Another weekend, and more precious points dropped for Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea. Despite the expensively assembled squads of Chelsea and Man City, the sides run by Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini have dropped 31 points from a possible 90, whilst David Moyes’ Man Utd have collected less points than they have dropped; with only 22 points from a possible 45.
These three clubs began the season with popular opinion suggesting that one of them would win the title, but as the year has gone on, the landscape of the Premier League has changed markedly. Rather than Premier League champions Man Utd sitting at the top, or moneybags outfits City or Chelsea, it is Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal.
Arsenal have now clinched 35 points from a possible 45; with their only two defeats being a loss at home to Aston Villa all the way back in August and a scrappy game away at Old Trafford in which they lost 1-0. Back at the start of the season, no one was giving Arsenal much of a hope of winning their first Premier League crown for 10 years. Fast forward to December, and all of a sudden they’re leading the pack.
However, it’s not all good news for Arsenal fans. Whilst their rivals contrived to lose eight points between them at the weekend; Arsenal lost two of their own during an epic draw at home to Everton. Whilst there is absolutely no shame in failing to beat Roberto Martinez’s stylish outfit, Arsene Wenger will no doubt see the two points dropped as an opportunity missed.
Arsenal need to beat the teams around them
Although Arsenal have been playing particularly well in the last few weeks, it must be noted that since their loss to Manchester United, they’ve had a relatively straight forward set of fixtures. In fact, aside from their trip to Old Trafford and Liverpool’s visit to the Emirates, it could be argued that Arsenal have not yet played a team of real substance this season.
The North London club’s wins have come against Fulham, Tottenham, Sunderland, Stoke, Swansea, Norwich, Crystal Palace, Liverpool, Southampton and Hull, with seven of those 10 teams residing in the bottom half of the table. Credit must be given to Wenger’s side for their wins against Tottenham, Liverpool and Southampton; but it has to be said that the Spurs side they faced in August was nowhere near its best, while despite their impressive form this season, one would always expect the Gunners to beat the Saints.
The reason for this preamble is to illustrate the point that although Arsenal are currently sitting snugly at the top of the table, it should not be forgotten that Wenger’s men still face some very difficult fixtures that they must overcome if they are to become Premier League champions this season. With home and away fixtures against Chelsea and Man City to look forward to, as well as visits to White Hart Lane, Anfield and Goodison Park, there are still 21+ points left for Arsenal to wrest off the big teams.
Of those 21+ points, six of them come in the next two weeks; with Arsenal heading to the Etihad on Saturday before welcoming Chelsea across London the week after that. Failure to extract anything other than the maximum of six points from these two fixtures would most likely see their lead cut in half; with the potential to be usurped as league leaders if both games are lost.
The worrying thing for Arsene Wenger is that his side have just failed in their latest test against a relative equal. Failure may seem a harsh word to describe a draw against Everton, but the fact is that if Arsenal are to win the Premier League, these are the sorts of games they need to win.
Although it was Arsenal who took the lead at the Emirates, it was actually Roberto Martinez’s side who had the better of the game; and the way that Ross Barkley and James McCarthy exposed the Arsenal midfield will have given the other Premier League contenders confidence in their ability to break down the Gunners in the middle of the park.
It may be that the North London side does genuinely have what it takes to defeat their rivals and clinch the Premier League crown for the fifth time in their history; but it is important to note that their current form is not necessarily an indicator of those credentials. Most would agree that Chelsea and Man City are the Gunners’ two biggest threats; and given that they haven’t yet played either of them; talk of an Arsenal title win seems a tad premature. There are twelve points at stake in those four games; and a loss of even half of those points would result in the chances of Arsenal winning the title diminishing greatly.
What Arsenal need to do
All the Gunners can do is keep doing their best. It’s important to note that although this piece is designed as something of a cautionary tale, I am not by any means suggesting that Arsenal will not win the title. One would have to say that Arsenal are currently in the mix, and perhaps even in the driving seat, but it is important to note that there are still likely to be plenty of bumps and swerves along the way.
One thing that is imperative Arsenal do not do is rest on their laurels. They have had an impressive start; but the fact that the Gunners have done well in the first three months of the season should not preclude Arsene Wenger from recognising that there are still areas of his side that require strengthening; particularly up front. Wenger’s side still only really boasts one traditional striker in Olivier Giroud, and one would have to be extremely optimistic to think that the Frenchman is likely to keep up his current form and fitness for the entire season. With that in mind it would be prudent for Wenger to invest in another striker in January, as the law of averages suggests that as some point either Giroud’s goals will dry up or he will miss games through injury.
The proof will be in the Christmas (pudding) period
By the first week of January, when Arsenal entertain their rivals Tottenham in the FA Cup third round, we’ll know an awful lot more about the Gunners’ title credentials. Up until now Wenger has only really rotated his midfield; preferring to keep Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud in his starting lineup as much as possible; but with four games in 11 days over Christmas, Wenger will be forced to rotate his squad. If he can keep his team winning whilst rotating, as well as seeing off the challenges of Man City, Chelsea and Newcastle, Arsenal should start 2014 in pole position for the Premier League title.
In a nutshell: Arsenal are doing well, but let’s not get too carried away eh?