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Nov 10, 2008

The last look at the weekend

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 five-star weekend. The fifth official.

Hats off to you both
Let's leave cynicism at the front door for the first instalment people. Don't worry, it'll be let in shortly. Think of it just contentedly sitting in the waiting room, flicking through a magazine of hate. That's because one can do nothing after such as game at the Emirates but sit back and applaud what was a quite magnificent game - the embodiment of all that is good about the Premier League. Lord knows there's enough wrong with it.

Arsenal and Manchester United gave us a game to savour on Saturday morning, racing up and down the field in turn like a match you might see in Sprottley Junior School's playground. It was mesmerising stuff. Attacking abandon was gleefully embraced, rigid and disciplined defending royally shunned. It could, and perhaps should, have ended 8-5 to either side such was the rabid enterprise on show. Can't they play each other every week? Pleeeeease?

Farewell Gary Neville, we won't miss you
Saturday's game was also notable for one thing, the beginning of the end for Gary Neville. He has been out for a long while - I'll give him that - but after a woeful 70 minutes he made way for a Brazilian nearly half his age who managed to change the course of the game from right-back, scoring a quite brilliant goal that Rooney or Ronaldo would have been pleased as punch with. How often do you hear that said about a full back?

I for one, salute the demise of Neville Neville's least likeable son. He has been a solid, reliable player for over a decade yes, but I find him one of the most objectionable players to have played in the top flight. Imbued with arrogance, always playing the game with a snarl on his stubble-flecked face, baiting opposition fans (especially Liverpool supporters with elegantly concocted sound bites such as: "I can't stand Liverpool, I can't stand Liverpool people, I can't stand anything to do with them."). Goodbye G Nev, and take your silly facial hair with you.

City Boy Dunne Bad
Oh dear Richard Dunne, oh dear. After giving him a bit of stick last week I almost felt a pang of sympathy for him while I watched his floundering display against Harry's Spurs revolutionaries. Let's start with the good news. He didn't stick one in his own net. Err, that's it. The bad news is extensive I'm afraid.

Not only did he try and - I'm sorry there's no other way to say it - hump a through ball meant for Darren Bent instead of head, kick, knee or elbow it anywhere, he then was cruelly nutmegged by Luka Modric before watching as Jermaine Jenas set up Spurs' second just a mere millimetre from his nostrils. But that wasn't all dear reader, oh no. The coup de grace was his trip on Bent as the forward raced in on goal that earnt him a straight red and a short, but ignominious, walk down the tunnel. Oh dear Richard, oh dear, dear, dear. At least Steve Sidwell's equally stunning performance for Villa may make you feel better.

Clubs in crisis this week include...
Ooh, let's see. We'll start with the easy ones; Sunderland and Newcastle. Just two weeks ago Wearside was invading the pitch with carefree abandon at having finally got one over on their local rivals. Now a reverse at Stoke, a thumping at Chelsea and a loss Portsmouth have left them second from bottom and Roy Keane with a face more twisted than Dennis Wise on acid. Newcastle beat Villa last Monday to climb up to 13th, but after a showing more limp than John Wayne Bobbitt at Fulham they're now back down in 18th leaving Joe Kinnear staring down the Championship barrel again.

The Hammers are sinking. Yes, we all love Gianfranco Zola but that counts for little when your team only play properly for 80 minutes. That's one point in six for them. Paul Ince is looking over his shoulder too after only three points from 18. Less the Guvnor, more the unshowered tenant.

Aston Villa are in there. "Top four beckons," they said. "Doesn't look like it if you get done in successive games by Newcastle and Middlesbrough," we replied. Then there's Man City. Three straight defeats leave them just one point better off than Spurs. Yes, Spurs. And don't get me started on Wigan or West Brom. Sack them all and start again I say.

A birthday beating for Big Phil
Another man one finds hard to dislike (yet) is Big Phil Scolari. In fact the only blot on his copybook so far is petulantly requesting he not be referred to as Big Phil Scolari. Big Phil Scolari got a comprehensive victory against Blackburn on his 60th birthday, but what is going on with Big Phil Scolari's schizophrenic Chelsea side this season? How come they can wallop the likes of Sunderland, Villa, Boro and Pompey then sink so miserably to a deflated Roma side and a well organised, but hardly dynamic Liverpool outfit?

And how on earth does Nicolas Anelka manage to reach ten goals for the campaign in early November without anybody noticing he was even playing well? Have all those pundits who've been slagging him off these last few months not realised he had edged into the 'mildly prolific' category? Are we sure those goals have been independently checked and verified? I ask you, what is the Premier League coming to?

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