Saturday February 15 2014

Europe a distraction; Arsenal, City should pursue league title

Alvaro Negredo and his Man City teamates must feel

Alvaro Negredo and his Man City teamates must feel its the moment for them to get one over Chelsea. Agencies Photo 


Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid harbour dreams of winning the treble, justifiably so the way things are going for the world’s three richest clubs.

Barcelona and Real in midweek ensured that the Copa Del Rey final will be a Classico, and Bayern are one match away from a potential final clash with eternal rivals Dortmund.
While Bayern are nicely poised for a crack at unprecedented back-to-back trebles, with the league title virtually sewn up, Barcelona and Real will unavoidably get in each other’s way on the home front.

As a mark of the increasing divide between the haves and have-nots across Europe, the situation with that aforementioned trio is similar to that of PSG in France and the top three in England, with Italy as the oddity only because the mighty Juventus carelessly took their eye off the ball in the Cup competitions. Unlike Bayern, Barcelona and Real though, the leading three in England are not European aristocracy and would be better advised to prioritise winning the Premiership ahead of any delusions of grandeur they might cherish as far as that alluring trophy fondly referred to as Big Ears.

Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City can win the Champions League of course (as indeed the Blues so memorably did for the first time in 2012); but having put themselves in a strong position to claim the first league title of the post Alex Ferguson era, they must have the pursuit of this one take precedence, rather than gamble on the unpredictable for which little seems to be on their side - from history to the luck of the draw.

For Chelsea, that night in Munich and a relatively easy date against Galatasaray give them a licence to dream, but for Arsenal and Man City the otherwise dream clashes with Bayern and Barcelona are in reality just a distraction, and almost certainly will derail the domestic title charge of either club.

Add to that big FA Cup contests this weekend for which the draw didn’t do them any favours either, and the need for foresight and prioritisation is amplified.

The desire to avenge that annihilation at Anfield would be understandable; and as the last major trophy they won, the FA Cup represents a great opportunity to end a trophy drought dating back to 2005. But rather than get greedy, Arsenal have to take the calculated gamble on ending an even longer league title drought now that they have arguably the best chance since that historic unbeaten season in 2004.
Physical and mental fatigue are beginning to tell and yet this is only the start of a two-month spell that is fixture hell, and against Liverpool tomorrow, Arsene Wenger must allow key players to take a break, none more so than the German duo of Mesut Ozil and Per Mertesacker who have not been accorded the luxury of even stopping to catch a breath; likewise Mikel Arteta, Santi Carzola and Bacary Sagna.

And should early signals suggest that Bayern won’t budge either on Wednesday, then the breather should be extended for some as the game against a much-rested and dangerous Sunderland three days later would automatically become more important.
Tomorrow should be the day when Lukas Podolski, Niklas Bendtner, Thomas Vermaelen, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Carl Jenkinson, Nacho Monreal and perhaps even the youngsters Yaya Sanogo and Gideon Zelalem are trusted with the job.

Man City
Unlike Arsenal who apart from stopping bad results from becoming a habit do not have to beat Liverpool at all costs, Man City need to better Chelsea.
Having rested in midweek, City need to put out their best team today as this is more important than Barcelona.

With City going two games without scoring, and Jose Mourinho getting the better of the verbal spats and crawling under Manuel Pellegrini’s skin, it is extremely crucial for City to make a statement.
They will not have to face Chelsea in the league again, but knocking the Blues out of the Cup would be a reminder to the rest of England that the league’s most potent attack is back in form; perceptions can be everything.
Pellegrini has to correct the tactical errors that led to Chelsea’s victory at the Etihad, drop one striker and shore up his midfield with an extra man to match Chelsea for balance and numbers, and eliminate the glaring vulnerability to counter attacks of that Monday night.
Add to that better composure in front of goal and they should be able to turn tables on Chelsea, not just in the one-off Cup game but in the title race.,
@markssali on twitter