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Feb 18, 2013

Arsene's agony; 'consistent' Liverpool

Few of us like Monday, but The Fifth Official does, for it brings with it a chance for him to point the finger and laugh. Here he pulls out the pretty, the puzzling and the downright pig-ugly from a week brimming with potential victims.

The big Appleton

Beaten by Bradford and beasted by Blackburn; now, Arsenal must prepare to get battered by Bayern. In a sense, their Champions League tie is one to relish for the club, because at least they can look forward to being outplayed and outclassed by a team who are actually supposed to be better than them. Finally, an honourable exit from a cup competition looms.

Bizarrely, Arsene Wenger chose to rest some of his best players for a match in a competition they had a genuine chance to win, so they'd be fresh for a potentially humiliating defeat in a tournament they haven't a hope of succeeding in. It was certainly 'out of the box' thinking. Conversely, Blackburn's plan was to stay inside their own box for the entire match, leaving it only once to score the winner.

So, now Bayern come to town. But cheer up, Arsenal fans - Bayern are good, but they're no Blackburn (as in nowhere near as bad). Bayern have conceded one goal away from home this season, and scored 27. There is one thing for Gunners fans to cling to: it is so unlikely that you'll beat Bayern, so 'out there', it might just happen. No doubt with Gervinho scoring a hat-trick in each leg. Keep the faith.

Dubai or broke

Manchester City might be underwhelmed by their season, and disgruntled with their manager, but perhaps their clash with Leeds United will offer a slice of perspective. The Whites have been the subject of their own big-money takeover by an Emirati group, but that didn't stop GFH Capital following Khaloon Al Mubarak around the directors' box hoping some loose change might fall out of his pocket.

You see Leeds, Champions League semi-finalists back in 2001, have new owners from Dubai who actually appear not to have much money. So much so that practically the first thing they did after buying the club was to appeal for new investors. At least they haven't yet referred to the club's loyal fans as "morons", as Ken Bates is fond of doing. In fact, Leeds' only success of their afternoon at Eastlands was a round of applause from the home fans for their popular ditty "Shoes off if you hate Man U".

As for City, they couldn't have wished for more accommodating opponents after last week's mauling at Southampton and, with Gareth Barry dropped, that clean sheet was never in doubt. Roberto Mancini described the win as a "brodino", which translates as "light soup starter", meaning he hopes this can be the appetiser before City go on to reclaim their Premier League title. Fat chance. To extend the meal analogy, their championship charge is already being slobbered over by a pack of wild dogs.

War. Huh. What is it good for?

"Totally rubbish," Rafa Benitez said. No, he was not speaking of his side's recent form, but the tale from one red-top Sunday newspaper that claimed he and Mr Chelsea himself - leader, legend, lothario (allegedly) John Terry - were at "war". The pair clashed after their defeat to Newcastle, the tabloid reported, as Rafa singled out JT for blame. "It was not usually the way he is spoken to at Chelsea," the paper's source said.

While Rafa railed at the rubbish, JT lambasted "lazy journalism" for the story. When he said those words, it felt like he was speaking directly to me and I couldn't help but well up with pride. JT insisted his relationship with the gaffer was fine, which hilariously raises the prospect of Terry being pretty much the only person connected with the club that seems to like poor old Rafa. After all, he's got on with pretty much all Chelsea's previous managers, hasn't he?

On the field JT found the net as Chelsea bashed Brentford, quite literally. Gary Cahill lunged in on Jonathan Douglas with studs up before David Luiz needlessly concussed teenager Jake Reeves on what probably constituted his biggest day in the game to date. That hair sees him labelled a knockabout character, but there's no such bushy cushioning on his shoulder, and Reeves is lucky he's not eating through a straw today. No wonder Luiz apologised. Now it is time for a certain newspaper to apologise, or they could be facing a day in court.

Consistent inconsistency

There must be something about the Anfield hot seat, something that imbibes its inhibitor with an increasingly delusional view of the world. Leaving Roy Hodgson out of it for a second, think about it. How paranoid did Rafa become towards the end? And Kenny, good grief, what happened to him? Brendan Rodgers started off relatively normal, but now his office-speak mumbo jumbo has become tainted with ridiculous statements of non-fact.

In midweek, he referred to Liverpool's 2-0 defeat at Zenit St Petersburg as a "near-on perfect away performance". It looked suspiciously to me like a patchy display in which their star striker spurned a string of glorious chances, and in which they failed to defend properly. But if that is perfection according to Brendan, no wonder they are average these days. In terms of rewriting history, he's worse than a Hollywood film studio.

Another of his gems was: "We can be consistent. We haven't shown it this year but we are capable of it." The only consistency featuring in their season is their inconsistency, shown in their miserable home defeat to West Brom then this 5-0 mauling of Swansea. Well, Swansea reserves. Michael Laudrup basically handed Liverpool three points on a platter by keeping all his big guns fresh for that cup final with, er, League Two Bradford.

Boundary Rider

Beanpole Matt Smith is fast becoming the scourge of Merseyside. He's so tall he can probably peek over Manchester any time he likes to have a giggle at Liverpool and Everton. Just as it looked like Oldham's gallant cup run was coming to an end, there he was, climbing higher than a giraffe giving a mate a piggyback to nod home a 95th-minute equaliser.

It's a goal that will mean an awful lot to him, and to his club. Oldham are so skint there was a message pinned to their dressing room door instructing their players not to swap shirts with the opposition, because they couldn't afford to buy any more. They also couldn't afford to buy any official FA Cup balls so have been asking each team they've knocked out if they can pinch theirs to practise with.

In fact, judging by the tat in each corner of the stadium, it looks like they are renting it to Cash Converters to dump their unwanted gear. But what they lack in coin they make up for in heart as they pinned Everton back in the closing stages and got their goalkeeper, Dean Bouzanis, to run interference so Smith could grab the equaliser. The dream lives on.

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