the Everton back four in my fantasy team last week.
2. We all know about how West Ham provided the heartbeat of the England side that won the World Cup in 1966, but I was struck by just how many players (past and present) had Hammers connections in Amsterdam last Wednesday. Green in goal, Johnson at right back, Ferdinand in central defence, Lampard and Carrick in central midfield and Defoe up front. Scott Parker’s England credentials have been talked up for quite a while but the member of West Ham’s midfield who really impresses me is Mark Noble. He’s been a fixture in the under-21 side and is a busy, intelligent footballer. The only criticism who might level at him is that he doesn’t get enough goals but if he keeps scoring blinders like this one at Wolves on Saturday he should be in Fabio’s thoughts for South Africa.
3. Manchester City looked very impressive at Blackburn on Saturday but it was interesting to see Carlos Tevez on the bench. Though he was still recovering from a pre-season injury, I wonder just how much time the man who left United for first-team football (although he seems to have changed his mind pretty quickly) will spend on the sidelines this season. If Bellamy and Adebayor continue to demonstrate the kind of understanding they showed at Ewood Park, he might be on the bench for a while yet.
4. Just because Alan Hansen wants Liverpool to win the title doesn’t mean it will happen. Certainly not if Rafa Benitez’s side are as limp as they were at White Hart Lane on Sunday. The manager must take the majority of the blame himself, rather than ranting at the referee. Selling Xabi Alonso was a real mistake, particularly when his chosen replacement isn’t expected to be fit until October. Then there’s the continuing madness of playing Ryan Babel out of position on the wing. He looks lost out there stumbling into defenders with the ball at his feet. Dirk Kuyt might have been reinvented as a winger at Anfield, but I can’t understand why Yossi Benayoun – impressive when he came on as a substitute again – doesn’t get more of a chance.
6. I do worry for Portsmouth. The man in the white suit was at Fratton Park on Saturday but left without giving any indication of whether his proposed takeover was any closer. They’ve recouped around £80m in player sales over the last year and aren’t even close to being back to where they were. There’s a lesson in there about the need to be prudent with your resources, which is why Fulham are adopting such a careful transfer policy. Hearing the Pompey fan on Radio 5 Live last night describe us as ‘average’ did raise a smile though.