Which top 4 club to be sacrificed to the Barbarians at the gate?

Tim the Barbarian, what's his main threat? That he'll eat fried chicken with his fingers? It's not like the name "Tim" is too terrifying is it? "Oh no, put away the fine china, here comes Tim, the Bar-barian!"

Hardly a day passes without someone, whether it be pundit, friend, colleague, or bitter rival, talking to me about how vulnerable Arsenal is and how they are the most likely to be booted out of the top four by the Barbarian Hordes at Man City and Tottenham. These fair minded prognosticators like to make their predictions before the season had even started, before a single face had even been stamped in anger! Who would stoop to such a level?

Wenger, in his wisdom, likes to wait until the 10th match of the season before declaring a trend in the league and with two of the top six clubs having played only seven matches most people would be inclined to agree with him. Still, with that caveat firmly in place I think that we can see some emerging trends in these first eight games and draw some conclusions about who, if any, of the top four teams are most likely to face relegation to the Europa League.

To be succinct, for once, I’m targeting Liverpool. Not out of some hatred for Liverpool, I think they have some of the most loyal fans and a team full of players who are very talented, hard working, and dedicated to the cause. Rather, I think the loss of Alonso combined with the frailties in defense are not nearly enough to support Fernando Torres’ amazing rescue act so far this season. Which doesn’t even get started on the turmoil in the board room and the subsequent possible turmoil in management.

Staring the season off with a loss, even to Tottenham, was not really that big of a deal, but losing to Villa 3-1 at Anfield was a huge blow to start their season. Anfield, fortress Anfield, was their rock last year and if they have any hope of holding off City for a top four spot they will need to regain a foothold in their fortress. That’s down to willpower more than anything and you should always count on Liverpool’s willpower.

That said, If the Tottenham match showed their weakness in midfield with Lucas Levia looking to be a poor man’s Denilson and getting the run around by Luca Modric, the Chelsea match showed a more disturbing side to the club. They played that match with a desperation that I haven’t seen from a top club in a long time. Chelsea do that to people, when they are clicking in midfield as they were on Sunday, and when Drogba is rampaging through defenses as he was, they are the toughest team to play and they make your team look desperate. But the fact remains that Carragher and Squirtle looked poor then, looked poor against Tottenham, and looked downright bad against Villa. You have to wonder just how important Alonso was in shielding those two last season and how much of the defensive load that they can handle.

But perhaps more problematic than the defense and their midfield is the problems that they have in the boardroom. I was driving around to doctor’s appointments with my daughter yesterday and thinking about who would be the first manager to get the axe this season. After my initial “LOL Phil Brown!” I settled on two others: Rafa and Ancelotti.

Ancelotti, simply because Roman Abramovich has already, incredibly, flown in to a practice session and basically made himself known after the loss to Wigan. I’m not saying it’s right, but you have to think that if Chelsea had lost to Liverpool on Sunday, his job was in serious danger. With Ancelotti secure until and if he loses again, my mind wandered to Rafa.

Under Benitez, Liverpool have spent a ton of money and have only an FA Cup and the incredible comeback against AC Milan to show for it. Moreover, I hear a lot of grumblings from Liverpool supporters every year about Benitez’ rotations and seeming lack of tactical nous. Throw in the three losses and the questionable summer transfers and I can actually see some Liverpool supporters tiring of the old Spaniard.

That is, until George Gillett opened his big, dumb gob last week. Maybe he sensed a moment and decided to strike, or maybe he felt super defensive. There’s been a lot of bad blood between Hicks, Gillett and Rafa Benitez since they tried to bring in Jurgen Klinsmann a few years ago. Then the fans rallied around Rafa and called for Gillett and Hicks to go rather than the boss. But Gillett’s latest “Blame Rafa” outburst, while containing some patently insane proclamations, could be indicative of where the owners plan to take this club. And far worse than Lucas Levia giving away a stupid free kicks in the area, Liverpool losing Rafa right now would certainly seal the deal on them dropping out of the top four.

It’s being widely reported today that in front of the Spirit of Shankly supporter’s group Gillett defended his and Hicks’ record at the club by saying this:

In the last 18 months, we have invested £128m on top of what has come in. That means it should be getting better. Now if it’s not getting better, it’s not Gillett and Hicks, it’s the manager, it’s the scouting. You have to make sure you balance out your analysis. There was plenty of money, so if you have any complaints, take a look at the ins and outs.

