Premier League Roundtable: On Torres, Wenger and EPL Newcomers
I'd like to welcome all readers to what will hopefully be the first instalment of a weekly discussion group featuring multiple writers from the English Premier League section of the Bleacher Report's world football coverage.
Joining me in this discussion are some of the very best writers on this site and I'd like to take the opportunity to introduce.
James Dudko is a Featured Columnist who provides top-notch articles in relation to Arsenal FC as well as the NFL. James is a prolific writer whose articles always receive a high number of reads and invoke good discussion.
Ryan Rodgers is a Featured Columnist as well as a member of the Bleacher Report Writers Academy. His main focus is on Manchester United but he also writes on a number of other topics related to world football. Ryan's articles are well thought-out and generally well received.
Matt Cheetham is the lone Featured Columnist for the Everton section and does an exceptional job at keeping that section entertaining. He's also one of the best at producing top-quality slideshows with regards to humorous moments in football.
Mr 999 has yet to begin his writer career here on the Bleacher Report but is a widely respected reader and discusser of articles. A knowledgeable Chelsea fan, he will certainly be an asset to the site when he begins to publish articles.
True Blue is a Featured Columnist who is a longtime Manchester City fan whose years of suffering are now paying. A knowledgeable football fan, he has been producing top-quality articles for a long time on Bleacher Report.
Sean Babcock is a Featured Columnist in the Tottenham Hotspur section. He features among the top writers in the Spurs section every month which is a testament to the quality articles he regularly publishes.
And of course, myself. I'm a Featured Columnist in the Liverpool section but sometimes venture into other areas and other sports.
1) Which Newly Promoted Team Was the Most Impressive on Saturday, and Why?
Queens Park Rangers looked the most impressive out of the three newly promoted teams at the weekend. They seemed to have plenty of pace in every area of the team. Often times newly promoted teams struggle to cope with the speed of the game in the Premier League, but QPR moved the ball very quickly and were decisive with their passing.
Armand Traore showed the kind of speed and quality delivery he rarely ever displayed for Arsenal and Joey Barton dictated the play.
Considering that all three newly promoted teams recorded wins against experienced EPL sides, I think they all performed admirably. That being said, I was particularly impressed with Swansea City’s display against West Brom. Their playing style has been phenomenal, and they have showed how fearless they are on the attack.
Led by Scott Sinclair, and anchored by Michel Vorm, Swansea have a real good chance at staying in the EPL.
Difficult question with all three winning and indeed impressing, however I will plump for Norwich. Bolton are a side many have tipped to challenge for a top-eight finish this season, so beating them is an impressive feat on its own. Norwich did this away from home, with a lineup short of Premier League pedigree, so they come up trumps for me.
QPR’s result was similarly eye-catching, but with their newly assembled roster they should be capable of achieving these results. Swansea produced a momentous result for their fans and for their history. The fact their game was at home and against slightly inferior opposition edges it for Norwich.
QPR definitely. Swansea and Norwich also got good wins under their belt, especially Norwich away from home but the way QPR played Wolves off the park was a joy to watch. It's exciting too see all their new signings hit the ground running all at once. I know Taarabt, SWP and Barton will and are getting the plaudits but from what I have seen of the lad Faurlin he looks an absolute class act too. Granted I haven’t seen much apart from the last 12 months but he looks like he’s got it all for a central midfielder.
I heard that it was the first time since forever that the three promoted teams won on the same day. Interesting stat that.
TB: QPR showed what a promoted team and a bit of money can do and do quickly with an impressive performance against Wolves but it must be said that a lot of people were scratching their collective heads as to where Wolves went as they certainly didn't turn up for kickoff. But I don't think we can take too much from QPR who have bought well and it seems they have a great team spirit. At least for now eh Joey.
QPR, without a doubt. Molineux is a hell of a place to play an away match, and Neil Warnock’s side did what some top-notch clubs failed to do in that stadium last year. To go on the road to such a tough venue, outshoot the opposition, keep the clean sheet and dominate by three goals is a huge achievement.
Wolves have some injury troubles at the moment, but QPR set out to be top-tier worth in the transfer window, and showed their success in that effort on Saturday.
It's a toss-up between QPR and Swansea for me, but I'm going to plump for the Swans. I think that with QPR's recent influx of talented and proven veterans added to an existing group of talented players they are a team bound for a mid-table finish this season. Swansea, on the other hand, are facing a long battle against relegation and to give a decent West Brom team a spanking really impressed me, especially considering some of the nice football they played.
Conclusion: Four votes for QPR, two for Swansea and one for Norwich mean that QPR were the team that impressed the panel most.
2) Fact or Fiction on Fernando Torres
Despite his terrible miss, Torres' performance vs Manchester United shows evidence that he's on his way back to form.
