The defense rests at Arsenal
Arsenal's defense has not been able to cope with play on the ground or the air
Steve Keane has to be encouraged as Blackburn, previously winless, prevailed
Swansea got its first Premier League goal since May, 1983 in its 3-0 victory
Five thoughts from Saturday's action in the Barclays Premier League ...
1. Defenseless at Arsenal. In 1998-99, Arsène Wenger's second season in charge at Arsenal, his team conceded just 17 goals as it finished second in the league. In 2003-04, his "Invincibles" conceded just 26 as they won the title. As recently as 2007-08, Arsenal allowed just 31 goals in 38 league games. But the trend had been set. The next year it let in 37. In 2008-09 it was 41 and last season 43 -- 10 more than Chelsea or Manchester City. Already this season, Arsenal has let in eight in one game. But that was at rampant Manchester United. Saturday's defensive collapse at previously winless Blackburn should be far more worrying for Arsenal fans. Arsenal led twice but ended up losing, 4-3. Arsenal was up against an opposing attack that had scored three goals in four matches. Yet against such opposition, Arsenal's defense could not cope. It could not cope with pace on the ground. It could not cope with set-piece balls in the air. Arsenal also contributed to its own downfall with two own goals, a sign, perhaps, of defensive panic.
In attack, Arsenal finished the game besieging the Blackburn goal. Gervinho cleverly set up Robin van Persie for a close range blast that Paul Robinson blocked. Apart from that the only way Arsenal could create chances was with high balls aimed at Marouane Chamakh, thrown on as a replacement, and Per Mertesacker, pushed into attack, perhaps on the basis that he wasn't making much difference in defense. It was effective. Chamakh scored with a header. But it's not the Wenger way and it's not a tactic that's going to lift Arsenal back into the top four.
2. Rovers Return. Saturday started badly for Steve Kean, with Blackburn fans staging a protest march demanding his removal as a manager. It did not get much better in the first half against Arsenal. The defense often looked as disorganized as it had a week earlier at Fulham. The coaching staff did not seem to have sorted out the problems. There had even been reports that Kean had "lost the dressing room." Yet, after Alex Song, the Gunners midfielder, put the ball into his own net to give Rovers a second equalizer, the home team seemed to smell Arsenal's weakness and responded with an effort of frenzied determination. Chris Samba and Robinson held the defense together at the end.
Some of Blackburn's bargain-basement buys, Mauro Formica and Ruben Rochina, look skillful but lightweight, though it usually takes imports at least half a season to adjust to the Premier League hurly burly. Yakubu, another cheap signing, looks overweight, but he worked hard and showed he's still a menace, scoring twice and helping to create a third. Perhaps most encouraging for Kean, was the damage wrought by his two speedsters. Junior Hoilett, the Jamaican Canadian Englishman, was not just quick but neat and clever in the first half. Martin Olsson came on in the second half to make determined runs that provoked Arsenal's final defensive collapse.
The game was an entertaining mess. Blackburn rode its luck. Yet after the game, Kean looked less like a man clutching at straws as repeated his mantra that his squad is strong enough to finish in the top half of the table.
3. QPR's investment paying off. Before Saturday, Queens Park Rangers was the only one of the three promoted teams with a victory this season -- and that was a rather lucky one at Everton. Rangers were also the only one of the trio to spend heavily this summer. They had indulged in an orgy of spending on the transfer deadline after Tony Fernandes bought the club. Last Monday, five players made their club debuts against Newcastle but the team couldn't score and drew. On Saturday at Wolves, that changed in a hurry. After eight minutes, a mishit shot by one of the big-name signings, Shaun Wright-Phillips, screwed across the goal to another big-name recruit, Joey Barton, who also scuffed his shot. The ball bobbled past a bewildered Wayne Hennessy. Two minutes later, Alejandro Faurlin, who has been at QPR for a while, flashed a shot past the Wolves goalie for number two. Another new recruit, DJ Campbell, added another goal late on. QPR's new boys have "jellied," said Chris Kamara, the commentator for Sky TV. If so, it's a jelly with a bite. A point illustrated by Barton, who entertained himself in the last few minutes of a 3-0 victory, by with a series of scuffles.
4. Swansea can score goals. Not only had Swansea failed to win any of its first five games on its return to the Premier league, it had not scored a goal. There was an element of bad luck there. Swansea had hit woodwork as often as a team of carpenters. It took a penalty to break the Swans' duck. Scott Sinclair converted it after 14 minutes. According to the BBC, it was Swansea's first goal in the top division since May 7, 1983. Leroy Lita quickly added the second after a corner. In the second half, Nathan Dyer outpaced the West Brom defense to score a third. Through the first six games, Swansea has only conceded five goals, showing the defensive strength that had helped the team win promotion. On Saturday the attack finally turned up. The result was an assured 3-0 victory over a normally tricky opponent.
5. Norwich pay penalty and win. Norwich also gained its first victory of the season, away to Bolton. Anthony Pilkington and Bradley Johnson gave Norwich a two-goal lead. Both goals came from set pieces, traditionally a Bolton strength. When Bolton's Ivan Klasnic was sent off for butting Marc Tierney, the Canaries appeared to be cruising. But Norwich had given away a penalty kick in each of its first four games. It made the same mistake again with a foul by Leon Barnett after 64 minutes. A penalty conceded in five straight games is a Premier League record. Martin Petrov converted but Bolton, which has now lost all three of its home games this season, could not muster a sustained late rally. Norwich won, 2-1.
For promoted teams the main objective for the season is survival. For Norwich, Swansea and QPR to stay up, three other teams need to finish below them. On Saturday all three not only won, but they beat the sort of clubs who could fill the role of stand-in fall guys.
Phillips: Outfielders are on the move at MLB winter meetings
SI Now Live Wednesday December 11, 2013