Pitchside

Facts – 7 truths: Captain Rooney, Arsenal’s strikers and how to end ‘Fergie time’

Pitchside

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1) Cheerio 3-5-2

It’s the sort of approach that gives you shivers, even in the harmless world of Football Manager: 3-5-2. Louis van Gaal’s decision to deploy the bold formation at the start of his Manchester United tenure should be commended, but ultimately his Old Trafford revolution faltered at the first hurdle. The inexperienced defensive trio of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Tyler Blackett were left exposed by two makeshift wing-backs, prompting a switch to a defensive four at the break.

The system worked for Van Gaal with the Netherlands in Brazil, but on a vast Old Trafford pitch and in a league that thrives on quick, counter-attacking football, it surely has to be shelved – at least until they sign the personnel who can actually play the formation. You can’t play Ashley Young at left wing-back and then, more alarmingly, at left back and expect to win games.

2) Time to sign a striker, Arsene

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If you’re turning to Yaya Sanogo in your hour of need, then it’s probably time to sign another striker. Arsenal have the funds but, just like last season, elected to strengthen their attacking midfield – a department in which they already possess numerous top quality options – over their more pressing needs. Oliver Giroud and Sanogo are good squad players, but they are not going to fire you to a title. Why not submit a cheeky bid for Falcao, Arsene?

3) End Fergie time debate - Premier League should revolutionise stoppage time

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When the fourth official signalled four additional minutes at Old Trafford, there was only a murmur of protest from the away fans. But as play stretched into the 96th minute, Garry Monk and his Swansea charges were getting increasingly irate – and with good reason. Manchester United have long been associated with stealing an extra minute or two, but surely it can’t be that difficult to regulate injury time?

Here’s the alternative. A suited official sat within the stadium confines starts and stops a clock each time he deems it necessary to add extra time. Once the 45 or 90 minutes are up, the accumulated total appears on the scoreboard and starts ticking down to zero – pausing when there’s a stoppage. Then, once the time elapses, the match concludes once the ball goes out of play. Simple. RIP, Fergie time.

4) Big Sam is on managerial death row

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It’s official (based on one game): West Brom and Aston Villa aren’t quite as bad as most of us expected. So who will take first prize in the Premier League’s coveted sack race? Step forward Sam Allardyce. His West Ham side failed to break down London rivals Tottenham, despite playing against 10 men for over an hour, and were punished in dramatic fashion when debutant Eric Dier popped up in injury time to snatch a 1-0 win.

But this wasn’t Allardyce’s doing. Instead, the blame lies with Mark Noble and James Collins – the former guilty of carelessly stroking a penalty past the post, the latter of needlessly clattering into Emmanuel Adebayor when on a yellow. Three winnable fixtures await the Hammers – a home game with Southampton is sandwiched between winnable visits to Crystal Palace and Hull – but anything less than four points and it may already be farewell for Allardyce.

5) Aaron Ramsey crucial for Arsenal’s title bid

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The Welshman carried his knack of scoring crucial goals into the 2014/15 season with an injury time winner against Crystal Palace. Ramsey has this innate ability to pop up in prime positions and score vital goals, something his team-mates have often failed to do in recent years. If he can avoid injury – and that’s a big if – then Arsenal are title contenders, providing they add to their squad before the transfer window slams slut. And who knows, perhaps Wales are an outside tip for Euro 2016 glory…

6) Leicester are here to stay

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They may have been absent for a decade, but Leicester looked thoroughly at home on their return to the Premier League. Although they were outplayed by a tidy Everton outfit for long periods, they displayed the required resilience – two superb Toffees goals aside – to hold on before grabbing a late point. The King Power Stadium will be a tricky venue for sides to visit this season on this evidence.

7) Wayne Rooney may be more influential without burden of captain’s armband

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Rooney’s performance against Swansea was a concoction of desire and mistakes. He’s at his best terrorising defences, playing on instinct, but his main attributes may be better harnessed without that elastic band hoisted around his shoulder.

It’s only one game – and Rooney actually scored United’s goal – but fans will be alarmed at the parallels between this clash and those under David Moyes last season. That woeful campaign was fraught with leadership issues, issues that didn’t dissipate on Van Gaal’s Old Trafford inauguration. Rooney’s form ebbs and flows and the concern will be whether he can lead the side when playing poorly. Darren Fletcher, anyone?

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