Sports

EPL Weekend Recap: Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham and More

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In the many years since I've started clattering away in this corner of the World Wide Web, I'd like to think we've established a solid rapport. Me, the crackpot blogger, you the patient, much appreciated reader. So with that said, it doesn't seem necessary to attribute that quote any further.

As we know, excuses are a bane in sports at all levels.

Players, coaches, team executives, fans all -- at one time or another -- use them to justify losses, bad plays, ... general malaise and or apathy. It's easy to make excuses. Much easier than doing things like looking yourself in the mirror to make actual life/sport changes. Blame the other guy, shrug your shoulders and move on. It's the easy way out.

Part of me, when I sat down to start typing out this weekly, poorly spelled, horrifically syntax-ed trip around the English Premier League wanted to wimp out and let my side-splitting, migraine headache -- likely caused by a crippling addiction to my stupid iPhone/laptop during NFL Sundays -- be a built-in excuse. But hey, screw that. It's the easy way out. I know a lot of times come Monday morning, especially lately, this write up hasn't been all that interesting, but this week there's at least one thing I wanted to write about so let's try to do that, deal?

Boring is in the Eye of the Beholder:

Again, not to make everything I write here somehow reflected to my Twitter feed -- hey 140 characters is easy -- but during the week I had a go at ESPN's relentless hype of the LSU/Alabama No. 1 vs. No. 2 NCAA Football game, which was essentially THE MOST IMPORTANT GAME EVER PLAYED. EVER.

Part of me Saturday didn't want to watch the game just to make a point -- and avoid CBS promos. (Yeah, ESPN went overboard with the hype despite the fact it was aired on another network.(*)) Still, come kickoff -- exhausted and cold -- I did like 18 million other red blooded Americans and watched the game.

And, boy, what a game it was -- 9-6 -- in overtime, no less! Let's Geeeeeeeaux Tigers!(**)

A funny thing started happening during the game, lots of soccer people started chiming in on Twitter, taking a poke at the game and pumping up soccer in the process. In essence, if you're a person that will blindly say this gridiron defensive struggle is a "great" game, then you can't exactly make fun of a 0-0 soccer game for being boring. The logic was sound, though I'd have thought we were past that sort of argument with soccer in America.

It was a good contrast, since earlier in the day the Liverpool/Swansea City match finished 0-0, yet it was a very compelling game, with lots of twists and turns, including Andy Carroll missing a wide open chance early, some great saves from both Pepe Reina and Michel Vorm, plus a whole lot of Luis Suarez. Quickly on Swansea, haven't we seen this before? A promoted team impressive before Christmas and then fades? Not to say that'll happen to the Swans, who are playing excellent and attractive soccer, but Brendan Rodgers' team has a lot left to do before it takes any bows.

When you watch enough sports -- whatever the level -- they tend to blend into one big blur, especially in the age of ESPN when whatever is on at the give moment can be billed as THE MOST IMPORTANT GAME EVER.. Some are good, some are bad, most are forgettable and disposable as we move onto the next MOST IMPORTANT GAME EVER the next night.

Rarely, it seems, do we witness a truly remarkable sporting event, which made Game Six of the 2011 World Series so memorable. That felt like something historic ... and it just sort of happened organically.

Entertainment is in the eye of the beholder, whatever the sport or art form.

So there isn't a great big conclusion here, we're intelligent sports fans. A "good game" isn't necessarily defined one way or another by tons of offense or loads of points. A Michael Bay movie might have a lot of explosions. Does it make it a good movie simply on the basis of a bunch of robots breaking skyscrapers?

Nah, you can have that I'll stick with stuff like "Rushmore."

The nice thing is, we'll probably both be entertained and we don't even have to argue about it.

(*) Again this is a chicken/egg argument, but wouldn't ESPN be served to at least address MLS playoffs -- an entity it does have the rights for -- across some of its platforms? MLS isn't a television ratings bonanza, but with so many hours to fill of live "Sportscenter" and whatnot, why not give the league more than a cursory glance. Maybe give it three minutes. Then again, MLS does appear to be one of the few sports entities where viewers are immune to the WWL hype machine.

(**) More free advice: if you are ever in a social situation, say, a party with a girl from Louisiana, who claims to be an LSU fan, don't ask her if anyone in her family has "eaux" in their last name. It's for the best.

A Quick Second on Sir Alex:

Is there any reason to wax poetic here about Sir Alex Ferguson. Love him or hate him, the man is a sporting legend, even if the seemingly weekly ESPN halftime soft focus features make you want to vomit.

Twenty-five years at Manchester United? The treble? The 31 trophies (though 10 are Community Shields)?

What more needs to be said, really? It was certainly a nice gesture by the club to name the massive stand in his honor. If not him, who else? Special moment.

Having said all that, barely 24 hours after United defeated Sunderland, having a tough time trying to remember anything from the match, aside from the reappearance of that delightful chap, "Own Goal." (You know Wes Brown wanted to pay his own personal tribute to Sir Alex, didn't you?)

This is a team that needs to regroup after the international break and try to find that form it carried over from its summer North American tour.

