By Peter Berlin
January 19, 2014
Samuel Eto'o scored a hat trick in Chelsea's 3-1 win over Manchester United to keep his team in third place in EPL.
Adrian Dennis/Getty Images

Cabaye or Ozil -- In mid-August, when Arsenal offered Newcastle a reported £10 million, or $16.5 million, for Yohan Cabaye, the French midfielder was on keen to force a move, he briefly went on strike. Newcastle (like Liverpool with Luis Suárez and United with Rooney, but unlike Tottenham with Gareth Bale) stood firm. A week and a half later, Arsenal bought Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid for a reported £42 million (thus helping fund the Bale move).

It is possible that even if he'd got Cabaye, Arsène Wenger would also have wanted Ozil. The Arsenal coach cannot have enough midfielders. Whether the club would have been prepared to buy both is another matter. So, is Arsenal better off with Ozil than it would have been with Cabaye?

On Saturday, Cabaye was again the classic midfield general as he guided Newcastle to a 3-1 victory at hapless West Ham. He scored twice. Cabaye has hit seven league goals this season. This is his team. He has guided it to a comfortable eighth place, one point behind Manchester United.

Ozil, meanwhile, had another of his floaty days as Arsenal overcame stubborn Fulham, 2-0, at The Emirates. He completed more than twice as many passes as Cabaye, but then again, Arsenal completed almost twice as many passes as Newcastle. That's its way. Unlike Cabaye, Ozil did not attempt a tackle. That's not his way. He did have two shots but neither was dangerous.

On Saturday, others got the job done. Jack Wilshere provided the midfield drive. Santi Cazorla added the cutting edge, scoring twice in five minutes in the second half.

On the face of it, Ozil was not worth four times more than Cabaye, although the German sometimes gives the impression that he thinks he's the most precious thing on the pitch. His time at Arsenal suggests he's right. Even though there have been quite a few matches where he has been largely decorative, he's the reason Arsenal is a contender again.

Cabaye is very good. He will probably start for France at the World Cup. But Ozil exudes greatness without even trying. He has balance, pace, skill, eye for a pass and intelligence. He is one of those players who always seem to have time and who look graceful even when they are falling over. Carlo Ancelotti might not have been prepared to put up with his sporadic work rate at Real, but, as Wenger hinted last week, Ozil's arrival at Arsenal convinced the rest of the squad that the club didn't only sell world-class players, it could buy them too.

Ozil hasn't always been great for Arsenal. But, perhaps it is not an accident that his arrival has coincided with other Arsenal players, like Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey stepping closer to greatness. And the club believing it can be great again.

Reputations dive hard -- Luis Suárez hasn't bitten anyone for a while. He hasn't racially abused anyone for a while. He's stopped lashing wild shots everywhere but into the net. He's also learned that he can stay on his feet.

It would be naïve to imagine that the Uruguayan has turned into a footballing Mother Theresa, yet the fuss that followed after he fell over Brad Guzan, the Villa goalie, on Saturday, seemed to have little relationship with reality.

Steven Gerrard converted the penalty to salvage a 2-2 draw. Yet the two dropped points widen the gap between Liverpool, in fourth, and the top three.

For almost 45 minutes, Villa flowed while Liverpool played like drains. Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann put Villa two goals up. Daniel Sturridge in his first league start after missing seven weeks, replied just before half time.

After 53 minutes, Suárez broke into the area. Guzan dived. As Suárez flicked the ball away from the goalie and the goal, Guzan pulled his arms back. But he still rolled into the striker with his chest and caught him with a foot. Suárez did not need to dive. He could not help falling.

After the game, Paul Lambert, the Villa manager opened the can of worms when he told the BBC: "I don't think it is a penalty."

The BBC's analysts, poring over the slo-mo, were sure it was a foul and a penalty. That did not stop the BBC conducting a telephone poll of viewers. Two thirds voted that Suárez dived, which says more about their club allegiances and Suárez 's reputation than about what had happened. The Sunday papers followed suit, stoking a controversy based on reputation rather than reality.

It's almost possible to feel sorry for Hannibal Suárez.

What comes up must come down -- Tony Pulis has earned notoriety with a coaching career seemingly dedicated to putting the ball repeatedly into the air. Jason Puncheon achieved infamy by doing it once.

Pulis took Stoke into the Premier League and turned the Potters into a solid mid-table team with the most military and unappealing long-ball tactics.

Stoke might love Pulis, but grew bored with his style of play and the limitations it placed on further upward movement. Stoke replaced Pulis with Mark Hughes in the summer. In November, Pulis was hired by Crystal Palace who were last and in no position to worry about style points.

Puncheon, who achieved notoriety by leaving the field for a toilet break during a game for Southampton last season, attracted further ridicule last week when he skied a penalty very high, very wide and very ugly against Tottenham. He seemed to be trying to curl the ball inside the left post, but missed by an awfully long way.

Some of the taunting from pundits bordered on abuse. Puncheon seemed very upset. He reacted particularly badly to criticism from a former manager, Neil Warnock. Warnock, the man clubs hire if they can't get Pulis, said he would never have trusted Puncheon to take a penalty. It might be true but didn't seem a wise, or nice, thing for an active coach to say in public. Puncheon replied, in effect, that clubs should not trust Warnock with their teams.

A week later, Stoke came to Palace. The Stoke fans wore Pulis baseball caps. They waved Pulis photos. They were rewarded by having to watch not one but two teams play Pulis soccer.

The only goal came after 51 minutes. Stoke made a hash of clearing the ball. It fell to Puncheon. He took aim and curled a shot just inside the left post. So that's how it's done. It was the goal that won the game, 1-0.

The goal was vindication for Puncheon. The victory was a vindication for Pulis. Palace climbed out of the bottom three and to within two points of Stoke. Maybe his ugly soccer is beginning to look more attractive to his old employers now.

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