Across the Pond: Premiership Surprises
Across the Pond is a series that offers this Yank's take on major events in sports from Europe and the rest of the world. For the last installment, click here.
Arsenal and Tottenham struggle to open the season
Both of these clubs suffered through an uncharacteristically poor start to the campaign. Blame it on injuries, blame it on poor coaching, blame it on a thin squad...whatever.
It won't change the fact that both clubs removed themselves from title contention very early in the season.
To be frank, better things were expected out of Arsenal during this season. The Gunners challenged for the title late into last season, and Arsene Wenger managed to hang on to most of the key cogs in his machine for the current campaign.
Le Boss also added Samir Nasri to an already potent offensive attack, and victories were expected.
In reality, the club struggled mightily and for a long period of time, looked like they might miss out on Champions League football.
Before December 2008 had hit, Arsenal had lost to Fulham, Hull, Stoke, Aston Villa and Manchester City, clubs who weren't exactly plucked from a list of Premiership heavyweights.
And how could I forget that 4-4 draw with Tottenham that felt like a loss to many? A 4-2 lead, squandered after the clock hit the 89th minute. Results like this had some clamoring for Wenger's head.
Arsenal's counterparts in the North London Derby also found themselves in dire straits to begin the season, but their fortunes were far worse.
Tottenham didn't manage a victory until their ninth match of the season and were hovering in and around the relegation zone at one point.
Juande Ramos was sacked early in the season as a thin squad threatened to obliterate Tottenham's chances to play European football next season.
New manager Harry Redknapp pulled the club away from the cellar, but a mid-table finish can only be seen as disappointing for a club that was threatening to break up the established order of the Top Four just a couple of seasons ago.
Newcastle...to make the drop?
Barney penned a very worthwhile article on this subject just yesterday.
Raise your hand if, at the beginning of the season, you predicted Newcastle would be relegated.
Most fans at the beginning of the season would chosen anybody from a group of Hull, Stoke, Fulham, Sunderland, Bolton and West Brom to go down before Newcastle did.
As poor as Newcastle's fortunes have been in recent seasons, you can't expect a club with Michael Owen and Obafemi Martins on its books to be relegated while newcomers Stoke are sitting comfortably, eight points above the drop zone with three matches remaining.
Apparently we were all fools.
We couldn't have predicted that Newcastle would play under three different managers during this season.
We couldn't have predicted that Newcastle's ownership would be so grossly incompetent that they would lead Kevin Keegan to flee St. James' Park at the beginning of September.
It was also difficult to see the cracks in the foundation that had been covered up with the plaster of long-standing football tradition.
We frequently hear about clubs being greater than the sum total of their parts, but rarely do we hear about a club actually being worse than its individual parts. Now we can add the 2008/2009 Newcastle lineup to that short list.
Ryan Giggs wins PFA Player of the Year Award
Perhaps this is surprising because Giggs took home the trophy after starting just 12 league games at the time the award was given. Perhaps this is surprising because his teammate Cristiano Ronaldo has been far superior statistically.
But no, it's neither of those things. He's performed well on the pitch.
My surprise at this announcement came because he's 35 years old. Giggs is in the twilight of his career, and players at that age just don't take home individual honors such as this one.
Teddy Sheringham is really the only other aging star who has taken home this award in recent years, but when he won it back in 2001, he was Man U's leading goalscorer at the time!
Giggs won the award when his competition was a slew of younger players who have featured more regularly this season.
Nemanja Vidic, Ronaldo, Rio Ferdinand, Edwin Van Der Sar and Steven Gerrard were all up for the award, but Giggs pulled off the upset victory.
It's a fitting honor in hindsight because he has achieved so much in his career, but it was definitely a surprise at the time.
Aston Villa's rise toward the top
Here in the States, the casual soccer fan tends to only hear about a select group of clubs. Odds are if it doesn't have to do with Man U, Real Madrid, or Barcelona, it doesn't get any mainstream media coverage.
While Villa's excellent form this season has been no secret in England, their rise to challenge for a Champions League spot came as a huge surprise to many fans over here.
Villa just isn't a glamorous team. To many, their rise was as surprising as seeing the Arizona Cardinals contesting the Super Bowl.
Thanks to the simple magic of a $5 Fox Soccer Channel subscription, I've been able to watch Gabriel Agbonlahor and Gareth Barry ply their trade over the past couple of seasons.
As an American, I knew the addition of the two Brads (Friedel and Guzan) would give Villa great talent and depth at the goalkeeper position.
But challenging Arsenal for fourth? No way.
There's a reason that only one team has been able to break the Man U-Chelsea-Arsenal stranglehold on first place in the history of the Premiership.
Smaller clubs aren't supposed to be able to compete with their riches, but Villa's talented youngsters found a way to make the Top Four a little nervous.
Villa were unable to hold on to their Champions League slot, but they have clinched a place in Europe for next season. Should Villa continue this run of success next season, it certainly won't come as a surprise.
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