25 November 2014

Rivals' Rundown, Week 12—where does Arsenal stand in the Prem?

This weekend saw things seem to go almost entirely off the rails, with only a Crystal Palace win over Liverpool to keep Gooners from complete despair. Aside from our own depressing loss to Man U, it seems everyone else got a positive result. The picture gets muddier as we might have to wonder whether Newcastle, who have now won at White Hart Lane and the Etihad (league cup, that one, but still…) while rolling to six straight wins. I’m going to hold off for now if only to While it’s still true that no one bar Chelsea is playing well, it seems that only we and Liverpool are fading while key rivals get their footing. If we don’t get our own act together and sort the issues that continue to plague us, well, the WOBs will win the argument. Whether it proves Pyrrhic is another debate for another day. For now, let’s take a look at how things turned out this weekend.

● Position: 1st.
● Record: 10-2-0
● Points: 32 (88.9%)
● Form: WWDWWW
● Key matches: Everton 3-6 Chelsea, Man City 1-1 Chelsea, Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal, Man U 1-1 Chelsea, Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea (10 pts from 15).
● Last match: Chelsea 2-0 West Brom
And on they march. 12 matches undefeated. While it’s still too early for us to fret and fuss over Chelsea going undefeated, it’s still my hope that their loss(es) will come in banana-peel matches like this one rather than against other top-of-the-table rivals. Unfortunately, Chelsea took the match by the scruff early on, with a Costa goal in the 10th minute, followed by one from Hazard. Any fight that the Baggies may still have had in them was knocked out by a Yacob red card. Still, despite playing against ten men for nearly an hour, Chelsea seemed content to run out the clock rather than press the advantage any further, and that’s about all she wrote for this one. These results are becoming as boring as they are predictable. There’s a grim inevitability to these that I hope will undermine their sense of purpose. I hope. On the near horizon, they have a tetchy trip to face Schalke, who are three points behind them in a wide-open Group G and can ill-afford a loss or draw. Whether this saps them ahead of Saturday’s trip to face Sunderland is a question to consider if not pin hopes to.
● Next match: at Schalke (UCL), at Sunderland (Prem).

● Position: 2nd
● Record: 8-2-2
● Points: 26 (72.2%)
● Form: LWWWWD
● Key matches: Liverpool 2-1 Southampton, Tottenham 1-0 Southampton (zero pts. from 6).
● Last match: Aston Villa 1-1 Southampton
Dammit, Villa. You had be believing. For nearly an hour, it looked as if the Villans would get their first win since beating Liverpool back in September after going 1-0 (the first goal Southampton has conceded in 439 matches). However, a late goal from Nathaniel Clyne salvaged a point for the Saints, and while this kind of result against a squad struggling as mightily as the Villans are may not inspire, it’s just enough to keep those Saints coasting along in second place. We’ve been wondering for the last few weeks about just how legitimate Southampton is, given that their only high-profile matches have come against Liverpool and Tottenham, who have thus far managed to make Arsenal look competent. Still, Southampton will go from the proverbial frying pan into the wire in coming weeks, as they’ll have a visit to the Emirates sandwiched between visits from Man City and Man U, after which we’ll have a stronger sense of how well their performance can hold up. Having conceded just six goals while scoring 24 to date suggests that there’s enough in Koeman’s squad to sustain the challenge.
● Next match: Man City (Prem)

Manchester City
● Position: 3rd
● Record: 7-3-2
● Points: 24 (66.7%)
● Form: WWLWDW
● Key matches: Man City 3-1 Liverpool, Arsenal 2-2 Man City, Man City 1-1 Chelsea, Man City 4-1 Tottenham, Man City 1-0 Man U. (11 pts from 15)
● Last match: Man City 2-1 Swansea
It seemed to take every ounce of energy pound of transfer in Man City’s squad to see off Swansea, as the Swans took the early lead courtesy of Wilfried Bony in the 8th minute. Nice work from Navas to Jovetic equalised it a few minutes later, and after Toure put City ahead, Swansea very nearly found a last-gasp equaliser when Jonjo Shelvey’s free-kick glanced off the wall and curled inches wide, and that’s where it ended. Between this and their draw to QPR, it’s still hard to see City as a challenger to Chelsea, whom they trail by eight points, but they look as much, much closer to legitimacy than anyone else. It was at about this time last season that City went 11 matches undefeated after a similarly uneven start, and they do enter a somewhat softer stretch of fixtures after next week’s trip to Southampton. By contrast with Chelsea’s Champions League adventures, City have been woeful, sitting bottom of Group E with only two points. They can still advance, but will they lay down against Bayern in order to focus on Southampton?
● Next match: Bayern (UCL), at Southampton (Prem).

