Shearer Says: “Premier League sides way behind Europe’s elite”
“Wenger’s decision to rest Cech backfired on Gunners”
I was amazed with not only the result but also the performance of Arsenal on Tuesday evening in their defeat to Olympiakos, especially after their game against Dinamo Zagreb. You would have thought they would have really wanted to go into this game making a statement at home.
The most surprising aspect of it all, though, was the team selection. I could not believe Petr Cech was left out. And for those who said he was injured, he was on the bench, so fit.
You only have to have to look at Manchester City on Wednesday evening and ask yourself ‘who was the Man of the Match in that game?’ Their number one goalkeeper, Joe Hart. If it wasn’t for him, then City would be in the same situation as Arsenal right now. He saved a penalty, made numerous stops to keep them in the game. When you play your best goalkeeper, you have a better chance of getting the right result.
It wasn’t just the goalkeeping, though; defensively I thought Arsenal were all over the place. They did not do enough to win and it was a very disappointing night for everyone concerned with the club.
I can understand why Wenger is coming under criticism. When you get results, everything is rosy in the garden. However, when you don’t, after making decisions like that, you have to take responsibility. He made the decision not to play his best goalkeeper and it backfired.
“Why would anyone back Arsenal to progress now?”
When I was in the Champions League with Newcastle, we lost our opening three group games and still qualified. If Arsenal were playing anybody else, other than Bayern Munich, I’d be reasonably confident they could still make it through to the knockout stages. After looking at their first two performances, however, why would anybody be confident of them qualifying? It is not as if they have been playing two heavyweights of European football. If they play like they have done in their opening two games of the group, they will get nothing from their two fixtures with Bayern.
Who am I to question Arsene Wenger? His record of qualifying for the Champions League, year in year out, is incredible and they’ve won the FA Cup in each of the last two seasons. But Arsenal fans want more than that. They want to challenge for the Premier League title and they want to challenge in the Champions League and, as things stand, they just aren’t doing that.
My view has not changed from the start of the season, Arsenal still lack a top class centre half, a top quality central midfielder and a centre forward. They are at least 2-3 players short of challenging for the league and in Europe, and how long have we been saying that same thing? The most baffling aspect, though, is they did bring in a top quality keeper with Champions League experience and he hasn’t played in Europe. I just don’t understand it.
“United grinding out results to go top of the table”
The way results have gone over the past 3-4 weeks, the bookies must be laughing as nobody can predict anything. I can’t remember a time where so many results have gone against the favourite. Who would have thought West Ham would go to Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City and come away with a win from all of those? Who would have seen Chelsea being this bad this season so far?
United are the in-form team going into the game against Arsenal this weekend. The worrying thing for everyone else is that United haven’t actually played as well as they can do this season, yet they are top of the league because they are grinding out results, something we saw from some of the great United sides under Sir Alex Ferguson, they’re getting results despite not playing at their best.
“Premier League most exciting but not highest quality”
I fancied United to finish in the top four at the start of the season; however, I didn’t think they would have enough to win the title this time around. What has been clear for everyone to see is while the Premier League as a package is great, the standard of our football is on the decline. You only have to look how the English clubs have fared in the Champions League over the past couple of years. We are some way behind the very top teams in Europe. Yes, we have an exciting league, but not the highest quality.
United have proven in the early stages of this season that they are realistic title contenders. I have seen a huge improvement in them recently following the purchase of Martial. Not only can he hold the ball up but he has given them a new dimension running in behind defenders. That has been the big difference in the last 3-4 games.
Chris Smalling has improved this season, but I still think they have a weakness at the back and that was clearly evident against Wolfsburg on Wednesday evening and Arsenal could be the side to expose that on Sunday. Sanchez is in good form and they will have Walcott’s pace to rely on. That will be the best way for Arsenal to take on United.
Wayne Rooney has not been his normal dynamic self this season. He’s been asked to play in a lot of positions over the last six months. He’s struggling for goals and confidence, as you can see, but even if he’s not playing well he is United’s leader on the pitch.
In the Champions League, I still would not look past the big three in Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. I don’t think any of our clubs will go on to win it. Of the English clubs, Manchester City should be the best equipped to go all the way, but it didn’t look like that at half time in Germany on Wednesday!
“Derby defeat would pile pressure on Rodgers”
It’s a huge game for Liverpool. The pressure is already mounting on Brendan Rogers and if they were to lose on Sunday it would go up another notch. Brendan, like any other manager, is under pressure as you have to go out and get results. He came out after the Aston Villa victory and said he felt there were certain people, ex-players, out to get him. Ultimately though, when you lose football matches, that is going to happen.
It’s a huge bonus for them to have Daniel Sturridge back; however, I have a lot of concerns with Liverpool defensively. They conceded two goals again last weekend to Aston Villa. I think Lukaku will fancy his chances of having some success against that back four. Everton showed great character to come back from 2-0 down to beat West Brom. They will be full of confidence going into this Merseyside derby.
These derbies are great occasions to play in. You always get a little bit more leeway from the referees because they understand the intensity that they are played in. Whenever the fixtures come out, you always look for these games. It is the difference between your supporters having a good week and a bad week, more than with any other game.
In most Premier League cases, I would probably say the Europa League is a distraction, but for Liverpool it should be important. Brendan has to win a trophy this year and if you win you can qualify for the Champions League, their best chance of getting into it as I don’t see them finishing in the top four. So the result on Thursday is another blow. He clearly had his mind on Sunday with his team selection but can Liverpool really throw away a chance of silverware?
“Englishman Pardew under-rated by many”
Alan Pardew is doing a superb job at Crystal Palace and I am sure he is enjoying it there. They have made a more than reasonable start and they have some good young players. His achievements are probably under-rated by many still and with so few English managers in the top league he is leading the way. He looks refreshed, certainly more energised than he did at Newcastle, and he certainly seems to have a great relationship with the chairman there at Palace.
I hope the penny has dropped for Newcastle because that draw against Chelsea should give them confidence. Nobody was complaining with that result last weekend even though they were 2-0 up because you could see effort and commitment from the players. If the same thing happens again against City and they don’t win, the fans would accept that.
“Ridiculous Ronaldo can do it all”
Earlier this week, Cristiano Ronaldo notched up his 500th career goal which is just ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. He has to be up there with the best of all time. Forwards are judged on goals and he scores every type of goal. Left foot, right foot, headers, free kicks, you name it, he can do it. When you look at the record he has just broken at Madrid, beating Raul, it is just staggering. Raul, a great in his own right, took more than twice as many games to score his goals. I was fortunate to get 422 in my career so I appreciate how staggering that record is.
It would have been interesting if I ever played alongside him as we would have both wanted to take penalties and free-kicks, and wanted to head all the goals in. I could see us arguing over the ball on plenty of occasions!