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EPL: Arsenal Soars, Chelsea Flat and Odd TV Schedule

So, we've already deduced the EPL has surpassed it's American cousin, the NFL, in terms of parity this holiday season.

The Premier League is also encroaching on the NFL in terms of bizarre television scheduling. Saturday we saw six matches kicking off at once. Today, we get the off-again, on-again Monday night/afternoon match. Since it's Aston Villa/Liverpool it actually makes ESPN2, meaning more work for Ian Darke and Steve McMananaman, who should consider wearing matching Christmas-themed sweater vests until January, or at least put Ian in a Santa Claus cap.

It's not a big deal. In fact it makes sense the television schedule is almost as confusing as the league itself, which saw a new team climb to the summit of the table for the second consecutive week.

Le Dangle:

My friend Jared coined the term, "dangling" during one of our many late-night sessions of "FIFA 11." It's one of those unofficial terms, like the Supreme Court's old ruling on pornography insomuch as, you know it when you see it, even if you can't write a dictionary entry for it.

Suppose the clearest definition is some spicy dribbling and sick body control.

If that's the case Samir Nasri dipped into the double dangle jar Saturday against Arsenal.

The Frenchman's brace has my mind messed up like Kenny Powers during his trip to Mexico. All this time I thought my favorite type of goals were the long-range thunderbolts. Now, perhaps, it's the cheeky, tip-toe dribbling through the box. Can't decide.

Both of Nasri's goals were danglers, with the second coming with an audacious, falling-off-the-field kick to beat Mark Schwarzer and give Arsenal a 2-1 win.

Nasri's been doing this sort of thing all season, scoring eight goals, many of them in important games, while picking up the slack of the oft-injured Cesc Fabregas, not to mention Theo Walcott. Saturday was the first time he out-and-out won a match for the Gunners, despite his superlative play.

Arsenal's overall squad depth, with players like Nasri filling in for Fabregas or Maroune Chamakh taking over for Robin van Persie is as big a reason as any the Gunners are atop the imperfect Premier League. Arsene Wenger's club, despite it's defensive inadequacies, doesn't need to lean on a super-human effort like Chelsea does from Didier Drogba each week.

The Gunners also benefit that this season their continual defensive lapses and wavering crisis of confidence don't seem to matter since everyone else at the top end of the table is nothing short of mediocre, not that its going stop Wenger from stamping around like an angry toddler on the sideline any time soon.

Arsene, relax, nobody's any good this season.

Chelsea, M.D.:

Once upon a time, "House: MD" was an enjoyable, mindless television show. Hugh Laurie performance as the irascible, cynical doctor was, in fact, fun to watch, up until sometime around the third or fourth season and the producers decided to shake it up, change the cast by adding Kumar from the "White Castle" movies and add more-and-more soap opera elements.

At it's core, "House" was the most formulaic, paint-by-numbers show on television, made entertaining by Laurie's (at times) tour-de-force. Every show would start with a medical mystery. House and the gang would screw up the initial diagnosis, inevitably leading to breaking out the defibrillators or the patient bleeding out their nose. The "team" would do another diagnosis and prepare some risky, crazy surgery. Then by about the 50 minute mark, House would stumble across something or look at a item on the cafeteria menu and find the cure.

The end. Rinse, lather, repeat 21 times.

Which is to say, the current, undiagnosable ailment plaguing once-mighty Chelsea figures to play out like an episode of "House."

Carlo Ancelotti and the players have no clue why the Blues are sputtering along, after starting the season battering (weak) competition like 1986 Mike Tyson. The Italian manager even admitted the team is, "scared." It's a bit of apples to oranges, but would Jose Mourinho or Sir Alex Ferguson every admit to something like that, unless to play games with the opposition's mind?

Since the start of November Chelsea are 1-3-2 (W/L/D). In a medical sense, they're flat-lining from a playing standpoint, despite standing only two points off the top of the table.

Perhaps Frank Lampard provides that shot of adrenaline to kick-start the campaign. Maybe a fresh face or two in January does.