The thing is, what they are saying is true. Liverpool have spent an insane amount of money on transfers over the last few years and really haven’t gotten any better. In fact, Arsenal look the better bargain in the transfer market this summer than Liverpool, by a huge margin. But the problem is that Gillett and Hicks are so reviled by the Anfield faithful that I wonder if this outburst won’t drive them deeper into the arms of Benitez, rather than the other way around.

That the faithful would gather around Rafa might actually turn out for the best. It could end up “rallying the troops” and keep that team afloat. With the defense so susceptible at the back, with the rotations so crazy and tactical awareness so, well, indecipherable, Liverpool they need something to hang their hat on.  Because after the first 8 games, from what I’ve seen, it’s Liverpool who look most vulnerable to the barbarian horde and not Arsenal.


  1. My hate for all things Liverpuddle makes me insanely happy by this post.

    Also, I found Gillet’s claim that Liverpuddle are in a better financial position than us (as well as Man U and Chelsea) to be highly humourous.

  2. I said it right from the beginning that ‘Messrs Little & Large’ have nowhere to take Liverpolock except ruination. Maybe the daft ‘Mr Little’ actually believes the crap coming from his mouth; Who knows? In the past, barmy managers had always been accepted as a norm; but to now see loopy owners is going to take football to neverland of mockery.

  3. I told my mate the same thing here at work before the season started..Liverpool are the only team who will miss the top 4 this season..on home form alone, Arsenal are good enough to finish 2nd or 3rd..

  4. I think it was the experience of all Gooners this summer to defend against the partizan media and unthinking multitude’s assumption that we would be the fall guys. When we didn’t oblige them with the scorelines that they wanted to justify this complete lack of original thought, they chose to ignore it (Everton, Portsmouth) or claim we won underhandedly (Celtic, Standard Liege) or were lucky (Fulham).

    Now, with their smug predictions of doom looking increasingly foolish, it is fun to watch them squirm as they suggest that they knew all along we’d be alright. Scumbags!

    I have to say as much as I agree with your post that ‘pool currently look the most vulnerable, I think they still have what it takes to finish above City or Spurs. Also, it’s still a long way to go with many twists and turns and anything can happen.

    Man U are increasingly depending on luck and ref decisions, Chelsea are depending on Drogba (and need to step up before the African Nations), Liverpool are depending on Aquilani being as good as Alonso and we are depending on our team spirit not being crushed at the next major injustice and falling to pieces.

    It’s their for each of us lose.

  5. Nice post Tim, well thought out.
    I have nothing against Scouserpool, I even admire a few of their players, but I do agree. Rafa has built a team of “foreigners” (haha, other than Gerrard, Johnson and Carragher) that lacks balance, a plan B and that is way too reliant on two players.
    Lucas makes Diaby look like Vieira, Riera misses the sun, Mascherano and Benayoun are too busy competing daily to decide who is uglier, Johnson isn’t a fullback, Carragher is old, he may have the spirit of a lion, but he’s now got his hind legs on a wheely cart, and Skeletor, well, he’s Senderos’ skinny evil twin. Pepe, Torres and Gerrard are world class, Kuyt can run faster and further than Forrest Gump but he’s just as smart. The Premier League is the best league in the world, and those top 4 places are up for grabs. Man City, Aston Villa and Everton will make this an interesting year. I don’t think that ‘Arry’s boys over at Shite Hart Lane deserve to be mentioned as contenders just yet…

  6. I said at the beginning of the season that Liverpool were extremely vulnerable w/ only Gerrard and Torres leading the way. Off of the Confederation Cup, Torres got off to a slow start. Gerrard’s hissy fit in a bar probably didn’t do him any good either. This is Lucas’ first season where he is not coming off the bench and he’s still developing. Somewhat similar to Denilson who now has 1 season of starts under his belt and has already shown himself to be a much better player this season.

    Gillett clearly doesn’t know how it’s done in Europe: you give the manager a “vote of confidence” in public and criticize him in private. Liverpool supporters don’t know whether to laugh or cry right now because there is nothing about their team that says, it can be better. They are now a mid-table team w/ 2 stars and not enough capable squad players. You look at their team and say who would I want from their team in my squad beyond Torres and Gerrard. Tick, tick, tick, it’s a simple ? which shouldn’t take that long to answer. How about this one: Benayoun v Diaby or Kuyt v Eboue (who was the only one not smiling on Sat.), Mascherano v Denilson. Noticed that I picked Arsenal players who are not universally adored.

