Haaland is incredible but he doesn’t make City more dominant. And Arsenal are ready.

Published: Monday, 23 January 2023

It was The Beatles that sang about ‘eight days a week’ and a whole lot of love. Right now Arsenal fans couldn’t be more in love with Mikel Arteta. 

The last eight days in Arsenal’s week have proven beyond doubt that not only are they in this title race - they are the firm favourites and really should go on and win it. It’s theirs to throw away.  

They’ve passed every big test so far. Winning at Spurs was impressive enough, but the manner of the win over United was arguably more so.

I didn’t see panic when they went one -down. They calmly constructed a lead. And would’ve kept it but for a Ramsdale howler from the corner that led to the wee man’s goal. What a header that was. Brilliant. And to be fair to the keeper he’d made a magnificent save just before that.

The winner was deserved. There was never a doubt in my mind that Nketiah was on-side. Straight away you could see Wan Bissaka had played him on. The full-back handed Nketiah his first as well. The defending at the 2nd post was awful. No - it was Zinchenko who looked off to me. We’re told not, but I’m not sure what technology they‘ve found in the bunker that wasn’t available when Wolves got their ‘winner’ at Anfield in the Cup. I backed Stockley Park over that one but I’ve got my doubts now.

A Twitter follower later told me that Zinchenko hasn’t been caught off-side all season. I haven’t checked - but if that’s true its really impressive for a raiding full-back. Bearing in mind that Guardiola started with Laporte at left-back against Wolves I wonder if he’s regretting selling Zinchenko to Arsenal?

If I’m Arteta nothing else matters now. I don’t care about Europe - all I want is the title. Let the other chasers get caught up with European games - especially City - who will concentrate more and more on the CL if they’re still adrift further into the season. As I said last week - it’s looking like a ‘Leicester’ season. There isn’t the same quality of challenge that we normally see. This could yet be a one-off chance for Arsenal to nail the title

After another hat-trick I read today that the debate over Haaland at City is over. Does he make them stronger or not? No is the answer and I’ll make the case in a moment. Haaland is phenomenal - but when the the world’s cleverest (and smug) coach going to realise that, with the Norwegian in his team, he’s got to change his style of play? He’s got to get the ball to him more quickly.

Against Spurs, City struggled in a lifeless first-half. They came out in the second 45 - went longer and quicker and blew Tottenham away. Ederson even got an assist for the fourth goal.

At their best City can be breathtaking. But when they play as they did v Wolves - and in the first 45 v Spurs - they’re dull. I was bored Sunday and I’m sure I wasn’t alone. If I was a City fan I wouldn’t pay £100 to watch that. For 39 minutes it was a snooze fest. Then a right footed player turned up on the right hand side of the box and knocked a beautiful first-time cross onto Haaland’s head. Haaland snapped it up. Simple. Why do City have to complicate everything?

Why is England’s best right-back sitting on the bench watching a kid play in his position - drift into mid-field every time he’s passed the ball back or sideways? What’s useful about that? Clever though eh? Guardiola has come up with another cunning plan. Walker is dynamite on that right side and is missed when he doesn’t play. 

I’m guessing Lewis is picked to provide extra numbers in mid-field and make up for the fact that Haaland won’t come back to help out. Last season City didn’t have a proper No9 and everybody put in an extra shift to make up it. But do City really need numbers in mid-field for a game at home v Wolves? Come on. It’s nonsense.

So - does Haaland, who is an exceptional player, actually make City more dominant? No I said. And here’s why. Only so many goals can be scored. He’s got 25 so it follows that the others won’t get as many Gundogan had five by half way last year - it’s only two this.  De Bruyne had five - it’s three this. Mahrez had five - four now. Silva seven - just two now.

Last year Sterling had five. Alvarez has four. Foden has seven this year against four last.  The ‘rest’ this season have scored six - last year others had scored 15 - 17 if you count two own goals.

As a team things balance out, 45 points with 53 goals scored this season, 47 points and 53 goals last season at the half-way stage. There we have it - City are two points worse off. Haaland is a brilliant goal scorer but his numbers don’t make City more dominant. What he might be though is the difference on a big CL night. That’s what he’s really been bought for.

A couple of other conclusions from the weekend - United aren’t ready, but they are definitely making progress - and so are Newcastle, but they’re not in the title race either. Eddie Howe knows a CL place finish and a Carabao Cup win would still add up to a dream season. In fact - I’d give up a CL finish if I could swap it for guaranteed silverware. We all know that Newcastle fans are desperate for a trophy.

Having had a little go at City I should add that Liverpool/Chelsea was also a bore-fest. I still find it hard to read a table that sees them in ninth and 10th respectively. It’s amazing. Stuck on 29 points each I can’t see either making the CL. They both need to hit a rich vein of form - and right now neither looks likely to do that.