x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Premier League best and worst: Redknapp needs all his gifts of the gab

QPR manager leaves owner looking like a stuffed turkey, while Arsenal fans get Christmas presents early, writes John McAuley.

Harry Redknapp says he does not 'want to spend the owners' money at QPR. Matthew Lewis / Getty Images
Harry Redknapp says he does not 'want to spend the owners' money at QPR. Matthew Lewis / Getty Images

Best present: Arsenal

Arsene Wenger hates spoiling the club's success-starved supporters.

When last season fans requested a new strike force to ease the burden on the susceptible limbs of Robin van Persie, the famously frugal Frenchman responded by snapping up Gervinho and Park Chu-young.

It was the equivalent of asking Santa for an adorable little puppy only to discover on Christmas morning a Tamagotchi instead.

Those perennially tight purse strings at the Emirates Stadium have proved a contentious point of late, too, with the Gunners slipping down the Premier League table and crashing out of the Capital One Cup.

However, victory at Wigan Athletic made it three in a row, contract rebel Theo Walcott announced plans to sign a new deal, and the supporters who travelled to the DW Stadium received a £10 (Dh60) gift voucher to spend in the Arsenal club shop.

It might be the season to be jolly, after all.

Worst repeat: Darron Gibson

People of a certain vintage will no doubt be fed up with the traditional fare served up on television during the festive period.

While undoubtedly good movies, there are only so many Miracles of 34th Street you can believe, Christmas stories to be inspired by, or Gremlins that can frighten. Repeats have become routine.

So you would think Darron Gibson would have steered clear of mimicking Carlton Cole in Everton's match against West Ham United.

Cole had received his marching orders for almost decapitating Leighton Baines when he raked his studs down the left-back's shoulder. Admittedly, it did seem a genuine attempt to get the ball.

However, the straight red card did not deter Gibson, the Everton midfielder, who less than 30 minutes later was sent off for the exact same offence, this time on Mark Noble.

A Christmas vacation, albeit without the Griswolds, beckons.

Best Scrooge: Stoke City

Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Malaga … Stoke City. Yes, such is the strength of the Potters' defence these days they are being compared to rather loftier luminaries.

Of Europe's five most popular divisions, only those clubs, all of Uefa Champions League pedigree, have rearguards more difficult to penetrate.

It should therefore have come as little surprise when Tony Pulis's men succeeded against Tottenham Hotspur in keeping a ninth clean sheet of the season, achieved by not simply parking the bus in front of their goal, but driving it into White Hart Lane, removing the wheels and propping it up with bricks.

Spurs had 21 attempts at goal, but most of those came from outside the area as Stoke sat 11 men behind the ball throughout.

The home side enjoyed 63 per cent possession, yet Asmir Begovic, the visiting goalkeeper, had only one telling save to make. Stoke have conceded just 13 goals in 18 games. Bah humbug, indeed.

Worst wise man: Harry Redknapp

We all know Harry Redknapp indulges in a memorable quote or two. Whether it is his "missus" teaching Darren Bent how to finish, or comparing John Hartson to Jack the Ripper, the Queens Park Rangers manager knows how to create a headline.

His latest, though, could prove one of his most ill advised.

Having watched his new side's insipid defeat at Newcastle United, Redknapp blasted his players for failing to justify the colossal wages they pocket as members of the league's second-worst team.

In typical Redknapp speak, January reinforcements were called for, before he added, somewhat farcically: "I don't want to spend the owners' money. I don't want to see [them] have their pants pulled down like in the past."

Although Tony Fernandes, QPR's moneyed chairman, would more than likely concede the club's recent naivety, such a public pronouncement will not sit well at Loftus Road.

Redknapp's notorious man-management skills, with both the board and his players, are to be severely tested.

Best goodwill: Rooney

Granted, there was not too much festive spirit yesterday at the Liberty Stadium.

Every time the camera panned to Sir Alex Ferguson, it looked like someone had stolen the last scoop of turkey stuffing. And it is safe to assume Michael Oliver, the referee, will be scrubbed from the Scotsman’s Christmas card list, too.

Then there was Ashley Williams, the Swansea captain, who reacted to the award of a free kick against his side by hitting Robin van Persie in the back of the head with the ball.

Understandably, the United forward took exception, and for an instant it all threatened to kick off.

Thank goodness for Wayne Rooney, then. The misfiring frontman boosted English/Welsh relations by being admirably charitable from start to finish, constantly letting Swansea off the hook when United poured forward. He was rightfully hauled off early, proving it is possible to be both naughty and nice.