There are signs that Torres is close to returning to some kind of positive form. His pace and touch seemed to have returned and his goal showed he is still a clever and instinctive striker.
The big question with Torres is attitude. Temperament is certainly an issue with him as he is prone to sulking his way through games. A positive for Chelsea is that Sunday offered a glimpse of what their attacking play can look like with Torres on form. He improves the quality and fluidity of Chelsea's forward game. Confidence and backing from the manager are now key.
Well, Torres is back. Simply put he should have scored around three goals, but the bigger picture is that he is getting into dangerous positions again. He is forcing defenders into uncomfortable situations with his strength, speed and diagonal runs, and it's only a matter or time before he starts to capitalize.
Although he showed signs of discovering his £50 million form, the criticism he has been receiving might play a part in hindering his newfound confidence.
Fact. He scored, was involved in linkup play, created chances for others and was confident enough to take on his man more than any other Chelsea player on the pitch (with an admirable success rate of 50 percent). The miss may affect him initially but I firmly believe, considering Saturday’s showing, his best is around the corner.
Chelsea are catering for him far more, tailoring aspects of their game towards his strengths. On Saturday he clearly benefited from the presence of Juan Mata, often seeming on the same wavelength as his compatriot as well as others. Last season he looked more like a pariah.
Fact! He had shown encouraging performances in the games preceding the United game. Yes, it was a horrendous miss but all the best strikers in the world miss sitters occasionally. It looks like he was right too about needing the right players around him. He's beginning to find himself with the likes of Mata and Sturridge around him.
Torres related topics have been beaten to death in the past few days and I'd like to draw a line under it all with an old but similarly overused saying: Form is temporary, class is permanent.
Practice, as my old dad used to say, makes perfect. Unfortunately for 'Nando, he has spent a few months practising at being awful and I fear one game a rebirth does not make. If Torres can manage two months of decent form and a few goals perhaps then we can say he is truly on the way back but he's not there yet.
Fiction. Torres was instrumental in creating some chances for Chelsea, but the primary reason they pay him is to score goals. With that in mind, he’s earned his wage a grand total of twice.
Every time he finds the back of the net, it’s going to spark the discussion of whether or not he’s “back.” Chelsea fans surely got a bit hopeful when he netted for the first time this year, but the miss on the open net immediately proved that the goal was little more than that one he’s certain to get on occasion, despite being out of form.
I've been a Torres fan since he broke through at Atletico Madrid as a teenager, and I remain one to this day. For me this is a fact. He impressed me against Leverkusen in midweek and I thought he was head and shoulders above everyone on Sunday. A Manchester United back line hasn't been given that torrid a time since Torres was rampant in the red of Liverpool. He missed a couple of chances but the fact that he was able to get into position and give himself the opportunity to have those chances is a huge plus.
Once he finds his all-around game, the goals will follow. His goal was a world-class finish and the miss, while bad, was nowhere near as bad as some are making it out to be. Try score a goal like that yourself and see how difficult a technique it is to score in that situation. Weak foot, ball running away from you, moving at close to top speed and trying to shoot back across yourself. There have been worse misses in the Premier League this season. Aguero's against Bolton for example.
If Torres keeps playing like that, there's a landslide of goals on the horizon.
Conclusion: Premier League defences beware, El Nino is on his way back.
3) Who Has Been the Best Summer Signing Thus Far, and Why?
There are many good candidates, but as painful as it is to admit, Emmanuel Adebayor has been the best summer signing so far. For all his issues with attitude and commitment, Adebayor is a world-class player. He is perhaps the most skillful big man in the game when motivated.
Given how much Harry Redknapp likes to utilise a tall target man with Spurs, Adebayor was a smart signing. He is a much better player than Peter Crouch and will contribute goals and superb link play with Tottenham's creative midfielders. Three goals in two games is a great start.
Well, I recently made an article answering this question. And I would have to agree with myself in saying Mikel Arteta. Although there are many players who are worthy of being the best signing in different aspects, Arteta will ultimately prove to be one of the best signings of the summer.
In the case of Arteta, he has been a fantastic player at a poor club. No disrespect to Everton, but Arteta had no one to work with and no options to play off of. Now with Arsenal, Arteta is at the perfect club to showcase his abilities as a footballer. A club short on leadership, experience and teeth, Arteta will be responsible for instilling some order and acting as a role model to the young players. Closing in on 30, Arteta will grab any opportunity he has to add some trophies to his cabinet.
I cannot look past Sergio Aguero. With eight goals in five games, he has been immense for Manchester City, giving them an extra dimension they have not had before. His goals vary from the simple to the sublime and he has all the attributes to reach the very summit of the game, somewhere he may help take City.
