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Sun 30th October - Has 4-2-3-won you over yet?

Arsenal win 5-3? at Chelsea? Man City win 6-1 at United? United thump Arsenal 8-2? What the Dickens is going on in English football? Freak results come along of course...Spurs thumping Wigan 9-1 at the Lane 2 years ago for example - but we're barely a quarter of the way into the season and those 25 goals in 3 games between Champions League sides have rightly raised questions about the balance English sides are trying to strike between offensive ideals and defensive solidity.

Jose Mourinho would no doubt have allowed himself a little sneer to himself upon learning the result from Stamford Bridge yesterday lunchtime - in his inaugural season back in 2004/5, a miserly 15 goals were conceded by his Chelsea side throughout the entire league campaign. It's only taken Andre Villas-Boas and his squad 10 games to let that number in this campaign. They need to find where that missing bus is and get it parked back in position pronto. And maybe AVB finally has to grasp the nettle of those players who have dominated the Kings Road landscape for so long - but then, would you want to be the Chelsea manager who drops John Terry, Didier Drogba, Petr Cech?

But Chelsea aren't the only ones as my opening paragraph suggests. Manchester United only allowed themselves to be breached 12 times at Old Trafford on their way to a 19th title for Sir Alex. The tonking they received at City's hands a week ago means they're only 3 off that level as we enter November - never mind the myriad of chances that they've been letting sides like Norwich have at the Theatre of Dreams (and the Canaries weren't half wasteful with them!) Vidic & Ferdinand are no longer ever-presents, and it shows.

Arsenal's recent defensive shortcomings have been as predictable as Louis Walsh getting the over 25's - I almost feel sorry for Wojcech Szczesny, a fine young goalkeeper who doesn't deserve to be under the kind of constant pressure he's been asked to face behind a back line as pourous as my shower loofah.

And yet going forward, these 3 sides can look irresistable - their collective attacking options are plentiful and wonderfully varied - the poachers instinct of Hernandez, the guile of Mata and the all-round genius of Van Persie.

It's almost as though there's a (sub)concious attempt to ape the 'Barcelona way' of swashbuckling attacking play without too much concern or worry about how they keep things out at the other end. Is it because Premier League players haven't yet sussed the intricacies of 4-2-3-1 that seems almost commonplace in the English top flight now? Are we trying to run before we can walk the ball into the net?

4-2-3-1 is a system that the Spanish have been using in domestic and international football for over a decade now. By the 2010 World Cup, other countries had at least cottoned onto this system that allows chances to win possession from the opposition higher up the pitch - look how well Germany used it to reach the semis themselves - an Holland And we were all seduced by it in turn so that our Prem teams morphed their style to try and fit this hitherto unknown blueprint...with the players they already had by and large.

And English football is still catching up with the 4-2-3-1 innnovators - and whilst they are, such anomalies as a 1-6, 8-2 or a 3-5 are likely to crop up more often than not.


In one way, I was privileged to be at Stamford Bridge to witness Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal; Van Persie was in strident form, Arteta had probably his best game yet in a Gunners shirt, Walcott was unplayable at times, making me wish he could play in such a fashion less sporadically for club & country (I still remain to be convinced by him, lovely bloke though he is to interview) and for Chelsea, Juan Mata roamed relentlessly around the pitch, being unlucky to end up on the losing side. You could have picked any score you liked after Santos made it 2-2 on 49 minutes and had decent odds on being right

But then there was the Keystone Cops defending from almost all concerned - only Laurent Koscielny escapes serious examination for me, as he seemed almost duty bound to do both his job and that of the off-colour Per Mertesacker. Arsene Wenger knew he'd signed a player who can read the game extremely well but wasn't that quick and wasn't a talker/leader, so the sooner Thomas Vermaelen returns to the starting line-up the better Mertesacker will be - but the way Koscielny tried to plug gaps where they should never have appeared made me think he might be unlucky not to resume his partnership with the Belgian in the next week or two.

Having said that, that's 3 league wins on the spin for Arsenal, along with the late dramatic winner in Marseille, so my reservations about the back 4 may well be a moot point. Plus the fact that they didn't crumble at 2-1 down going into half-time, nor at 3-3 where Lukaku clothes-lined Santos to set up Mata and Andre Marriner didn't blow for a foul. Previous Arsenal sides would have wallowed in self pity and played the 'victim' - not here, and that has to be encouraging. Celebrations at the end were a tad excessive however - maybe that's a sign of the pressure they feel they're under

Chelsea are in a strange place right now. A number of ageing legends (Terry, Drogba, Lampard, Cech) a sprinkling of talent in their pomp (Mata, Cole) some new blood who've yet to settle (Luiz & Torres natch) and some players whose actual role in the team is so hard to pin down (Mikel, Kalou, Ramires).

To take just one player in isolation, I think you can trace Petr Cech's decline in form not to the Stephen Hunt incident at Reading, but rather to his horrid error for the Czech Republic against Turkey in Euro 2008. Since then he's not had that Schmeichel-esque aura of invincibility around him - but then for me, Hilario and Turnbull aren't challenging him enough. He's in a comfort zone and suffering as a consequence. Being done at his near post by both Walcott & Van Persie is yet more cause for concern.

But what a game! Ray Houghton always tells me "Show me a goal and I'll show you a mistake" - I think if he'd been on Football First with me that night, it would have taken him so long to go through the 8 cock-ups concerned, we'd need the clocks to go back 2 hours so we wouldn't interrupt the overnight show at midnight!


One funny moment from the Bridge - we all came out of the press room to take our places after half time, and a Chelsea fan walking alongside the press box turned to one of my radio colleagues in the row behind me and shouted something along the lines of "MOOSE!!!! MOOSE!! WEST HAM EH??? (kisses CFC badge) YOU W***ER!!! HAHAHA!!!" and walked off.

The reporter behind me was crestfallen. An utterly broken man. Not because he'd been called a w***er - but because he'd been mistaken for talkSPORT's Ian Abrahams. A man a good deal, erm, greener around the gills than the individual concerned. He immediately made it known that he wanted to quit the radio industry after such an association - indeed he was still gently shaking his head some 25 minutes after the altercation when I turned around to check as to his state of mind. After all, I was the one wearing the talkSPORT branded fleece, not him. And yet he was targeted.

Poor bloke - I hope he makes a full recovery ;o)

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