    If I’m Benitez, I resign because of management’s “vote of no confidence” in my transfer decisions. Gillette and Hicks can then bring in one of the many ‘capable’ British retreads who are either getting by w/ pundit jobs or are at home ‘gardening’. In fact Liverpool have Sammy Lee on the books at present. They can then boot out all those foreign players like Dossena, Riera, Mascherano, Kuyt, Skrytl, Babel, Benayoun and Torres (on a roll):) Yeah, that’s the ticket mate. Bring in a bunch of hard working, industrious Brits to show the EPL how its done.

    U21s’ are taking Walcott on a trip to the country. Wenger is ok w/it since it’s not both U21s and Seniors together.

    Croatia has lost their Hamburg striker to injury.

    Vela off to the Mexican National team who will be without Dos Santos.

    Maybe Ferguson’s big yap will finally cost him all that ‘golden goal’ time he got at OT 😉
    I cannot recall any big problem calls from Alan Wiley against Arsenal. I can recall plenty of bad decisions and non-decisions from Clattenburg, Dean, Dowd and that biggest asshole of all: Bennett.

    Before I forget, I just want to cite the assholes commenting on the Wigan game who proclaimed after Jordy Gomez was booked for diving that it was foreign players who brought diving into the EPL.

    1. @ctpa, I was cleaning the house when I heard that bit about “foreigners” and literally did a double-take. I wish I knew who that was because he sounded Scottish and I wondered at the time if he’d seen the two yellow card diving performance put on by the Hoops on Sunday?

  7. Mr. Gillette, remember you are under oath and must answer these ?s: did you or did you not sign off on the transfer decision to bring in the injured Alberto Acquilani for 20m? Did you or did you not sign off on the transfer decision to bring in Keane for 20m and then sell him before his expiration date for 12m?

    1. @ctpa: “Before I forget, I just want to cite the assholes commenting on the Wigan game who proclaimed after Jordy Gomez was booked for diving that it was foreign players who brought diving into the EPL.”
      It looks like the art of punditry & commentary (commentating) in the EPL has reached astronomical imbecile levels.

      Liver-no-pool are now being painted with the foreigner-team brush. That’s too bad for them. Soon they will suffer bad decisions like we did and know how it feels.

  8. If Liverpool fans were as hard as most Arsenal fans on their manager Rafa would’ve been run out of town a long time ago…

  9. Isn’t Rafa just gonna slide on into the Real Madrid job (bringing his Spanish players with him) if Real don’t win the Triple? Certainly that’s what I’ve been thinking, but what do I know…..

  10. I was definitely miffed and perplexed at the beginning of the year how it was such a consensus that Arsenal would be the one to fall prey to Man City’s insurgence into the top 4. This was conventional wisdom, much as it is conventional wisdom that says a team must spend money to win trophies. While the season is a long way from being done and while Liverpool is no where near out of the top 4 running, things seem very out of whack at Anfield. Some observations:
    – Gerrard is getting no help from the fellow midfielders.
    – Carragher is a liability at centre back.
    – Glenn Johnson does look good, but 18MM Pounds good? Vermaelen came at about half the price.
    – Rafa, for whatever reason, chooses to start Riera and Lucas over Benayoun and Babel. Not smart.
    – The match against Chelsea this Sunday showed that if you really focus your efforts almost solely on shackling Torres, you can beat Liverpool pretty handily. Torres was either tired or just giving up by the last 20 minutes.

    How many times did Liverpool pull the rabbit out of the hat last year? Along those lines, how many times did Man Utd pull it out last year in the last 5 minutes? This year? Look at Utd this year. Eked out a draw at home in extra time against Sunderland on an own goal? The extra extra time against City allowing them the win? Diaby’s own goal to give them the win? At some point, their luck has to run out, right? Just as it seems that Liverpool’s amazing fortune at the end of games last year hasn’t seemed to carry over this year. I think Chelsea is the only certain lock to be in the top 4 by season’s end. In the meanwhile, I’m more than happy with the pundits ignoring us. Let’s keep it that way.

    1. @ArseChicago, I’m thinking the same points.
      Its Pools midfield that is making the back 4 looks so bad and not delivering balls to
      Torres, Kuyt, and Gerrard. Mascherano, Riera, Lucas were awful vs. Chelski. Johnson
      and Insua not good defensively – placing more burden on the CB’s.

      That said, its the manager that makes the line up and trades.

      They are not the same team as last year and manager/owner finger pointing will only cause more
      morale problems. Its possible Pool’s season will be over with b4 Aquilani plays his 1st match at Anfield.

