Arsene and Sir Alex fighting for second place

By Myles Palmer


THERE IS no title race, as I said last week.

Loadsamoney Chelsea have rocked the duopoly

Arsenal and Man United are fighting for the second automatic place in the Champions League.

And Tuesday, February 1st could be chaos.

Arsenal v Man United could be a shambles, if Ferguson doesn’t see sense soon.

I expect you are disgusted by his behaviour.

We all know that the Wenger-Ferguson “relationship” has been beyond the point of repair for years.

But to wind up Wenger now, two weeks before the game, by calling Glenn Moore up for an exclusive interview, is utterly despicable.

As always, Fergie loves to get his retaliation in first.

In case you’ve just flown back from Tibet, Sir Alex told Moore: “In the tunnel he was publicly criticising my players, calling them cheats. I was told about this when they came into the dressing-room, so I went out into the tunnel and said to him: ‘You get in there and behave yourself, leave my players alone’.”

Fergie claimed that Wenger “came sprinting towards me with his hands raised saying: ‘What do you want to do about it?’ He was standing right there. To not apologise for the behaviour of the players to another manager is unthinkable. It is a disgrace. But I don’t expect Wenger to ever apologise.

“Yet Wenger is always complaining the match was not played in the right spirit. They are the worst losers of all time. They don’t know how to lose. Maybe it is just Manchester United. They don’t lose many games to other teams.”

After the Bolton game, when Wenger was seething after a defeat, he was provoked by reporters into saying, “He does what he wants. I will never answer any question any more about this man.”

On Monday, Wenger told a French TV station that, “Ferguson’s out of order. He has lost all sense of reality. He is going out looking for a confrontation, then asking the person he is confronting to apologise.”

SATURDAY AND SUNDAY told us a lot about Europe’s big teams.

In the lunchtime game, Man United went to Liverpool.

They had never kept a clean sheet at Anfield in the Premiership.

But since Carlos Queiroz came back, United are defending better.

After 21, Rooney rifled a low 20-yarder that Dudek should have saved. His attempt to save was pathetic.

What a mistake !

After that the game was made-to-measure for United, who defended and kicked.

Rooney was dragging Hyypia out of the middle all the time.

Fortune’s kicking in the Carling Cup semi at Chelsea was vicious, but he wasn’t playing here.

Heinze is hyper-aggressive and Phil Neville kicked Riise ferociously.

Wes Brown got a yellow with another bone-rattling shin-hack, then stamped on Riise’s foot to earn a red card.

LUIS GARCIA was clueless.

Maybe he is another Limpar, great in training.

The unfit Morientes showed his class, but United won 1-0.

I had figured : If Spurs beat Chelsea at 3pm, then Arsenal will beat Bolton at 5.15. But I knew Chelsea would win, so I put a bet on it.

The Smertin-King incident was not a penalty, but Poll said it was and Frank buried it and they won 2-0

With Chelsea winning at Spurs to go 10 points ahead, I began to be dubious about Arsenal performing at Bolton.

Bolton are their bogey team.

On a windy day, on a bumpy pitch, Arsenal showed a few glimpses of their best football, but never looked like winning.

They were feeble and flaccid.

On 37, nine slick passes : Vieira-Toure-van Persie-Ljungberg-Vieira-Henry-Pires.

But Pires miscontrolled Henry’s pass in space.

Bolton are a 40-30-30 team : 40% organisation, 30% flick-on, 30% push-and-run

On 41, a Bolton’s flick-on worked.

Jaaskelainen hit a 70-yard kick, Nolan headed on, Campell cleared, Nolan again headed forward to Diouf, who beat Campbell and crossed the ball.

Toure was ball-watching as Stelios, the only attacker, drifted away to the far post.

Hoyte was also ball-watching.

Almunia did not anticipate the cross. Did not move his feet soon enough.

Sterlios did not have to jump as he headed in from two yards. Balls don’t score goals. Men score goals, so you watch men.

After that goal, Arsenal were just not good enough.

In 50, one great move created a chance : Vieira won it and lost it and won it back and drove forward and found van Persie, whose shot from 10 yards hit Jaskaa’s legs.

The rebound did not bounce as high as Pires wanted. He leaned forward and headed wide from five yards.

Bolton kept a rare clean sheet, only their third of the season.

Bolton didn’t kick, didn’t have to.

As Allardyce said, “We’ve sussed their formation.”

IT’S NICE TO HAVE Spanish football back on the box.

Barcelona played Real Sociedad, who had Nihat on the bench.

Samuel Eto’o scored with a reflex header to give Barcelona a 1-0 win.

Left wing corner by Xavi, flick-on by Marques at the near post, electric reaction by Eto’o.

Mourinho, sitting there making notes, said to himself : “Damn ! Jarosik could mark Marques on those, but he is ineligible.”

Chelsea will beat Barcelona because Barca won’t be able to break them down.

Then Real Madrid played Zaragoza.

Against Seville, the galicticos walked and stood still and lost 1-0

Against Athletic Madrid last week, they jogged and had three shots and won 3-1

Against Zaragoza on Sunday some superstars actually ran about !

Amazing what a new manager can do.

Zaragoza striker David Villa scooted through Helguera’s tackle, foxed Samuel with a stepover, zipped sweetly round Casillas, slotted it left-footed from a narrow angle.

Samuel is comically inept. He came across to cover Helguera, then raised both arms and said, “Go ahead and shoot !”

Raul equalised, 1-1 at halftime, centreback Alvaro was sent off, Ronaldo made it 2-1

Then Gravesen came on for Figo and gave us an amazing moment.

Luxemburgo had obviously told him to tell Beckham to switch to the right and Zidane to move forward..

So Gravesen told Zidane where to play ! He pointed !He was saying, I’m holding the middle now, you get up the field !

He made a big difference to the game.

Owen came on for Ronaldo and scored and they won 3-1.

They’ve had four managers since Perez sold Makelele rather than pay him a million a year more.

Eighteen dismal months later he replaces Makele with a one-man Danish army.

Thomas Gravesen is a spinal player.

Like Dave Mackay, Tony Adams and Roy Keane.

Like Desailly at AC Milan, playing for Arrigo Sacchi.

For Sacchi, midfield defence is fundamental to a football team : stopping moves, stopping flair, stopping talent, stopping defeats.

So Sacchi’s first signing is a spinal midfielder !

THE BEST CLUBS are those with great spinal players : keeper, centre back, anchorman, half-striker – the 4 key positions.

If you are dodgy in any of those 4 positions, you will be found out.

Sunday afternoon, I forgot that AC Milan game was on. They beat Udinese 3-1.

Later I saw Cagliari- Juventus, which was 0-0 at half-time.

Nedved has so much bottle !

He dribbles through a ruck of players and charges down a clearance and makes space for a cross, which Emerson heads in from two yards.

After 87, Zola jumps above Zebina to head in off the post from 12 yards.

While I was watching that game I was reviewing the team to play for my life.

This team changes from time to time, but always includes Emerson, Thuram and Shevchenko.

The team now is : Buffon ; Puyol, Thuram, Terry, Cole; Kaka, Emerson, Gravesen, Robben ; Ronaldinho, Shevchenko.

BBC2 screen Sweeney Investigates at 9.50 on Thursday night.

It’s about Abramovich and the EBRD.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development was created in 1991 to develop small businesses in Russia and Eastern Europe.

It’s funded by the governments of the USA, Japan, the UK, and other European nations.

January 18th 2005.