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A Small Minority of Idiots

Five Things We Learned from This Weekend's Football

Supporting Arsenal is like watching your dad get beaten up, again and again and again.

Illustration by  ​Sam Taylor

Arsenal Finally Reaching Peak Arsenal
​I predicted in Friday's preview column that Arsenal would win this one comfortably, as they always seem to do after a stupid result in order to keep their fickle fanbase vacillating endlessly from "WENGER OUT!" to "We're gonna win the league!" But, hot on the heels of their embarrassing capitulation to Anderlecht in midweek, came another to Swansea in Saturday's 4PM kick-off. It's arguably the worst time slot in which to suffer an embarrassing capitulation; leaving boozy fans with little else to show for their weekends bar an empty wallet, a cumulative hangover and the grim prospect of work in the morning. But don't worry too much Gooners; at least you've got the international break to look forward to before Man United visit on the 22nd.

Annoncering

Arsenal have only beaten Burnley, Sunderland, Villa and Palace so far in the league this season. And yet the way their fans react to each crushing disappointment – perhaps because of their trophy-laden recent past, perhaps because of the promises made about a near-future that seems constantly in retreat – suggests it's horrifically painful whenever it happens, like seeing your dad get beaten up.

This vine sums up Arsenal perfectly, How Arsenal start games and how Arsenal finish games — King Henry (@ArsenalKing14)November 10, 2014

This week though, there was one additional humiliation. It's a good job Wenger isn't in a title race, because taking the time to lash out wildly at Paul Merson, of all people, seems indicative of a man on the edge, as much as Benitez's facts or Keegan's tears. Everyone knows if you're gonna come at the king, you best not miss. But if you go after a total chump and miss, it's even worse. Now Merse looks vindicated, and if he's able to tell you where you're going wrong, well, there's no greater humiliation than that. This is surely a new low.

Rodgers' Wizard of Oz-Style Reveal
​Another defeat for Liverpool, and things have started to look seriously bleak. The chances of even finishing fourth now look remote, for a team that really ought to have been going on a renewed title push. We can see the mistakes made in the transfer market – a defensive boost, a Gerrard replacement and a new prolific striker were needed. Liverpool got none of them. But this is a real, serious problem that goes a lot deeper.

Annoncering

Their dependence on Sturridge makes sense, because he's pretty much the only unqualified success Rodgers has had in the transfer market since his arrival at Anfield. Okay, there's Coutinho, who's been decent. And Can has hardly been a disaster. Yet the rest – Alberto Moreno! Iago Aspas! Luis Alberto! Mahamadou Sakho! Dejan Lovren! Lazar Markovic! It's like the Dalglish years, except with every English carthorse replaced by three Spanish mules of equivalent value.

The damage this has caused is pretty incredible. It's not much of a stretch to say that if Liverpool had found better value than Iago Aspas last year, they might now be basking in the glory of last year's title win. It's hard not to feel that one chance has gone.

Yaya Toure's shot that struck a young girl in the face… — Football Talk (@TransferBibIe)November 9, 2014

Technically there is no reason to include this Vine

Southampton: Good, in an Old School Way
​Is this shit for real? Southampton might seem to be playing Leicester at home every single week, and have largely racked up their points total against dross – the only "big teams" they've played are Liverpool and Spurs, against both of whom they lost – but they're doing it with the reliability of a title-winner.

However, Ronald Koeman's main benefit to society is the way his results ridicule the excuses wibbled out by any "big club" manager when his team end up, say, 16 points off the pace having spent 150 million in one summer. Philosophy? New formations? Pressing? Nah, fuck it mate; just buy a big Italian and pump it into the box, put Celtic's old goalkeeper in nets, you'll beat most of the shite out there.

Annoncering

Without Koeman, this would seem an absurd opinion. But he's reminded us that football is a simple game, that you really should be able to beat Leicester at home, that teams shouldn't feel hard done by when all they can afford are the best players in the Eredivisie. Instant gratification – it's the next big thing.

A Newcastle Peak to Balance Out All the Troughs
​Something's not right here. Alan Pardew's ​Faus​tian pact was only supposed to allow him the minimum amount of rope to maximise the misery of Newcastle fans, but instead he's on a glorious run, swatting aside all-comers as his team look… well, not exactly unstoppable, but… OK, unstoppable, but also somehow shit.

Time was we'd praise Alan Carr's dad for unearthing great players, but he doesn't seem to have unearthed any real gems for a while now. Despite that, Newcastle are battering everyone, and you can't escape the sense that they could be lining up with Gary Doherty in every position and still getting exactly the same results.

Alan Pardew right now — Gareth Daniels (@Gareth_Daniels)November 9, 2014

Mourinho the Trailblazer
​I can't help but feel the much-ballyhooed TV deal that came into force a couple of years back has indeed proved to be the game-changer everyone predicted it would be, but nobody has noticed. Nobody, that is, except José Mourinho.

Look, this isn't an easy league. Stoke City signed Bojan, for fuck's sake. Mid-table clubs have real pulling power now, and can build serious sides with serious players. You can't just chuck some kids on in defence and trust them to do the job if they're not facing Collins John and David Healy. You can't just buy another world-class forward instead of buying a defensive midfielder, because there's someone a little bit more dangerous than Wayne Routledge running at you.

Annoncering

The only person who seems to have worked this out is José Mourinho. Even though other teams spent far more and bought far more players, there was a sense of "Fuck it, that'll do" about it, just stuffing the team with so many attackers and dainty ball-players that the defence could wait another year. And we're now seeing how wise that strategy has been.

Instead, Mourinho has been building a reasonably solid team for two years. It's a long, long way from being one of the best Premier League sides of all time – can you really see Filipe Luis or Nemanja Matic, as good as they are, having songs sung about them after they've left, or getting in any all-time Premier League XIs? – but they're doing a job, and they're keeping the plebs away, and that might be enough to give Chelsea a record title win.

This is even more interesting because when José first arrived on these shores, he exploited the weaknesses of the league, realising that a couple of decent players could find their way past the dross at the time and everybody else could just sit back and make sure no goals were conceded. Now, he's exploiting the fact that everyone's pretty good, and none of the other top teams have adapted to it yet. As Ferguson proved, reinvention is the most powerful trait a manager can have, and Mourinho has never looked more like his rightful successor.​

​@Callum_TH

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