26 October 2014

Rivals' Rundown, Week 9: Where do we stand in the Prem?

All in all, it’s been a good weekend to be a Gooner (most of them are). We won, of course, which is always a good start. Elsewhere, Man U found a way to draw with Chelsea at Old Trafford, Man City lost away to West Ham, Liverpool drew with Hull at Anfield, and Tottenham lost to Newcastle at White Hart Lane. The only downsides come from the fact that Southampton and Everton both won. Still, Lady Luck smiled on us this weekend, both in our result and in those of most of our rivals, and there’s enough in it to suggest that we’re still in the thick of it despite our indifferent form. In fact, bar Chelsea’s stellar start, we might even take some hope from the proceedings. To the rundown!

Chelsea
● Position: 1st
● Record: 7W, 2D, 0L
● Points: 23 (85.2%)
● Form: WDWWWD
● Last match: Man U 1-1 Chelsea
● Key matches: Everton 3-6 Chelsea, Man City 1-1 Chelsea, Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal, Man U 1-1 Chelsea
Another blip on the radar as Chelsea went into Old Trafford and very nearly came away with all three points. Thankfully, the Dutch Skunk scored a 93rd minute equalizer, celebrating with all of the grace and decorum one would expect, earning a yellow card for his efforts. Chelsea may feel disappointed for not sticking to Mourinho’s stubborn plan, especially after going ahead courtesy of Drogba. They might be without Costa for a stretch, but they seem to have enough gunpowder to keep firing. Strategically, the dropped points mean little to us as Chelsea still have a nine-point lead. Those worrying about them mounting an assault on the Invincibles should take comfort from knowing that there are a good 29 Prem matches left for them to play. For what it’s worth, Ivanovic got a red card, and Drogba, Hazard, Matic, and Fabregas were all cautioned. Not bad.
● Up next: at Shrewsbury (league cup), QPR (Prem).

Southampton
● Position: 2nd
● Record: 6W, 1D, 2L
● Points: 19 (70.3%)
● Form: WWWLWW
● Last match: Southampton 1-0 Stoke
● Key matches: Liverpool 2-1 Southampton, Tottenham 1-0 Southampton.
Southampton continue to ride the softest schedule of the lot, with their losses to Liverpool and Tottenham looking less and less like key-matches with each passing week. Still, in a season in which everyone’s struggling against teams mid-table and lower, Southampton’s consistency and defensive stolidity could be enough to see them sustain this kind of form. While it’s true they haven’t faced any of the other top teams yet, they haven’t dropped points in any horrific way, even if we throw in the home-draw to West Brom. It’s a timeworn recipe: do what you can to nick a point from those above you while keeping all of the points from those below you. Sitting second makes the recipe a bit harder to follow, and we’ll see how they handle tougher fixtures down the line. After all, they got off to a similarly strong start last season—20 points to this point only to fade.
● Up next: at Stoke (league cup), at Hull (Prem).

Manchester City
● Position: 3rd
● Record: 5W, 2D, 2L
● Points: 17 (62.9%)
● Form: DDWWWL
● Last match: West Ham 2-1 Man City
● Key matches: Man City 3-1 Liverpool, Arsenal 2-2 Man City, Man City 1-1 Chelsea, Man City 4-1 Tottenham
Another surprising result as City lose 1-2 to West Ham, their second such loss to a side likely to finish mid-table if not lower (I’m aware that the Hammers are currently above us, by the way, so don’t bother pointing it out). What’s going on? It’s not as if they’ve suffered a rash of injuries other than Lampard (thigh) and Nasri (personality). So much for the momentum I mentioned last week, driven from an 8-match unbeaten streak. I’ve suggested it before and it might bear repeating: this is a squad that might be getting a bit disinterested after glutting itself in the last few seasons. While they’ve done well against other top-tier rivals, they’ll have to stanch the bleeding against clubs lower on the table if they expect to win the Prem again. Low-hanging fruit simply must be seized. Still, it’s worth remembering that their haul is only one less than last year’s at this point.
● Up next: Newcastle (league cup), Man U (Prem)

Arsenal
● Position: 5th
● Record: 3W, 5D, 1L
● Points: 14 (51.9%)
● Form: DWDLDW
● Last match: Sunderland 0-2 Arsenal
● Key matches: Everton 2-2 Arsenal, Arsenal 2-2 Man City, Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham, Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal.
Our 0-2 win over Sunderland offers something for everyone: a clean-sheet win for the optimists, an undeserved three points gifted rather than earned for the pessimists. In either case, the industry of Alexis again made all the difference as he pounced twice on Sunderland errors to score two unassisted goals. Our uneven start might be turning a corner, and if it does it will be because Alexis has his foot on the gas. He’s dragged us to positive results time and time again, raising the risk or at least the concern that he’ll succumb to fatigue. He now has eight goals and three assists. If we don’t diversify our attack, if other players don’t step up, we might see Alexis go the same route as, say, Ramsey last season. We’ve arguably had one of the tougher strings of fixtures to date, not including the Champions League playoff with Besiktas, and we’ve suffered the most injuries, but our form is still listless at best.
● Up next: Burnley