A couple of Manchester United’s new batch narrowly miss out; Ashley Young and Phil Jones have both impressed. Also, I think Yohan Cabaye has looked strong for Newcastle.
I suppose the obvious ones to go for would be Aguero, Young or Mata and they of course are all valid choices who have made huge impacts at their respective new clubs, but I prefer to answer this question a little differently. Potential!
Two deadline-day signings that have the potential to be masterstrokes: Scott Parker and Joey Barton. Parker seems to be the missing piece in Tottenham's midfield puzzle and with him, they look such a different side. When QPR avoid relegation in May, they'll look back on the day they signed Barton. Alongside SWP, he brings proven premiership quality, plenty of experience and bags of ability.
As a City fan I must say Aguero. He has scored and scored well with his debut against Swansea one of the best I have ever seen by any player at any club. The fact that he has scored in most of his games allows him to relax into his natural game straightaway which is important (the opposite of that would be Dzeko last season) and I can safely say that Aguero is the best finisher I have ever seen in Sky Blue. Perhaps he will prove one of the very best in his debut season.
Aguero. I wish I could come at you with some spectacular surprise answer that nobody else would have thought of, but with eight EPL goals in five matches I couldn’t possibly justify naming anybody else. He may have a key luxury of being surrounded by top-notch talent capable of making anybody into a striking success in a new league, but his presence has had as much of an impact on his teammates as they’ve had on him.
Just look at Edin Dzeko, whose six EPL goals can largely be attributed to the space created when defenders scramble to cover Aguero.
It's Kun Aguero. The little Argentine is setting the league alight and with Nasri, Silva and Dzeko all in form alongside him, City's attack is fantastic. That's the obvious choice.
The less obvious choice is Michel Vorm of Swansea City. What a signing he has been. An absolute bargain at £1.5 million. He made a big mistake against Arsenal but he's been utterly fantastic in all of Swansea's other games. Even in the game against Manchester City when he conceded four, it really should have been double figures but he made world-class save after world-class save and kept a bit of respectability to the scoreline.
Conclusion: Kun Aguero takes this one with five of the panel picking him as their signing of the summer. Honourable mentions to Arteta, Adebayor and my own less obvious choice of Vorm.
4) Fact or Fiction on Arsene Wenger
Wenger is the Premier League manager most likely to leave his position before Xmas.
It's very difficult to provide a definite answer to any question surrounding Arsenal at the moment. It's almost impossible to predict the outcome of any game involving the Gunners and very difficult to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Any fear factor Premier League teams may still have had about playing Arsenal is now long gone. Every team sees them as easy prey, home or away.
The players deserve a large portion of the blame. Too many of the senior squad point the finger at other areas of the team or complain about tactics, instead of producing themselves. But the fact remains that these are all Arsene Wenger's players and it's becoming hard to have too much sympathy, when five-year=old problems still cripple the team.
Champions League progress will be crucial in determining Wenger's pre-Xmas fate. He's had European participation to hang his hat on during these barren years. The club could well be in the league mire for much of the season. If the Champions League goes early, the momentum against Wenger could become impossible to ignore.
He won't be the first to go before Xmas; there are plenty of other viable candidates. Roy Hodgson and Martin Jol have been big disappointments so far.
I would say fiction. Chief executive Ivan Gazidis backs the manager, as do most of the players. I don’t think Arsenal is ready to part ways with the man responsible for six years without a trophy. However, if I were a part of the board at Arsenal, Wenger would have been gone in May.
Fiction. As poorly as I believe Arsenal have operated in the transfer window this summer, were Wenger first to go before Christmas I would be shocked. Firstly I believe there are other candidates more likely to falter. I am still surprised Steve Kean has lasted so long, and feel the situation at Sunderland could still get turbulent for Steve Bruce with such limited firepower at his disposal.
Secondly, I simply cannot see Arsenal removing him. Apart from his elite managerial skills, he has a genuine passion for the stability and welfare of the club, possibly unmatched by any other manager. For me, it would have to be Wenger stepping aside, something his stubborn persona would struggle with.
Fiction! Arsenal have competed (okay, I use that term loosely) with big-spending clubs on a fraction of their budget and Wenger has given the club 14 years of fantastic (maybe one or two years of questionable) management. He's sold players at the right time and helped put Arsenal in the fantastic financial position it is in now. All it took was a couple of players wanting out and a poor start to the season, due to the impact of these players leaving, and out come the Arsenal fans in their droves wanting Wenger's head. Spoilt is one word that springs to mind.
Arsenal seem to be a club trying to do things the right way so it would be hugely uncharacteristic of them to do something so drastic and premature as sacking Wenger before Christmas. It just won't happen.
