Early Doors

Pressure mounts on North London bosses

Early Doors

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Wenger and Redknapp

Sky's slogan is the pseudo-aspirational "Believe in better". Perhaps they should give a nod to John Lewis and change it to "Never knowingly underhyped", because the broadcaster really laid it on thick on Sunday.

"PAYBACK" was the graphic motif repeatedly flashed in front of viewers throughout the mouth-watering double-header of Manchester City v Tottenham and Arsenal v Manchester United, though it would not have looked out of place in the build-up to a bout between John Cena and The Rock.

The theme was introduced in expectation of the two North London clubs gaining revenge for their respective showings in August's reverse fixtures, but neither of the Mancunian contingent were willing to go along with that particular narrative.

Whichever way the results went, Sunday was always going to be a pivotal day in this season's title race. As it is, City's thrilling 3-2 home win over Tottenham and United's 2-1 victory at the Emirates means that the defending champions sit three points behind their table-topping neighbours and five points clear of Spurs.

For Roberto Mancini and Alex Ferguson things are super following that Super Sunday, but for their North London counterparts, Harry Redknapp and Arsene Wenger, the near future looks to be full of tough questions and plenty of pressure.

Redknapp was adamant in his post-match comments that Mario Balotelli, who scored the 95th-minute penalty to seal City's win, should not have been on the pitch after he appeared to stamp intentionally on Scott Parker's head. The accusation is a serious but debatable one, but Redknapp himself is now called to face accusations of a very different nature.

The Spurs boss and his former employer at Portsmouth, Milan Mandaric, stand accused on two counts of cheating the public revenue, and their trial begins this morning.

The two-week trial at Southwark Crown Court relates to two charges alleging Mandaric made payments totalling around £190,000 to Redknapp's account in Monaco to avoid paying income tax and national insurance. Both men deny the charges.

The trial has been on the horizon for some time, but up until now Spurs and their supporters have had their best league campaign in more than 20 years to distract them. Now, however, it is very much a reality.

Tottenham fans have already had to ignore one elephant in the room for much of Redknapp's reign at White Hart Lane — that of the England job the next time it comes up. He has made no secret of his pride at being linked with the post, using his newspaper column to make that point clear on many occasions. What looks like being his best ever season as a top-flight manager could hardly have been better timed with Fabio Capello leaving the employ of the FA after Euro 2012, leaving a £6 million vacancy in his wake.

Now Redknapp's prospects of that job along with his career and very freedom are potentially in jeopardy. As such, the media interest this case will be huge, both from a national news perspective as well as a sports one. At around 08:00 today, one journalist tweeted: "2 hours until start of Redknapp/Mandaric trial but I'm already here. Only 19 seats for press so early start needed. I'm 7th in the queue!"

It will be interesting to see how the press — with whom the often candid and avuncular Redknapp has cultivated a very favourable relationship over nearly 30 years of management — treat him now. He has already got the nation's biggest-selling paper onside thanks to his aforementioned column. Imagine if it was a boss for whom the hacks had the knives out that was in the dock for the next fortnight. Things would get very ugly very quickly in that case.

While tax evasion is a crime, losing away to the league leaders is not. Kyle Walker's slack marking, Joleon Lescott's forearm smash on Younes Kaboul, Balotelli's stray studs, Howard Webb's interpretation thereof, Jermain Defoe's close range miss and Ledley King's rare error in conceding a penalty all played their part in Spurs' fourth league defeat of the season, but the Londoners can take great heart from the fact they came closer than any other side this season to ending City's 100% record at the Etihad Stadium.

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Whilst Tottenham remain odds on for a Champions League spot, things are nowhere near as certain for their local rivals Arsenal.

Defeat at home to United has left them five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, something which puts the Blues' own mid-season travails into perspective.

It seems odd that England's two remaining representatives in this season's Champions League should be the ones scrapping it out for a play-off spot in next season's competition, but that is the way things are panning out.

There have been times over the past 12 months — especially early in this campaign — when Gunners fans have become extremely impatient with manager Arsene Wenger, but the dissatisfaction around the Emirates Stadium reached unprecedented levels during Sunday's game.

Arsenal's injury problems at full-back were brought into sharp focus in the first half when Johan Djourou was run ragged by Nani, Ryan Giggs and Patrice Evra. That tortuous first half for the Swiss culminated in United's opener, and at half-time Wenger spared Djourou's blushes by switching him for 18-year-old Nicholas Yennaris.