Liverpool
● Position: 7th
● Record: 4W, 2D, 3L
● Points: 14 (51.9%)
● Form: LLDWWD
● Last match: Liverpool 0-0 Hull
● Key matches: Man City 3-1 Liverpool, Tottenham 0-3 Liverpool, Liverpool 1-1 Everton.
It would be easy to laugh at Liverpool’s draw with Hull—well, easier if we hadn’t just endured the same. At least we scored a couple of goals. Credit Hull for tenacity after drawing with two of the Prem’s biggest clubs on the road. That’s a Mourinho-esque wet dream, pardon my French. As for Liverpool, they continue to misfire without Suarez (sold) or Sturridge (injured); Sterling and Balotelli just can’t seem to find any rhythm or chemistry. Still, they’ve gone four matches unbeaten, and, like Man U, might be finding their footing. For what it’s worth, Tottenham, who underwent their own talisman-transplant a season ago, had 16 points while bedding in their half-dozen signings. Liverpool are not far off that pace. If they can bed in, well, who knows what they'll pull off?
● Up next: Swansea (league cup), at Newcastle (Prem).

Man U
● Position: 8th
● Record: 3W, 4D, 2L
● Points: 13 (48.1%)
● Form: WLWWDD
● Last match: Man U 1-1 Chelsea
● Key matches: Man U 2-1 Everton, Man U 1-1 Chelsea
As with Southampton, it’s hard to get a read on Man U. On one hand, they’re shambolic and are actually a point worse than they were under Moyes after nine matches last season. On the other, they seem to be getting their act together—albeit against one of the softer early schedules of the contenders. A spirited display against Chelsea may not be enough to suggest that they have finally sorted the issues that have bedeviled them since the season began, but they’ve now gone four matches without a loss, including the two key matches listed above. Despite the jibes about their defense, they just held the Prem’s most prolific attack to a single goal, and their offense is still, on paper, one of the most intimidating in the league. The confidence that a draw against Chelsea might matter a bit more than the point they just kept. Will it carry over to their trip to the Etihad?
● Up next: at Manchester City

Everton
● Position: 9th
● Record: 3W, 3D, 3L
● Points: 12 (44.4%)
● Form: WLDLWW
● Last match: Burnley 1-3 Everton
● Key matches: Everton 2-2 Arsenal, Everton 3-6 Chelsea, Liverpool 1-1 Everton, Man U 2-1 Everton
Could Everton finally be rounding into some kind of form? After a nightmarish start that included disappointing displays against rivals and shocking results against arguably inferior opponents, it seemed as if Everton were buckling under the pressure. However, two confident, perhaps emphatic results have them just two points behind us. There’s still a lot of work to do for a squad that rode tactical flexibility and defensive tenacity to last season’s heights; only QPR have conceded more goals (18) than Everton (17), and Everton seem to be suffering from a staleness and timidity that belies Roberto Martinez’s reputation for ingenuity. Then again, we might pooh-pooh wins over Burnley and Aston Villa, but it’s comfortable wins like those that give a squad confidence going forward.
● Up next: Swansea

Tottenham
● Position: 11th
● Record: 3W, 2D, 4L
● Points: 11 (40.7%)
● Form: DLDWLL
● Last match: Tottenham 1-2 Newcastle
● Key matches: Tottenham 0-3 Liverpool, Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham, Tottenham 1-0 Southampton, Man City 4-1 Tottenham.
Let’s all laugh at Tottenham, shall we? Newcastle came into White Hart Lane and found its first away-win since March, thanks in part to a goal scored just eight seconds after halftime. The Magpies scored their second goal just over ten minutes later, and Tottenham have now lost their third home-match to date, repeating their struggles at White Hart Lane from last season when they lost five matches, riding enviable away-form to finish fifth. That hasn’t been the case to date this season, and pressure might be mounting on Pochettino as Spurs are now eight points off the pace they set for themselves to this point last season. With Southampton losing Pochettino and so many players while continuing to fly high, questions may start to arise around his bona fides.
● Up next: Brighton (league cup), at Aston Villa (Prem)