The Gunnernaut (an attempt at a juggernaut pun) goes on and on whilst there’s more misery for David Moyes, trouble for Big Sam and frustration for Brendan Rodgers.
Any football fan that has watched the Premier League in the last few years will be only too familiar with the ‘Arsenal collapse’. Arsene Wenger’s side has had a habit of starting the season very well, and then capitulating, but at risk of speaking too soon, it seems eminently possible that the Gunners have got over these issues.
Wenger’s side enjoyed a fantastic end to the 2012/2013 season, and has continued that form well into this term. Their 2-0 win against Fulham gave them their 16th win in 22 games and the North London club sit snugly at the top of the Premier League. With their next game against a Southampton side who has struggled in recent weeks, it seems highly likely that the Gunners will be the league leaders as we head into February, and whilst we can’t speak too soon, this is the best chance Arsenal has had to win the league for a number of years. Whether or not they accomplish that feat may come down to whether Wenger is prepared to swallow his pride and bring in another striker in the next week.
Chelsea and Jose Mourinho
The difference between Mourinho’s Chelsea and Wenger’s Arsenal is that Wenger’s side has on the whole played rather well. Chelsea, on the other hand, has been less than inspiring at several points this season, and yet they are still clinging to Arsenal’s coat tails – a mere two points off the top spot. As football fans will know, it is rather ominous when a club still manages to pick up wins whilst not achieving their potential, as it generally means that there is more to come.
Their victory against Manchester United was a triumph for Mourinho and his charges as they simply outclassed their United counterparts. Although it’s possible to argue that United are no longer the challenge they once were, you can only beat what’s put in front of you, and this win means that Mourinho has collected eight points from a possible twelve in his clashes with last year’s top four. With a trip to the Etihad and a home game against Arsenal their only remaining fixtures against last year’s elite, Chelsea’s run in looks highly favourable. Make no mistake; they’ll be there or thereabouts come May.
I was fairly vociferous in my criticism of Daniel Levy’s decision to sack Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas, and whilst I still stand by that criticism, I have to admit that I did not expect Tottenham to be playing so well under Tim Sherwood.
The win against Swansea was Sherwood’s fifth in six games and those results have seen Spurs into fifth place – level on points with Liverpool. What Sherwood has done has simplified things; opting for a much more traditional attack; and perhaps more crucially, he has made it his mission to get the best out of Emmanuel Adebayor. The results have been better than we all suspected, and Sherwood must now focus on keeping the Togolese international motivated until at least the end of the season.
Sherwood admitted last week that fourth place is likely to be his minimum requirement this season, and time will tell whether or not the Englishman is capable of steering his side into the Champions League place given the fierce competition they face.
Crystal Palace and Tony Pulis
The man who has never been relegated continues to work his magic at Selhurst Park, and their 1-0 win against Stoke City has lifted Palace to the heady heights of 16th. We would not have believed this when Ian Holloway resigned, but the Eagles are in with a fighting chance of staying up.
Whether they will or not remains to be seen, but Pulis has masterminded five wins in his 11 games in charge, and when one considers that the South London club had only mustered seven points when Pulis arrived, the Welshman must be congratulated for the transformation.
The key thing that Pulis has addressed is the desperately poor defensive displays, and they have conceded a mere ten goals in his 11 fixtures in charge – less than a goal a game. Given that he has achieved this with the same defence that conceded 21 in their first 11 fixtures, it’s difficult not to doff your cap at the job that Pulis has done.
The East London club is in serious trouble, of that there is no doubt, and there are serious question marks over whether Sam Allardyce is capable of turning this around for the Hammers.
A truly dismal December saw Allardyce’s side pick up two points from a possible 18, and things haven’t got much better in January with their only points coming against fellow relegation candidates Cardiff. In addition, their cup chances were put to bed when the team transpired to concede 11 goals in four days as they imploded against Nottingham Forest before being soundly beaten by Man City.
Those hoping that last week’s win against Cardiff could be the catalyst for a surge up the table will have been thoroughly disappointed to see the insipid display against Newcastle, and yet another loss sees the Hammers back into the relegation zone.
The trouble for West Ham is that none of their games look winnable at the moment. After the dead rubber of the Capital One Cup, the Hammers face Chelsea, Swansea and Aston Villa, and you’d be a brave man or woman to bet on them extracting any points from those fixtures.
Swansea’s loss to Tottenham wasn’t a massive surprise, but their 11th loss of the season means that the Swans are definitely relegation candidates.
It’s difficult to see where it’s all gone wrong for Michael Laudrup’s side, but the Dane must act quickly if he hopes to prevent his side from dropping into the mire. It may well be that Swansea have struggled with playing the extra games that the Europa League brings, but with two games against Napoli to look forward to, those pressures will not be alleviated until at least the end of February.
You’d still bank on the Swans staying up as there are a number of teams a lot worse than them, but it still beggars belief how badly they have underperformed this season.
Perhaps the most damning thing for United was not the fact that they lost to Chelsea, but rather the fact that this was an entirely unsurprising result. The champions have lost their aura, and their performance against Chelsea was so average that it hurt.
Aside from a brief opening spell where the Red Devils looked dangerous, this was every inch a clash that looked like a mid-table side battling against a title contender. Sadly for David Moyes, that’s exactly what it was. In six months, Moyes has taken the champions from the top of the table to seventh place; and with his side now six points adrift of the Champions League spots, it is nearly time to hit the panic button.
Unless he is able to recruit this January, it seems highly likely that Manchester United will not be in the Champions League next season, and given that Moyes has publicly stated that they are unlikely to conduct major business, United fans should prepare themselves for one hell of a transition. The likely implications of a failure to qualify for next year’s competition are the departure of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie; whilst without the lure of Champions League football, it seems unlikely that Moyes will be able to recruit any players who could make a real difference to his squad.
Brendan Rodgers has this habit of tipping his time for the title just before they experience a wobble in the league, and this happened yet again this weekend as the Reds failed to beat Aston Villa at Anfield.
Rodgers must learn to keep quiet before these sorts of games until his side is capable of backing up his statements, and realistically that will not be this year. Whilst Rodgers has done a fine job at Anfield, his team is not a genuine title contender, and he would do well to remember the three seasons Liverpool have experienced in the wilderness outside the Champions League. The Irishman’s target should be Champions League qualification; after which, with the right investment, he can start thinking about a title tilt. All his premature boasting has done so far this season is set his side up for a fall.