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All Things Footie | Tuesday, March 5 | Jordan

Wide Open

It really is going to go down to the wire isn't it. I happen to think — even though there's over a quarter of the season to go — the top four have been decided. The order those teams will be in after 38 games however, gets more unguessable by the minute. The midweek game between Newcastle and Liverpool will be all the more unmissable now that both teams have something to lose. Three points for Newcastle and Liverpool can kiss title contention goodbye (if they haven't already) and the reds will have to work for fourth place. If Liverpool win the day then Newcastle will have to be careful not to lose confidence, they may even begin to doubt their credentials as a top four team. For both Arsenal and Man Utd, a draw would be just right.

A few things from this weekend; of equal significance are Arsenal's grit, determination and brilliance against Newcastle at St James' and Derby's magnificent home draw (not a victory through pure bad luck) against Manchester United. Arsenal were simply stunning against the magpies, with outstanding performances from Sol Campbell, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp but a special word is due for Lee Dixon. Running around like a 20 year old (he's 38) he was superb and handled Laurent Robert (of whom I'm a big fan) with aplomb.

Derby — or more accurately Malcolm Christie — handled Manchester United with similar composure. The East Midlands side were in fact (a reality acknowledged by Sir Alex himself) unlucky not to have won the game in the dying moments when Christie completed his hat trick but had a perfectly legitimate goal disallowed. Just moments earlier I felt Derby deserved a penalty too when not uncharacteristically, Fabien Barthez rushed out and made a failed clearance. The ball was taken to the edge of the box by Christie and as he was about to cross Barthez flew over desperate to atone for his error and punched the Derby forward in the back of his head. In the words of Sir Alex Ferguson, ‘the referee had such a poor, poor game. He had a shocking game.’

If Liverpool finish this season poorly then a candidate for blame is their underuse of Jari Litmanen. The Finn can offer Liverpool the same subtlety of play and cultured use of possession that Dennis Berkamp donates to Arsenal's cause. He would make a natural partner for Michael Owen — the two could split most defences in Europe between them — and Litmanen surely has more to his game than Heskey and Anelka.

Liverpool should also look at their transfer policy for some schoolboy errors; what do Vladamir Smicer, Patrik Berger, Jerzy Dudek, Stephane Henchoz, Milan Baros and Igor Biscan have in common? They are all ‘first team’ players at Liverpool and none of them are EU citizens. In domestic matches only three can be named in the squad (including substitutes.)

It's team of the week time, but I must mention the great difficulty in choosing a goal of the week. We were treated to some absolute beauties from Chris Marsden, Jason Euell, Matt Jansen and Malcolm Christie to name a few. One stood out for guile, speed of thought, audaciousness, difficulty and sheer brilliance.

Performace of the week : Arsenal vs Newcastle
Player of the week : Malcolm Christie (Derby vs Man Utd)
Goal of the week : Dennis Bergkamp (Arsenal vs Newcastle)
Team of the week :
Andy Oakes
  Lee Dixon
Stephane Henchoz
Sol Campbell
Graham Stuart
Thomas Hitzlsperger
Aston Villa
Chris Marsden
Robert Pires
  Dennis Bergkamp
Jason Euell
Malcolm Christie

A couple of notes; what is John Terry playing at? answers on a postcard wthout usng the words idiot, fool or waster. Manchester City are about to sign Preston's impressive striker Jon Maken in a £5m deal.

It's sad to hear of the death of Serie A side Chievo's striker Jason Mayele who was killed in a car accident on Saturday. The Democratic Republic of Congo international's shirt number at the club (30) has been retired.

Finally on a lighter note, I'll leave you with the story of the fastest ever sending off in football…

“Cross Farm Park Celtic striker Lee Todd may not be a household name but flick past the longest toe-nails and hairiest women of the Guinness Book of World Records and you'll find him boasting the fastest sending-off in football. As referee Pete Kearle whistled to kick-off the Sunday league match against Taunton East Reach Wanderers, Todd cried: “F*** me, that was loud” and was ordered from the pitch for abusive language. His stay on the field was timed at two seconds. ”

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