  11. Well, to be fair to Lucas, getting the run around by Modric is kind of like getting dunked on by Shaq, there really aren’t many people who can avoid it. His injury has pretty much taken Tottenham out of top4-contention for me.

    I do agree with you though that atm, Lucas isn’t good enough for a team that is expected (at least by its delusional fans) to win the league. He’s not the root of their problems though, even with Alonso still there I think the team would be faltering. Last season they performed far beyond their means, sort of like we did two years ago, and similar to what happened to us last year i think they’ll be well off the pace this year.

    And Rafa will be gone before then, to have more time to house-hunt in Madrid.

  12. I agree that Liverpool look the most vulnerable top four club, but as you said you can never count them out of a contest. I was also fairly surprised to wake up this morning and read headlines about their Chairman saying the losses on the field were Benitez’s fault.

    At first I thought it must be a quote taken out of context, but nope, he really said that. I can’t even imagine a situation where Peter Hil Wood would come out and publicly blame Arsene for losses on the field (not that Arsene is above blame, but it does hilight the boardroom fragility I think). I wouldn’t be surprised if Benitez up and quits, or gets the axe soon.

    Liverpool have some decent players and last year played really well as a team, not so much this year. I think If Torres gets injured for any length of time they’re in for it.

  13. Neither Liverpiddle or Chelski looked good at the weekend. Drogba spent a lot of time kissing the turf and rolling about. Chelski have certainly made great strides to improve their pushing off the ball, barges in the back, shirt pulling and all round foul play. In fact it is so finely developed that the refs barely notice it.

    All the teams mentioned have weaknesses this season, MancsUntied are not he force of the last two seasons, the above two have plenty of problems, ManCiteh and Spuds? The first still have Sparky as manager, and some mentally disturbed players, or is that patients, as for the latter, how long before Redcrap takes an envelope and appears at Portsmouth. Whilst there have been complaints that we do not have quality in depth, That I dispute in contrast with all the other so-called top teams. Especially when we are playing our third string goalkeeper.


  14. I will not be surprised to see two new teams entering the top four.

    When Sunderland can go into OT and play to a deserved draw (being a
    man down, what does that say for league parity.

    For any of the usual suspects top 4, there are no take for granted 3 points.

    1. @arsesession, I don’t know about breaking up the top four….’Pool does look bad, but did anybody see the Villa-City game yesterday?

      Shaky as all the big four teams might be, those two didn’t impress me despite the commentators saying, ad nauseum, what a great game it was. Sure both have some pacy and skilled players who can score quickly and, I guess, you could say that the keepers on display (Given and Friedel) are better than any of ours (not to mention Hilario or Foster and maybe Reina), but geez, neither team could really establish possession. (Villa looked bad w/o Barry and Citeh only slightly better with him.) And I wouldn’t trade ANY of our back four (our weak link?) for any of theirs, Dunne’s impressive header and performance notwithstanding (except, maybe, at set pieces). In the end both teams looked happy with a point, which as the real “top four” teams know is actually two points dropped. I just don’t see these teams doing the business (winning everything at home and taking three points regularly while traveling against the lesser teams). Only time will tell, but that’s my take on things thus far. Excellent topic for the interlull….

      1. @17highburyterrace, I didn’t see this match so your perspective is appreciated. I see the highlights though. The defending was atrocious. Was that Barry that Dunne out jumped for his goal. City’s goal was a nice run up to the score. Nice to see the ‘goal’ machine doing a lot of swinging and missing in front of goal. ‘Fond’ memories.

      2. @17highburyterrace, I watched the replay and agree with your observations. Both keepers are better than our lot.
        Villa looked really unorganized, the midfield was in disarray. Not the same chemistry as they had for last fall. Young could not make his famous runs down the wing or into the center, and they had no one to get the ball up to Ablongbahor.

        For City, until Ireland came on, the midfield play was stagnant. I am not a SWP fan and he played to my expectations. Barry did not do anything outstanding. Ade made a good run to make the assist for Bellamy’s goal, but other than that spent 89 minutes exhibiting more of the same why Arsenal fans tired of him.

  15. sorry tim but i think this article is not one of your best.its premature; it is way too early to count out any of the top four. wait till we see how arsenal perform during december-febuary because thats when we tend to slump. wait till manchester united dont have rooney due to injury then we will see how well they replaced ronaldo’s goals when rooney wasnt there last season. wait till the african cup kicks off and chelsea lose essien(man i wish this dude was a gunner) drogba, kalou and obi mikel then we will see just how well mr anchelotti understands the premiership because he cannot bring in new players since chelsea have been banned from any buying new players by FIFA. wait and see how well mancity will cope when they are away to teams like stoke, bolton, blackburn or burnley. teams that park the bus and kick you around. already we saw yesterday that man citeh struggled against villa. its way too early to come to a to count off liverpool, they have been at the top level for along time and they have the experience that man citeh lack.