Like an episode of "House," though, this seems a little predictable. Since everybody else is floundering in mediocrity, is there any doubt Chelsea won't be there at the end. Yeah, it's possible, but would you bet your life on it?

However the counterweight to that argument was Chelsea's over-cooked spaghetti, limp performance on Saturday vs. Everton. The Blues' only goal came on a penalty that was the result of Phil Neville's horrendously placed back-pass and Nicolas Anelka deciding to run full speed into Tim Howard, if almost on purpose to draw a card on the American keeper to get the penalty as opposed to trying to finish the play. (Anelka? That cynical? Nah.)

Even after Didier Drogba's penalty, Chelsea were pinned back by Everton -- in their sharp "vanilla" collared shirts. The Toffees pressed the issue and besieged the Chelsea penalty area, finally breaking through on Tim Cahill's(*) headed assist to Jermaine Beckford.

(*) Poor Petr Cech, another boot to the face, this time from Cahill. Tim, Cech isn't on the FIFA World Cup bid committee. No need to pretend his face is indeed that of Jack Warner's for Australia missing out on 2022. Save your anger, or boxing skills, for them.

Chelsea clearly aren't playing with the same refuse to lose attitude we've seen in the past. Seems re-lighting that flame is harder than it looks. When the coach and players admit they don't know what's wrong, that's more than a tad disconcerting. Maybe instead of asking questions and admitting to the crisis, Chelsea ought to keep their mouths shut and go find a result.

Even more worrisome, Chelsea used to win games before the whistle even sounded to start the match. They'd won the mental game, with the other team all too eager to acquiesce. Now, the Blues are wounded lion, with the rest of the animal kingdom all too happy to poke and prod their weaknesses.

My only thought would be it might be time, Lampard or not, for Ancelotti to move out of his preferred 4-3-3 formation. Ashley Cole isn't providing much up the left lately. Nor is Chelsea able to break teams near midfield and open up odd-number combination on the counter attack.

As much is being written now, like "House" after the final commercial break, expect Chlesea to sort out its current mystery.

Newcastle being Newcastle:

If, say, I actually drew a salary for making my weekly EPL round predictions on Fridays there's a good chance I'd be in hot water for my horrendous record this year. I'd chalk it all up to West Brom; haven't picked the Baggies correctly all season. Can't figure out the Flying Odemwingie's for the life of me.

Thing is, I'll keep guessing away.

Chris Hughton won't.

A day after Newcastle lost at St. James Park 3-1 to West Brom, Magpies' owner Mike Ashley put Hughton's head in the guillotine, citing needing a manager with "more top flight experience."

Umm. Okay. Grab a retread guy like Alan Pardew, or whomever. That always works.

Newcastle has had a crazy season. To wit: Lose to Manchester United 3-0 in the first match, follow it with a 6-0 win over Aston Villa. Lose to Arsenal 4-0 in the Carling Cup, follow it up with a 5-1 win over Sunderland and a 1-0 win over the Gunners in league play. Get crushed 5-1 to Bolton, then draw Chelsea 1-1.

Maybe Ashley ought to hire that old dancing dude from the Six Flags adds, because this season has more ups-and-downs than the Great American Scream Machine.

Kidding aside, this is a risky move for Newcastle and it's unique, combustible core of players. A new manager might give an immediate bump, or it might drive the plane right into the mountain. It's safe bet, right, that reasonable guys like Andy Carroll and Joey Barton will take this move in stride. They're the very definition of the word professional. They'll treat this like a mere hiccup and move on.

Suppose it wouldn't be Newcastle without this kind of senseless, self-inflicted off-field drama.

Is Joe Kinnear available?

U-S-A, A-Okay:

Let's check the proverbial oil on a couple Yanks in Premier League action this weekend.

Clint Dempsey was again, Clint Dempsey, making a great chipped pass to set up Diomansy Kamara in Fulham's loss to Arsenal. Dempsey again threw his body around, at one point scrapping with Nasri over a challenge.