That substitution seemed to pay off for Wenger, but another one produced one of the most worrying moments of the whole of his glorious 15-year tenure at the club.

On 74 minutes, soon after Robin van Persie had equalised, Wenger substituted Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. On his first Premier League start the teenager was Arsenal's best player, setting up Van Persie's leveller and looking dangerous whenever he had the ball. Neither of those descriptions could be applied to Andrei Arshavin, who replaced Chamberlain.

There were audible boos from all over the ground as the Russian came on, while Van Persie stood baffled at the decision and could only mouth "No!" in disbelief. When your club captain and star player is so openly aghast at his manager's decision it is cause for concern. Van Persie's reaction was reminiscent of Steven Gerrard's when Rafael Benitez subbed off Fernando Torres midway through Liverpool's 1-1 draw at Birmingham in April 2010. Benitez only managed eight more games for the Reds.

Even former Arsenal defender Emmanuel Eboue — who knows a thing or two about the Gunners crowd turning on him — said after the game on Twitter: "Am sorry . Wenger's decision 2 remove Alex Chamberlain was a suicide. For christ sake He was d best player on d pitch. Very strange stuff."

Everyone — surely including Wenger — had their worst fears realised when the lacklustre Russian made a lamentable effort in trying to tackle Antonio Valencia, who set up Danny Welbeck's winner to consign Arsenal to a third-straight league defeat.

That goal sparked chants of "Spend some f****** money!" from the home fans and one irate supporter near the dugout could clearly be heard yelling "You f***** it up Wenger, sit down!" at the Arsenal boss.

After such an awful start to the campaign, Arsenal looked as though they had clawed their way out of trouble and eased the pressure on Wenger. Now that pressure and criticism has returned redoubled. Failure to qualify for the Champions League next season is unthinkable for the Arsenal boss, given the strain he is currently under. He may have to lift the trophy this year for that to happen.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The club effectively ran out of cash at the end of December. We're under extreme pressure to find a buyer and time is against us. The issuing of the petition effectively means the club loses its ability to use its bank accounts. But we've made other provisions. We're not fazed or worried by it. The club's debts are not significant; we haven't got millions and millions of liabilities." - Football's most famous administrator, Andrew Andronikou, attempts to put a positive spin on the latest winding up order to be issued to Portsmouth. Pompey owe around £1.6 million in unpaid PAYE bills.

FOREIGN VIEW: There were plenty of fun and games to be had all across Europe this weekend. Lionel Messi scored his 10th hat-trick for Barcelona as the Spanish champions ran out 4-1 winners over Malaga. However, Real Madrid's win over Athletic Bilbao by the same scoreline - which came amid more whistling from the home fans aimed at Jose Mourinho  - means the gap is still five points at the top of the table.

In Italy, Claudio Ranieri's revolution at Inter continues unabated as they came from behind to beat Lazio 2-1, their seventh win in a row.

The top three clubs in the Bundesliga are all joined on 37 points following wins for Borussia Dortmund and Schalke, while Borussia Moenchengladbach are just a point behind after they beat leaders Bayern Munich 3-1 with Dortmund-bound starlet Marco Reus again at the heart of the action.

And in France two top-tier clubs were knocked out of the Coupe de France by lower-league opposition, while Lille, Bordeaux and Marseille all needed extra time - and in Bordeaux's case penalties - to overcome their lowly opponents.

COMING UP: You can watch highlights of every one of the weekend's Premier League matches right here, right now, as well as a quickfire round-up of all the goals. There were some beauties this weekend, and you will have the chance to vote for the best one in our Goal of the Week poll.

Paul Parker will be giving his verdict on the weekend's big talking point, and we'll be naming our Team of the Week too.

The African Cup of Nations is well underway, and it's been great start to the tournament with co-hosts Equatorial Guinea beating Libya in the opening game, Zambia upsetting hotly-tipped Senegal, Didier Drogba sealing victory for Ivory Coast and a Manucho screamer claiming a win for Angola. Today there are two more matches to enjoy: co-hosts Gabon v Niger (16:00) and dark horses Morocco v Tunisia (19:00). You can follow live coverage here or watch live on British Eurosport or via the Eurosport Player.

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