Stoke Stoked To (Finally!) Join the Championship
The penultimate week of Premier League action was nothing short of dramatic. Our dearly beloved pals at Stoke City have been relegated to the Championship after a whole decade in the top-flight. Crystal Palace, once destined for the drop, are safe in the arms of Roy Hodgson. Arsenal steamrolled Burnley to give Wenger an Emirates send-off to remember. Manchester City lifted the trophy at last, not that anyone really cared. Chelsea somehow found a way past Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. Brighton locked down their spot in the league for next season with a massive victory over Mou’s men and last but not least, West Brom lived to die another day.
Here’s a bunch of things I’ve learnt from last weekend’s action:
Jack Butland and Charlie Adam are trying to force their way out
Jack Butland called Stoke’s transfer dealings “farcical” while his counterpart Charlie Adam believes that four or five of his team-mates have been “getting away with murder for a long time.”
While relegation truly breaks hearts and bruises pride, criticising your employer really isn’t the best way to kickstart life (well, not quite) in the second tier, especially if your gaffer thinks that “the club is too big not to bounce back” and you’d be mounting a promotion bid next season. Unless, of course, you’re trying to get the heck out of cold, rainy and miserable Stoke-on-Trent.
Butland does have a future with a top team, maybe Chelsea or Arsenal should call on his services. As for Adam, his face is already suggesting he retires. The man is supposedly 33 years young this year but boy, does he look 65.
To be honest, the Potters have been punching way above their weight for many years now. It just so happened their tenth year in the top tier was when everything started to unravel. I’ve always felt like they were too slow in keeping up with the other teams in the league, too one-dimensional and direct in their play, too unambitious, too insecure. They always felt like a second-grade team, no offence. The sacking of Mark Hughes and appointment of Paul Lambert changed absolutely nothing. Their transfer dealings, I agree with Butland, are nothing short of laughable.
So what if they signed Bojan Krkic, Saido Berahino and Jese Rodriguez? These talented lads are wasting away with the reserves or out on loan or on unpaid leave of absence. According to Butland, Stoke have also been plagued with disciplinary issues. Talk about downfall.
Maybe a stint in the Championship wouldn’t be so bad. It might help the club and board recalibrate their vision and ambitions because it would be nice to welcome Stoke back to the top one day.
Wenger should have announced his departure from the VERY beginning
5-0 was the scoreline of Arsene Wenger’s (and Per Mertersacker’s) last ever home game at the Emirates and I reckon that this must’ve been the driving force behind one of the best displays of Wengerball I’ve seen all season.
If it was us beating Burnley by five goals last season, it wouldn’t have been too much of a surprise because well, Burnley. This season, however, the Clarets are some sort of reborn Sean Dyche-like iron monsters, directly behind Arsenal in the table and challenging for a place in European football next season. They are almost impossible to get past and their work rate is off-the-charts. Mind you, Arsenal needed a goal in injury time to secure three points during their first clash at Turf Moor earlier in the season. To say that Dyche has done admirably is truly an understatement.
Fair enough, Burnley just weren’t quite at the top of their game when they paid a visit to North London on Sunday. Nevertheless, let’s not take too much credit away from a simply sublime Arsenal performance.
Calum Chambers and Kostantinos Mavropanos were so assured in the heart of defence. Given that the latter was only making his second senior start, he did play a couple of dubious passes that made my heart stop moments at a time but thankfully, nothing that would give me a heart attack on the spot. The fans sure do love our new Greek god. Chambers was all business, cleaned up very well and extinguished chances before they even materialised. This is the defensive duo of the future.
Now, Bellerin and Iwobi must have read my previous article because they seemed like they were out to prove me wrong and they notched two assists and a goal between them. Iwobi had a performance to remember, taking charge of counters and controlling from deep before bursting into the final third. The Spaniard, on the other hand, kept possession well and his crosses were delivered precisely and rather beautifully; a huge improvement from the Atletico game.
Overall, a fantastic yet entertaining game played in a style that I hope stays synonymous with Arsenal, even as the Wenger era draws to an end.
Kolasinac, Aubameyang, Lacazette and Iwobi scored five smashing goals to give the boss the best send-off possible. I swear Wenger should’ve announced his departure at the very start then we probably wouldn’t be sitting in sixth and missing out on the Champions League and we probably would be playing so well, Troy Deeney would want to retract his statement on the team’s ‘cojones’.
Chelsea stopped Liverpool, which means Real might very well destroy the Reds
Olivier Giroud and his perfectly coiffed French hair grabbed a goal (and three points) against Liverpool when his looping header nestled nicely into the net, leaving Lorius Karius stranded. Till today, I still miss him in an Arsenal shirt. I really do.
His goal, also known as the game winner, brought Chelsea within three points of their third-placed opponents and back into contention for a Champions League spot. Alvaro Morata must be mourning the demise of his role as target man. Move aside, Alvaro.
Although the Reds had more possession and shots, they were not able to capitalise nor effectively take their chances. Courtois was more than equal to the challenge and his backline nullified the ‘trio of terror’ surprisingly well.
I couldn’t help but think how Liverpool would fare in the upcoming Champions League final. If Dejan Lovren could not exactly compete with Giroud, are you expecting him to take on Ronaldo? If Van Djik had trouble marshalling his defence, how is he going to shut down the BBC, Modric and Kroos? If Wijnaldum can’t take charge of midfield, will he be bulldozed by Real’s deadly counters? If Klopp couldn’t inspire his troops to a win at Stamford Bridge, can he do it in Kiev?
So many questions that have yet to be answered and if Liverpool saw the Chelsea match as a prelude and warm-up to the final in less than three weeks, let’s just say they are underprepared, outmatched and probably stand little to no chance of upsetting Real and their three-peat.
There could always be the “Kiev Miracle” written in Liverpool’s history, though.