The only way that Wenger leaves Arsenal this season is if he either quits or dies. He simply won’t be fired; Arsenal don’t work like that in any case and there are enough clubs more likely to fire their manager than Arsenal. I would be particularly worried if I were Steve Kean or Steve Bruce.
Fiction. The difficulty that Arsenal are having right now can largely be attributed to a single poor transfer window, involving particularly difficult circumstances that were out of Wenger’s hands. Even if Gunners fans want to blame that poor transfer window performance on one of the league’s longest-standing managers, it’s far from any indication of the norm.
They’re stuck with what they have until January, which could very well result in Arsenal’s lowest finish in years, but they’re going to need a statistics guru like Wenger to help rebuild. Especially if they don’t achieve Champions League next season to entice talent.
A work of fiction that J.K. Rowling would be proud of. Wenger will not walk away and there is zero chance that Arsenal sack him, nor should they. Wenger has rebuilt that entire club from the ground up and without him they'd be a on a far longer trophy-less streak. Wenger made Arsenal relevant again, made them the most attractive team in the league to watch and played a huge part in the construction of a state of the art training ground, and one of Europe's best stadiums.
He gave a poor showing in the transfer market but Arteta is a fantastic signing. Arsenal fans need to take a minute and have a good think about what Wenger has done for them. They should also ask themselves, who else is out there to replace him? Rafa Benitez? Martin O'Neill? Mark Hughes? Do any of those names really make you think Wenger must go? I didn't think so.
Conclusion: Wenger stays until he decides otherwise.
5) Which Fixture Should Our Readers Watch This Coming Weekend?
Writers were asked to pick a fixture not involving their own club.
Stoke City vs. Manchester United. Stoke's reputation as the Premier League's toughest away fixture is slightly let down by their failure to add Manchester United to their list of notable victims. The atmosphere is always incredibly intense in this match and Stoke certainly do not play with the fear factor many other teams seem to have against United.
To United's credit, the reason they have always braved the Stoke experience and taken three points has been their own willingness to match Stoke physically and not let the robust nature of this fixture ruin their play. Anyone looking for a reason why United constantly find themselves at or near the summit of the English game need only watch their determination and tenacity in this match.
Newcastle vs Blackburn. Newcastle have been in impressive form so far, and have a good chance of finishing top 10 or even fighting for a Europa League spot. They have a young and energetic squad with players like Gabriel Obertan, Yohan Cabaye, and Demba Ba able to cause defenses some problems. The return of Hatem Ben-Arfa will also be a huge boost.
I truly believe my team’s fixture (Manchester City vs. Everton) is the match readers should watch this weekend. Football fans and most Everton fans will probably predict a resounding Manchester City triumph, although that scenario would have also been banked on in the past four fixtures between these two, of which City have lost all four.
In fact, since Joleon Lescott’s acrimonious switch to the Etihad Stadium, Everton have amassed a four-match winning streak. Surely five wins is too much to hope for? To briefly fulfil this question, elsewhere it will be interesting to see how Arsenal go after conceding 12 goals in two EPL games. They play Bolton, whose gradual transformation away from the long-ball ethics of Sam Allardyce makes them a slightly more suitable foe for Arsenal.
Manchester City vs. Everton stood out for me at first glance but a closer look and Stoke vs. Manchester United has got to be my pick of the round. I've been extremely intrigued by Stoke this season. They've done very well in Europe so far. Teams struggle to deal with strong and aggressive style. They eliminated Tottenham in the League Cup last night so confidence levels should be back up again after last weekend’s debacle, while United are on a unstoppable roll.
Stoke provides an interesting opposition for them and I for one am looking forward to seeing how De Gea and that makeshift back line copes with all the inevitable crosses and throw-ins.
This coming weekend offers very little in the way of games with wow factor but I will be keeping my eye on Stoke with Jones and Crouch going up against De Gea, it could get messy especially as Stoke got thumped by Sunderland and have a point to prove.
Manchester United at Stoke City on Saturday. Stoke was easily one of the most active presences in the transfer market this summer, especially on deadline day when they seemingly landed half of Tottenham’s roster in the span of a couple of hours. The result has been a strong start for Stoke thus far, and I’m personally interested to see how they handle United at home.
A United victory is the easy prediction by a large margin, but there’s the added benefit of having the opportunity to see a particularly in-form Wayne Rooney add to his goal tally on the road.
I'm going with Man City vs. Everton. City have played the best football in the league this season and I just love watching the linkup play between Nasri, Silva and Aguero. Everton for their part have had a slow start but gave a good accounting of themselves last week and picked up an important win. Everton have been City's bogey team of late so it'll be a tough challenge for Mancini's men.
Conclusion: Stoke vs. Manchester United gets the most picks from the panel, but do keep an eye on Manchester City vs. Everton and Newcastle vs. Blackburn.
Thanks for Reading
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