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Oct 4, 2010

The Fifth Official: Liverpool - A club in crisis

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.

Liverpool: A club in crisis

Looks like last week's throwaway comment about Liverpool's relegation scrap is the most accurate I've been in a while. Put simply, Liverpool are a club in complete disarray. The fans hate the owners, the owners probably hate the fans, the fans also hate half the deeply average squad, the two decent players resent how rubbish the rest of them are and now everyone is starting to question the logic in ever giving Uncle Roy a gig ever so slightly above his pay station.

It was so much more rewarding poking fun at Liverpool when Benitez was in charge given his 'unique and special' personality, but with Roy it just feels like baiting a defenceless, confused old man who smells of Werthers Originals. I'm sure he will turn things round eventually, but there are sure to be a few more laughs along the way before he does.

At Anfield, Blackpool were everything Liverpool weren't: bold, energetic, creative and coherent. They approached the game as if it was their last ever match in the top flight. Liverpool played like they'd just been on a five-day survival mission in the Shetland Islands with Andy McNabb. Still, at least with the international break they will be saved further humiliation for a few weeks.

Beware of the Drog

Always the bridesmaid never the bride. Once again Arsenal pitched up to Stamford Bridge and played some pretty football but came away ground down by a formidable, winning unit. Each season Arsene Wenger has to try and convince himself, the players and the fans that this is their year, only to see it blown away by the man who admits he loves Arsenal (although probably because they make it so easy for him to score).

You'd think after he scored 13 goals in 13 games against them, Arsenal may have cottoned on to the fact that Didier Drogba should be marked so tightly that he could share a straitjacket with Laurent Koscielny. However, that is probably where the defender is heading after his early miss from underneath the crossbar. Wenger could barely disguise his disgust.

One of these days the penny might finally drop with Wenger that you don't need to play well to win things. If the sign of a formidable team is winning when you are playing badly then Arsenal are the exact opposite, managing to lose frequently when they are the better side. This season will be yet another long walk to disappointment.

Sunderland's dirty protest

A warning of how dire the game between Sunderland and Manchester United came just before kick-off with news of a burst sewer pipe above the away changing room at the ground affectionately (and appropriately it seems) termed the Stadium of Sh*t* by the club's local rivals.

As the United players filed in from their warm up they were confronted by a leaky pipe full of poop that had sprayed a dirty protest all over their dressing room. The game was held up while United's stars were transferred to a non-brown room to continue their preparations, despite being shaken to the core by the stench. Edwin Van der Sar, master of understatement, called it a "rare moment".

It may have been rare but it sounds far more interesting than the actual game was. United's players were clearly so mortified their flashy suits and expensive moisturisers had to be binned, that they conjured up an instantly forgettable display and have yet to win on the road this season. No wonder, when they receive such an inhospitable welcome.

You've been De Jong-ed

A mixed start to the season for Newcastle just turned into a miserable one after the World Cup's leading hatchet man, Nigel de Jong, did a number on the one player in the Toon's ranks with a genuine streak of class. After a crunching tackle from the Dutchman, poor old Hatem Ben Arfa needed oxygen on the pitch and was rushed off to the specialist ward where surgeons have been trying to get the imprint of De Jong's boot off Xabi Alonso's chest for the last three months.

Newcastle's season has been the epitome of the ridiculous and the sublime. They pumped Aston Villa 6-0 then lost at home to Blackpool, they won comfortably at Everton then were beaten by a Stoke team that mustered one shot on target in the match. And now their most talented player has been side-lined for half a year before he's even had a chance to have a dust up with Joey Barton in training.

It also seems the officials are nonplussed at their Premier League return. Joleon Lescott's challenge on Shola Ameobi was blatant, even acknowledging the striker's Bambi-esque fall, while the penalty that gave City the lead wasn't a foul and was outside the box in any case. City did very little in the match but demonstrated they may well have cracked that most important trait of all potential champions - winning while playing poorly. Ominous.

Henry: Just desserts

Speaking of hatchet men, I'm sure if you are like me the fact that Karl Henry got a red card at Wigan on Saturday shocked you to the core. The lad has been trying to slice someone in half all campaign and finally reached his nadir at the DW with the most ferocious, heart stopping tackle on the helpless Jordi Gomez.

Henry had clearly been sent out to intimidate Wigan's 'flair' players, but given Gomez's recent form, Henry could have done that with a quick hair pull and a few nasty names, rather than a potentially leg breaking challenge. It's hardly ideal when you are desperately trying to defend the integrity of your playing style, as Mick McCarthy and the club's bigwigs have been trying to do all season, when the skipper breaks someone's leg one week then sends an opponent into orbit the next.

I wonder if Henry tried to roll out the famous line often heard in reply to a referee's admonishment for a late tackle: "Sorry, but I got there as soon as I could."

• Don't forget, you can help The Fifth Official's bid to attract more followers on Twitter than Sepp Blatter at www.twitter.com/fifthofficial

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