|

Arsenal-Man City clash full of plot lines

by Christopher Davies

LONDON — You sometimes wonder what goes through a footballer’s head. When Emmanuel Adebayor scored for Manchester City in its 4-2 win over his former club Arsenal at Eastlands last September, why did he think that running the length of the field to celebrate on his knees in front of the traveling fans was a good idea?

Was this really a spontaneous outpouring of joy, a natural way of scoring against your ex-club or a pre-meditated act of stupidity that could have incited crowd trouble?

The Football Association fined Adebayor £25,000 for his excesses. For good measure, Adebayor was also sent off in the game for stomping on Robin van Persie.

No wonder Kolo Toure, another former Gunner, has advised Adebayor to show “more intelligence” when City plays Arsenal at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Toure and Patrick Vieira will be given a warm welcome back, but Adebayor’s attitude as an Arsenal player, plus his brainless celebration will ensure a hostile reception for the striker.

“I had a word with him and Patrick had a word with him as well,” said City captain Toure. “I told him just to calm down and focus on the game. If we start to be emotional, that’s when we can drop some points.

For us the most important thing is to win the game.”

The most thrilling climax ever to a Premier League season is underlined by the fact that of the weekend’s 10 matches only Wolves vs. Blackburn and Bolton vs. Portsmouth have no direct bearing on the title, qualification for Europe or relegation.

With three games to go, the outcome of most of the major issues remain open. To use Sir Alex Ferguson’s phrase, it’s squeaky bum time.

The title is in Chelsea’s hands. If it wins its three remaining games, starting with Stoke on Saturday, it will be the champion.

Manchester United can only win and hope Chelsea slips up, and Saturday it faces the in-form Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur, like City chasing fourth spot and whose confidence has been boosted by back-to-back victories over Arsenal and Chelsea.

But nowhere will the atmosphere be hotter than at Emirates, where Arsenal needs three points to secure third place and City must win to finish fourth.

Arsene Wenger will expect a reaction from his players after they blew a 2-0 lead at Wigan in the last 10 minutes to lose 3-2 last Sunday.

Wenger will strengthen his squad this summer as Arsenal attempts to end its six-year trophy-less spell next season, a sign of the times being the Gunners will happily accept players Chelsea doesn’t sign.

Wenger said: “We cannot compete on wages with teams like Chelsea. There are top players who can’t all go to Chelsea, it’s as simple as that. And there are top players outside those that Chelsea want to buy who are good enough for us.

“This season we were very close to winning a trophy. It is very difficult in England to stay at the top because you have so many teams who have quality and are threatening. The first challenge is to stay at the top, then it is about winning the league or the Champions League. The rest is cups and that is not exactly the same. The real quality is to win the championship or the Champions League.

“It will be a decisive year next year for this team, that is for sure.”

* * * * *

WORD IS NEXT season will be Sir Alex Ferguson’s last in charge of Manchester United. Fergie will be 70 by then and time to hang up the hair dryer.

Cue countless speculation and “world exclusives” about his successor.

Ferguson is sure to have a significant input on the man who succeeds the most successful British manager ever, who at the same time will have one of the most difficult and easiest of jobs. Following a legend is never easy, but someone will inherit a top-class squad of players and an infrastructure second to none.

New managers usually have it much worse.

Among the early contenders are, inevitably, David Moyes of Everton and Aston Villa’s Martin O’Neill, but could United appoint a manager who has never won a major honor in English football?

Moyes, whom Ferguson rates highly, has done a magnificent job at Everton on a tiny budget, but has won nothing.

O’Neill won the League Cup twice with Leicester and three Scottish titles with Celtic, yet neither has a Premier League, F.A. Cup or a European crown to their name.

Would the world’s top players sign for Moyes or O’Neill or would the lure of United be sufficient to attract superstars?

Jose Mourinho would love to take over from the Very Special One at Old Trafford but his pragmatic style of play is not synonymous with United’s tradition. And while he is hugely successful, the Portuguese’s abrasive personality can make Fergie seem like a pussycat.

However, Inter Milan’s 3-1 win over Barcelona ensured Mourinho’s stock rose, though the result would make him an even bigger favorite to take over at Real Madrid this summer.

For me, there is one logical replacement: Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.