    1. @southcarolinagunner, It’s just us gooners in here today so you don’t have to be so ‘PC’:) Tim just wants to drive the bus and not be a passenger being told when the next stop is.

      The real problem for Liverpool is that they released Hyypia 🙂 I’ve been on Carragher’s case for awhile. Skrytel problem is that his name is not Vidic. That Greek back up goes from 1st team football to the Carling Cup.

      Remember 2005. I believe Pool finish 5th that year and needed special dispensation to get back into the CL the next year. That was a much better team than they have today.

  16. I found it hilarious on yesterday’s Times Online “The Game” podcast that Gabrielle Marcotti was claiming that Liverpool still can contend for the title, but when the subject of Arsenal’s title chances came up, he immediately wrote them off.

    His reasons were that Arsenal have a shaky defense that allowed 2 goals to Blackburn, nevermind the fluky and lucky elements of their goals, and a lack of depth at striker behind RvP, Marcotti saying he’s not at all impressed with Bendtner and Arsenal are in trouble if RvP goes down.

    Hmmm, seems to me Liverpool’s defense is, at the very least, equally as shaky as ours, if not considerably worse. And want to talk a lack of depth at striker? Who do Liverpool have behind Torres? Voronin? N’gog?

    Say what you will about Bendtner, but I’ll take him over those 2 any day. Plus he totally ignored Eduardo and Vela, not to mention Arshavin and Walcott who can both play striker as well.

    I feel pretty confident about finishing ahead of Liverpool. I think they kind of had a dream season last year and I doubt they’ll be able to come anywhere near that level again this season.

    1. @Indy Gooner, Agree about the dream season…doing the double over Chelsea, winning at Old Trafford, coming back in the 2nd leg of the CL at Stamford bridge to at least make it close, etc.

      I never really rated Alonso (certainly not 30 million Euros) nor Arbeloa but Riera and Insua make for an exceptionally weak left side (for a top 4 team) and Lucas/Mascherano give little creatively for them.

      Nonetheless commentators writing us off is just fine with me, unless they’re having a pint with the referees….

      It’ll be interesting what sort of team they put out when they play us in the Carling Cup in a couple of weeks. Perhaps we’ll see about team depth on that night….

      1. @17highburyterrace, I would expect to see Zhar, Voronin, N’gog up front. Maybe Babel. Benitez has to ‘rest’ his core group. I do remember Benitez bringing on Gerrard in a preseason game years ago against a League 1 team to get the winning goal.

        Our reserve team just smacked Chelsea (2-0) w/ Joe Cole in the line up.

  17. Liverpool are in a world of hurt. I’ve never rated Carragher. He’s always been garbage, only this year Reina has not always been able to save his ass.

    Man City are better than Liverpool. All of Sparky’s signings have at least two years of BPL experience. There is no “adapting to the new league” for them to go through. Benitez doesn’t recognize that as relevant. Every summer, he brings in tons of new players who all come from various leagues. There’s just too many cultures and egos to try and get to gel every year, not to mention they don’t speak English. He’s continually overpaying for players who simply aren’t good enough for the league or he’s unwilling to give them time to adapt. He punched above his weight last year. His time is up.

    1. @joshuad, the midfield play is poor….
      Riera, Lucas, and Masherano were ineffective in getting balls to Gerrard and Torres and until
      they change personnel, the season will be disappointing.

      IMO, Benayoun adds more energy and creativity than Lucas, but their depth is suspect.

  18. Whoever it was who mentioned would we actually take any of Liverpuddle’s players into our squad; I think that summed it up.

    Reira would be an improvement over Almunia. Gerrard would be ok for his freekick/set-piece/long-shot ability, but he wouldn’t fit in the system. Torres would be nice, for tap-ins, but his all-round play isn’t up to scratch. Um.. the other-players… Squirtle would be ok as a back-up CB. That’s about it really.

  19. I think it depends on how d’Agostini (?) adapts to English football after his injury. I don’t understand why they didn’t make a more for Barry, if they knew Alonso was a chance of leaving.

  20. Tim looks like Arsenal have come out with a Tee that looks just like your earlier Tee. Maybe you should claim some kind of a royalty!!

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