As great as the weekend was for Sir Alex, from a sentimental standpoint, it wasn't perfect for the Scot. It seemed like we were close to another chance for him to flash the shit-eating grin, with QPR taking a 1-0 lead vs. first place Manchester City and later tying the match 2-2 before ultimately losing 3-2 on a Yaya Toure goal. (Note, never take David Silva out of your fantasy lineup, even if it's listed with a 75 percent chance of not playing.)

Most weekends it feels like it's Sir Alex's world and we're all living in it ... if only so.

Looking Up in North London:

Shoveling the dirt on Arsenal and Arsene Wenger in September, as expected, proved foolish. Sure it was fun to have a laugh at the beleaguered Frenchman, but anyone who thought the Gunners would languish in the relegation zone were a little silly.

For one, as usual, Arsenal's fortunes come down to the health of its players. This team is much different when the very useful Thomas Vermaelen is part of the defense instead of, say, Johan Djourou or Sebastian Squilacci. Theoretically, the Belgian international paired with Per Mertesacker should make the Gunners less susceptible to set pieces for their height alone.

Then there is the absolutely pistol-hot Robin van Persie, who scored again in the Gunners 3-0 win over West Brom -- bit of a garbage goal this time from the Dutchman, but who's counting? He did add two assists and now leads the Premier League with 11 goals, vaulting past Edin Dzeko, Sergio Aguero and Wayne Rooney.

If Aaron Ramsey continues his upward trend from his long road back from his broken leg, Arsenal should be reasonably fierce the rest of the way. (And as I mentioned in August, the Arteta/Andre Santos signings might not be great long-term, they'd stabilize the team for this season.)

If you're an Arsenal fan, the best thing you can say about the club right now, is it seems a little settled. Players aren't openly talking about leaving. Every single result isn't a matter of life and death. Is this team good enough to catch Manchester City? Probably not. Do we know if the team will crumple with the first bad result or touch of adversity in the coming months? Who knows.

At the very least, Arsenal is fun to watch again.

As hot as Arsenal's been, it's their North London neighbors in white that can't stop winning games.

Tottenham found a way to grind out a 3-1 win over Fulham, in a match that screamed out to finish 2-2 in the final 10 minutes, which would have been typical Tottenham fashion. Suppose the players were ultimately inspired by an ailing Harry Redknapp, which surely caused Clint Dempsey et al to miss from close range after numerous late scrums inside the box, right?

Not sure when or why the good times will stop at White Hart Lane, but aside from a Dec. 22 date with Chelsea, Spurs' upcoming schedule is very manageable.

And, it also bears noting, in a total shocker ... Tottenham is a much better team after fighting off Chelsea and retaining Luka Modric, even if he locks himself in his bathroom listening to Chopin piano concertos every other week on Tuesday and Wednesday when the Champions League is in action.

Around the League:

Admittedly, during his time on the Champions League call in the Bristol Broom Closet, I never had much affinity toward Derek Rae. That was probably more because of working with Tommy Smyth. So I'll give the Scot credit, he filled Ian Darke's shoes ably Saturday morning during Newcastle's 2-1 win over Everton. ... Nice win for the Magpies, who remain unbeaten. Great strike by defender Ryan Taylor for the winner. Yohan Cabaye did leave the game with injury, which bears watching when the club returns from the international break with a massive stretch of games. ... Not going to heap any misery on poor Farmer Jones via Everton's precariously place above the drop zone. He's had a rough enough weekend with his other sports teams. ... Rarely do I do a cartoonish eye-bulge, but Bolton 5, Stoke City 0 was one of those moments. ... Maybe this is it for Wigan. A loss to Wolves Sunday pushed Roberto Martinez's team to the bottom. The cubboard seems bare, but haven't we all said that before? ... Not inclined to write much about Chelsea's 1-0 win over Blackburn. Suffering from a bit of Chelsea fatigue at the moment. There's minimal joy around the Blues these days. ... Sunderland losses strike Connor Wickham for a few months with a knee injury. Shame, I had a ton of "he looks like Josh Hamilton" jokes lined up. (And no, that's not insinuating the young Englishman has ever smoked crystal meth out of a lightbulb.)

Fantasy Team O' the Week:

Well, a hearty tip of the cap to my actual-life friend Jared Keene (a great FIFA player) for a 90-point week, thanks to van Persie, David Silva, Gabby Agbonlahor, Ryan Taylor, Nani and Vorm. Well-played.

One Other Thing:

If you read/follow my Twitter feed, or this little blog-o-roonie you know my Sunday mornings are spent playing -- more realistically rolling around in the dirt -- playing softball with my friends. Anyways, the season ended with a loss in the quarterfinals Sunday, so I'll be with you for the Sunday kickoffs from here on out.(Settle down, I can hear your cheering from here. Sheesh.)

One semi-funny story. In the third inning of our second game of the morning -- after my team had posted four straight hits mind you -- a couple soccer moms and dads walked across the outfield and started complaining. See the outfield at this venue is used for soccer, occasionally. So they were super pissed we were playing when their little darlings had an epic U-9 match to play and didn't want to get hit by a softball -- a reasonable argument -- yet they, as you'd expect, were massive dicks about it.

I yelled, semi-kidding in their direction from the bench, this is all we (or at least I) have, this is it, your kids have their entire futures ahead of them, all we've got is softball, so don't take it away from us. Please.