Wednesday sees Tottenham and Everton meet for that “game in hand”, which has been in Spurs’ pocket since the very first week of the season – the fixture had to be called off due to rioting in London. My (mostly Arsenal supporting) friends at CultFootball are hopeful that this will lead to Tottenham ending up with egg on their faces – the theory being that Spurs fans consider this as an inevitable victory and three more points to be put on the board. Nevertheless, those of us from the white half of North London, have spent the last twenty years seeing opportunities like this wasted. Everton at home is never an easy fixture as David Moyes sets up his teams to be very tough to break down, even if they have troubles scoring, and Spurs have only won once of their last eight league fixtures with the Toffeemen. Harry Redknapp’s men have shown a higher level of resilience this season than in prior years and they claimed victory in their last game against West Brom, despite losing three central midfielders: Scott Parker to injury before the game; his replacement, Sandro, in the first half to a thigh strain; and the substitute who came on for the Brazilian, Jake Livermore, also had to go off after a clash of heads with his teammate, Younes Kaboul. The biggest factor could still be that a win puts Tottenham level on points with second place Manchester United, meaning Everton will almost definitely come away with at least a draw today. Should they lose the game, I guess the Lilywhites will have to wipe the egg off their faces, with the knowledge that they remain just 6 points above the Gunners.
There was good news for Arsenal this week as their former striker, Thierry Henry, came back to the club on loan, just in time to score the winning goal that ensured that his old/new team secured a goliath-slaying victory and their first trophy since 2005…wait, hold on, that was just how the
end of the game celebrations made it look – in fact it helped them win a home game against Championship side Leeds, in the third-round of the FA Cup. Henry got a raucous reception on his return to the Emirates, and while the Frenchman was undoubtedly a legend for Arsenal – he is their record goal-scorer, he left the club in 2007 in pursuit of the European Cup (successfully, as he got a winner’s medal in 2009). That is the very same competition Arsene Wenger has been desperate to win and yet, his top player preferred to take his talents to Barcelona, rather than try to help Arsenal make that leap. The comparison with LeBron James – who moved to Miami to team up with Wade and Bosh for an easier path to NBA titles – is not completely fair as at least Henry had helped the Gunners to win the league and Cup before absconding, but the holy grail of the Champions League is to Wenger, what a championship would be to the city of Cleveland. It’s good for Arsenal fans that they can celebrate the achievements of Henry while he was with them, rather than focusing on his reasons for leaving the team – James is afforded no such luxury when he returns to Ohio to face the Cavaliers.
In the FA Cup last weekend, the biggest story should have been League Two’s Swindon Town defeating Premiership side, Wigan Athletic, 2-1. Instead, the majority of the coverage went to the Manchester derby, which saw City lose 3-2 at home to United, having been reduced to 10 men early in the game when the referee, Chris Foy, sent off Vincent Kompany for a two-footed challenge. That also was bad news for British Cyclist, Sir Chris Hoy, who, last time his near namesake made a controversial (and incorrect) decision – in the Stoke vs Tottenham game – was subjected to abuse on Twitter by idiotic, and seemingly illiterate, Spurs fans. It was a week for old-timers coming back, as Paul Scholes returned to the Manchester United squad having come out of retirement for the rest of the season. With United and Arsenal bringing out new signings Scholes and Henry for substitute appearances, it feels like everything has gone back to the 1990s in Britain – next time I return there, I expect to find people listening to Ocean Colour Scene and Supergrass…
In the Carling Cup, Crystal Palace won the first leg of their tie with Cardiff on Tuesday night, while Liverpool and Manchester City meet on Wednesday for the first half of their semi-final matchup. This weekend sees a return to Premiership action for all of the top-flight clubs, after last week’s sojourn into the FA Cup, and all of the sides near the top of the table have fixtures they would expect to win. Manchester United are home to Bolton, while City are away to Wigan; Spurs play Wolves at the Lane; Arsenal travel to Wales to face Swansea; and Chelsea host Sunderland – though with Martin O’Neill in charge that will be a difficult fixture for Villas-Boas’ team. QPR, who replaced manager Neil Warnock with Mark Hughes at the beginning of the week, travel to Newcastle; Blackburn “entertain” Fulham; Liverpool and Stoke meet at Anfield; and Aston Villa are at home to Everton.
Christmas bumper pack: 10-10; Season 76-93
Tottenham vs Everton – Draw
Aston Villa vs Everton – Draw
Blackburn vs Fulham – Away win
Chelsea vs Sunderland – Draw
Liverpool vs Stoke – Away win
Manchester United vs Bolton – Home win
Tottenham vs Wolves – Home win
West Brom vs Norwich – Away win
Newcastle vs QPR – Home win
Swansea vs Arsenal – Away win
Wigan vs Manchester City – Away win