A BREWING BROMANCE
Crystal Palace entertain Arsenal at Selhurst Park with plenty at stake for both sides. The hosts need a win to pull a little further clear of the drop, while the visitors could do with one to boost their ailing hopes of getting knocked out of the first knockout round of next season’s Big Cup. For added subplot, the managers of both sides have plenty of previous – this will be the 32nd time they’ve sent teams out to play each other (or the 28th, depending on your paper of choice – the Fiver is too lazy to check) – and in his book Big Sam: The Autobiography, the author said Arsène Wenger “has an air of arrogance”. It’s quite the claim from a man who once announced without a trace of self-deprecation he “would win the Double or the league every time” with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United or Chelsea and whose penchant for blowing his own trumpet would later cost him the England job after only 10 minutes.
These days, however, the pair seem to have mellowed in their old age. “That was the grumpy old days,” Allardyce says. “The ‘I’ll get under your skin’ days. Even then, though, I always had the greatest respect for what he has done. We have had a few run-ins, but if you beat a side like Arsenal and are not expected to, that’s the great pleasure.” Yes, that was then and this is now, where once frosty relations have thawed to such an extent that Wenger was quick to defend his former nemesis when he was ushered out of the FA HQ door marked Do One with the kind of haste those who fired him have never displayed before. More recently, Big Sam has repaid the favour by defending the Arsenal manager from shouty, angry Gooner Fan TV types who want Wenger out of their club. But while the notion of Big Sam and Wenger toasting each other’s health with a post-match pint of Lambrini Bianco from the former’s cellar on Monday night is a heartwarming one, we can expect a temporary end to the pair’s truce once their teams cross the white line.
What with Palace having beaten Chelsea recently and Arsenal being … well, Arsenal, it’s difficult to imagine any outcome that would actually constitute a shock this evening. “I would just say the win of Crystal Palace at Chelsea is in the continuity of what we have seen in the Premier League since the start of the season,” mumbled Wenger, before saying the word ‘game’ far more often than was necessary. “Surprising results because the difference between the teams has become shorter and smaller, so anything can happen in any game. But it doesn’t change basically my thinking about the game. We know we have to play at our best to win the game.” While Wenger claims the difference between Premier League teams has become shorter and smaller, the difference between his team and the one occupying their traditional fourth place is seven points. With Arsenal having played two games fewer than Manchester City (for it is they) a win tonight is crucial. Lose and they’ll have to focus on the scramble to avoid next season’s Euro Vase.
LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE TONIGHT!
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“The club has total confidence in Tony Adams as head coach of Granada CF until the end of the season” – having unearthed the former Arsenal captain and installed him as sporting director last week, the doomed La Liga club have gone one further and given Adams the full set of controls to play with.
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“Can’t tell you how nice it was to see a picture of Pittodrie in Friday’s edition of The Fiver. However, it seems that the caption indicating it was hell was only marginally correct bearing in mind the literal translation explains that it is ‘a place for manure’. Mind you, I remember sitting there back in the 80s and from about that exact vantage point watching the wee [snip – Fiver taste Ed] win their second Euro pot. Looks more like heaven to me” – Sheep Mctavish.
“It’s pretty amazing how José Mourinho can talk about something as innocuous as wanting to win a trophy and get called out by The Fiver, yet Pep Guardiola can get involved in a post-match dust-up with the other team’s players and other personnel with nary a nod in his direction. Perhaps Mourinho merits a nickname like Him (who is, intriguingly, another Portuguese once associated with Man Utd). I recommend “Coco,” an evil spirit who was once depicted by Goya. It will just be more fun reading a bit or a bob about how the diabolical Coco expressed an interest in winning a European match, as part of what surely is some sort of fiendish plot. Meanwhile, “St Pep” can continue ascending through the heavens while his striker gets sent off for violent play & he chases the other team’s mascot down the tunnel after a loss” – Christopher Smith.
“It’s time for Kevin Miles (Friday’s Fiver) to concentrate his Twenty’s Plenty campaign on the Championship. Tickets for Derby County’s away game at Sheffield Wednesday are £36!” – Allen Wright.
“The Premier League should have a rule that any team too incompetent to even get a draw against Manchester United automatically gets relegated. It would only save us seven games this season but everyone wins, particularly the Sunderland fans” – Noble Francis.
BITS AND BOBS
Merseyside police are investigating an incident in a trendy Liverpool nightspot in which Everton’s Ross Barkley was punched in the face.
Sadio Mané will undergo surgery on his knacked knee on Tuesday and Liverpool are hopeful the forward will be fit for pre-season training in July.
Birmingham City say they are not about to bundle Gianfranco Zola aboard the good ship Do One. “The club has not lined up any manager to replace Gianfranco, who has the continual full support of the Blues board of directors,” whistled a club suit.
Six days after scoring a hat-trick against Las Palmas, Celta Vigo’s Giuseppe Rossi has suffered cruciate ligament knee-knack for a fourth time, the poor bugger.
Fun and games at Genoa dept: popular president Enrico Preziosi has shoved Andrea Mandorlini through the door marked Do One and replaced him with Ivan Juric, who they shoved through the door marked Do One only two months ago.
And Simone Zaza, who seemed about as useful as a daddy long legs when he was at West Ham, has joined Valencia on a permanent deal from Juventus for £13.7m.
STILL WANT MORE?
Ten talking points from this weekend’s Premier League action. Go on then, talk about them!
Bang! “What was that” you ask? It was Barcelona shooting themselves in the foot again, says Sid Lowe.
Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry are partying like it’s 2013 - and they’re keeping Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman off the dance floor, croons Andy Brassell.
Paolo Bandini knows so much about Serie A that when he tells you that Crotone’s survival hopes are no longer a flight of fancy after their victory over Inter you had better believe him. Right?
Ligue 1 has Europe’s tightest title race ... and the most enthralling relegation battle. Adam White and Eric Devin bang the drum for French football.
Slavisa Jokanovic frees fizzy Fulham to break late for Championship play-offs, trills Jeremy Alexander.
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