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PLAY IT SHORT: David Villa an Arsenal game-changer; Sturridge a Liverpool bargain; Man Utd midfield can't match Real; Pardew's triple masterstroke

PARDEW PROVES MASTERMIND FROM SIDELINESAlan Pardew's substitutions won the game for Newcastle United on Saturday. Shola Ameobi proved the matchwinner, thanks to fellow sub Sylvain Marveaux's clever pass. But the goal actually came from Pardew's other change, Gabriel Obertan, who chased down Junior Hoilett, beyond fullback Davide Santon, to win back possession for the Toon. For Marveaux, he'll take heart from his involvement. Rejected by Liverpool on fitness grounds, then breaking down at Newcastle, the Frenchman has been linked with a return to Ligue Une. But if he digs in and enjoys some good fortune with injury, Marveaux is capable of matching the heights of Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye. If Pardew wants him to stay, Marveaux should, given the gamble the manager made in bringing him to Toon.

QPR MISSING MIDFIELD STEELIf QPR had ten other players of the character of Ryan Nelsen they wouldn't be staring at relegation. The Kiwi was again outstanding in defeat at Newcastle United, throwing himself into every challenge, whether on the floor or in the air. Harry Redknapp's blast at his 'overpaid stars' sent a clear message, but Nelsen won't be among those in his sights. Demba Ba has already turned down £80,000-a-week from QPR and the lack of striker options is obvious. But did the QPR midfield actually win a tackle at St James' Park? Esteban Granero was a passenger and Stephane Mbia, locked into a defensive role since his arrival, was more known for his attacking ability at Marseille. A bid for Rennes' ball-winner Yann M'Vila comes as no surprise, but for all his quality, the France international also carries a lot of baggage, which is why the bigger clubs have shied away from him this year.

STURRIDGE WILL PROVE LIVERPOOL BARGAINGive Danny Sturridge a run of games and he'll prove his quality. His imminent move to Liverpool, where he can expect to partner Luis Suarez in Brendan Rodgers' attack, is just what the England striker needs. A lot of ex-players, including Steve Nicol, are questioning the deal. But if he can establish himself quickly at Anfield, Sturridge will surprise a lot of people. Frozen out at Chelsea, he's been forgotten, but as he showed at Bolton Wanderers and for Team GB in the summer, if he can get some miles into his legs, the consistency will come and that £12 million price-tag will look a snip come June.

CAN FERGIE'S MIDFIELD OVERCOME REAL?Does Sir Alex Ferguson really believe Manchester United can win the Champions League with his current midfield? They were hardly swashbuckling in qualification from their group and now face Cristiano Ronaldo's Real Madrid. Ferguson insists he's happy with what he has, but Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley will have to have career best games to see off the likes of Xabi Alonso, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Luka Modric. Good enough for the Premier League? Yes. But it's a struggle to believe how Ferguson sees his midfield overcoming what Jose Mourinho can call upon.

VILLA ARRIVAL WOULD SMASH ARSENAL TRADITIONDavid Villa arriving at Arsenal would be a game changer. An established, world-class signing at Arsenal would break the mould. He'd be the biggest transfer Arsenal has made in modern times and the reaction of fans, the boost it would give the players and staff cannot be quantified. But will Arsene Wenger go through with it? Now back in fourth place, will he revert to type? Certainly with so much tension, near anger, amongst the fans, to show ambition and land Villa would improve relations. Signing the Barcelona striker would make headlines around the world - and also satisfy Emirates, who warned Arsenal during the week of their on-field obligations.

ABRAMOVICH CAN HELP CHELSEA MOMENTUMRoman Abramovich can add to Chelsea's sudden momentum by handing new deals to Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard. After reaching the Capital One Cup semis and putting eight past Aston Villa, an announcement that Chelsea were holding onto the world's best left-back and their favourite son would keep the club's roll going. The worst thing for Rafa Benitez, having guided Chelsea back into the top three, would be reports on New Year's Day that Cole has signed for PSG and Lampard with LA Galaxy.

WIGAN IDEAL STAGE FOR HENRIQUEZSir Alex Ferguson is good friends with Wigan Athletic chairman Dave Whelan. But the Manchester United manager wasn't looking to do him any favour with the deal for Angelo Henriquez. Ferguson has sent the Chilean to the DW for purely football reasons. As highlighted by Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger last week, Wigan and manager Roberto Martinez are now enjoying a great reputation for identifying and developing young talent. And Martinez isn't messing around with Henriquez. The young striker has been training with the Latics for over a week and will be ready to go when his loan is rubberstamped on January 1. Arouna Kone's African Nations Cup commitments opens the door for Henriquez to instantly establish himself - just the scenario Ferguson was seeking.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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