Fascinating hypothetical for Dempsey, suppose Fulham never get it figured out this season and wind up relegated -- say a eight percent chance -- would a big club near the top of the table take a gamble on him? Forget the Roy Hodgson connection or the American ownership, wouldn't Dempsey be the perfect guy to play off Fernando Torres at Liverpool? Or would he occupy too similar a space as Steven Gerrard and create a new set of problems? Food for thought.

Jonathan Spector was surprisingly feisty lined up for West Ham in the midfield in their loss at Sunderland. Spector saw plenty of the ball, but you could tell his tendencies lie within an outside defender, as his strength was darting forward on straight runs at the defense, a much more effective tactic on the sideline than the middle of the field. And to be kind, Spector's distribution wouldn't rival Xavi's any time soon. At least he's finally getting on the field as Avram Grant seemingly is ready to try anything to save West Ham from the drop.

Finally, weird report out of England on Saturday that the Columbus Crew is making a pitch to Brad Freidel to become player/coach and that Aston Villa would be happy to let him leave since Randy Lerner wants to cut costs on the squad's high wage bill. That same report didn't give a lot of love to Brad Guzan, stating Gerard Houllier would want to go keeper shopping.

Love the idea of a player/coach, but this seems pretty far flung even for the oh-so-reliable English tabloid press.

Around the League:

Tottenham got a dose of its own medicine drawing Birmingham 1-1. Spurs took the lead early through Sebestian Bassong -- another defender scoring -- on another knockdown by Peter Crouch. Tottenham missed its chance to advance the lead, and were forced to share the points after Craig Gardner's late header. What goes around, comes around. ... Wigan/Stoke City finished 2-2 and featured two of the most unlikely deflected goals you'll ever see. First it was Robert Huth ripping a direct, low free kick from a long way off, which dinked off the Wigan wall and into the goal. Later Wigan's Tom Cleverly got a Lampardian bounce on a kicked ball to tie the game up. ... Wondering, was Phil Jagielka born with "bed head" or is he cultivating a look? ... Speaking of looks, Kolo Toure rocked a serious 1988 SEC running back caliber box fade in Manchester City's 1-0 win over Bolton. Not much of a game here. Carlos Tevez scored early. Mario Balotelli pouted. Nigel de Jong attempted to kill Fabrice Muamba. Again, with the Prem table so bunched up, perhaps City's 1-0 1997 Serie A mentality will be the canniest move of all in the end. ... Thought Steve Bruce's 4-3-3 lineup for Sunderland at home against West Ham was interesting, since it got Darren Bent, Danny Welbeck and Asamoah Gyan all on the field at once. Doubt he'll feel comfortable using Jordan Henderson, Lee Cattermole and Kieran Richardson against better teams. Bruce has assembled a team with more depth than most clubs, as Sunderland can survive injuries to Michael Turner and Titus Bramble. ... Peter Crouch had the scraggliest goatee I've seen in quite some time. It was the Jayson Werth beard equivalent of goatees, made me think I was watching Crouch's evil twin.

Different Playing Fields:

Here's the long-and-short difference between Premier League matches on ESPN2 and Fox Soccer Channel. At halftime of Chelsea/Everton on the "Deuce", there were at least two of those chirpy, piano-y ads for the iPad.

Meanwhile, FSC is deluged with that non-stop advert for Slyvania HD TVs and Blu Ray players, along with -- at least in my neck of the woods -- ads for international calling cards.

Then again, iPad commercials don't feature Andy Gray screaming, so there's that.

Fantasy Team O' the Week:

My friend in Tennessee, Drew Konig, wins the week with 81 points by his Martin A'nnul squad. Thirty points from captaining Nasri, along with 13 from Peter Odemwingie and nine from Matthew Etherington will do that for you. He's up to second place in the overall table.

One Other Thing:

Tired of complaining about Qatar getting the 2022 World Cup? Yeah me too.

The biggest shame is that South Korea couldn't buy enough votes.

Just ask RoboCop


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