Man U
● Position: 4th
● Record: 5-4-3
● Points: 19 (52.7%)
● Form: WDDLWW
● Key matches: Man U 2-1 Everton, Man U 1-1 Chelsea, Man City 1-0 Man U Arsenal 1-2 Man U (7 pts. from 12).
● Last match: Man U 1-0 Crystal Palace, Arsenal 1-2 Man U
Are Man U starting to come together? Their first away-win of the campaign, not to mention their current position, suggest as much. Their win over Arsenal is hardly the stuff of legend; it came through the flukiest of own-goals, followed by an all-too-predictable second goal that came because we thought it might be a good idea to send nine players on attack, leaving Monreal to defend against any counters because, hey, what could go wrong, right? They may not have impressed, but they showed more mettle than we did and can now point to their fourth-place position as evidence to suggest that they’re rounding into form—well, at least a bit better than they’ve been and a far sight better than those below them, whose ranks now include none other than us. It’s likely only a matter of time before their new signings and Van Gaal’s system to gel. If they can make it to January, they’ll likely find a defender or two. For now, they can afford to sit back and relax as we and other would-be contenders face tricky midweek matches, content in the belief that they have their act together, even only in relative terms.
● Next match: Hull (Prem).

● Position: 8th
● Record: 4-5-3
● Points: 17 (47.2%)
● Form: LDWWLL
● Key matches: Everton 2-2 Arsenal, Arsenal 2-2 Man City, Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham, Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal, Arsenal 1-2 Man U (3 pts. from 15).
● Last match: Arsenal 1-2 Man U
It goes from bad to worse, doesn’t it? Again, we dominated long stretches of a match only to completely fall apart and give away a match. When we weren’t spraying shots over the crossbar, we were putting them straight at de Gea, wasting the 23 shots we took, with only Giroud’s 95th minute goal making the scoreline a bit more respectable. We can’t even blame Mike Dean, not when Wilshere was lucky to stay on the pitch after mugging Fellaini, punching the air angrily, and then headbutting Fellaini in the chest. Taking a broader view, it’s even harder than it was last week to salvage any kind of optimism. Pointing to our possession (61%) and chances created (21 key passes?) feels especially feeble when the final product was nowhere to be found. Perhaps it’s significant that our only goal of the game came through a quick counterattack launched from midfield. Hell, if Olivier “I make Mertesacker look fast” Giroud can get behind the defense, well, maybe there’s something in that for everyone. We have only a few days before hosting Dortmund, who know a thing or two about hitting on counters. If we can’t find something from this match and address our failures (toothless possession, conceding on counters…), well, I don’t want to finish that thought.
● Next match: Dortmund (UCL), at West Brom (Prem)

● Position: 9th
● Record: 4-5-3
● Points: 17 (47.2%)
● Form: LWWDDW
● Key matches: Everton 2-2 Arsenal, Everton 3-6 Chelsea, Liverpool 1-1 Everton, Man U 2-1 Everton (2 pts. from 12).
● Last match: Everton 2-1 West Ham
For a side that is level on points and has a record identical to ours, it might be hard to find two clubs moving in such different directions. Whereas we might feel that our season now hangs in the balance, Everton might be feeling a bit more confident. After losing 2-1 at Old Trafford, they’ve now gone five matches undefeated and might be starting to rebuild some confidence and momentum going forward. Their win over West Ham may have come through a bit of generous refereeing (Lukaku looked to be offside and there are a number of non-calls that went Everton’s way), but that shouldn’t take away from the idea that the Toffees are starting to get their act together as they look to some tough fixtures coming up (trips to White Hart Lane and the Etihad loom…). Along similar lines, they seem to be coping well enough in the Europa League, sitting in first place in Group H and progress all but assured even before a tough midweek trip to face second-place Wolfsburg.
● Next match: at Wolfsburg (Europa), at Tottenham (Prem)

● Position: 10th
● Record: 5-2-5
● Points: 17 (47.2%)
● Form: WLLWLW
● Key matches: Tottenham 0-3 Liverpool, Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham, Tottenham 1-0 Southampton, Man City 4-1 Tottenham (4 pts. from 12).
● Last match: Hull 1-2 Tottenham
Laughing at Spurs looked to be on the menu as they went down to Hull inside of nine minutes, only for a senseless red-card reduced the Tigers to ten men for almost the entire second half, which was enough to tilt the scales in Tottenham’s favor. Goals from Harry Kane James William Bottomtooth III and Eriksen—in the 90th minute—allowed Tottenham to escape victorious. As with last season, they’re still struggling to score. They’re the only squad on this list with a negative goal-differential. They’re not leaking goals left and right (17), but they’re just not scoring (16). This is the second time in three matches that they’ve needed a last-gasp goal to defeat an inferior squad (the last one coming against Villa). 90th minute winners against the likes of Villa and Hull may produce some inspirational, exhilarating highlights, but it’s not quite a recipe for sustained success, as we have already learned (?). Looking past the Prem, they’ll host Partizan Belgrade, whom I hope they smash thoroughly—both to punish the Serbian squad for its anti-Semitic antics in the first leg and to assure Tottenham passage to the knockout stage.
● Next match: Partizan Belgrade (Europa), Everton (Prem).

● Position: 11th
● Record: 4-2-6
● Points: 14 (42.4%)
● Form: WWDLLL
● Key matches: Liverpool 2-1 Southampton, Man City 3-1 Liverpool, Tottenham 0-3 Liverpool, Liverpool 1-1 Everton, Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea (7 pts from 15).
● Last match: Crystal Palace 3-1
It may seem harsh to say about a squad that is only three points below us, but it might be time to drop Liverpool from this list. A third straight loss in the Prem magnifies just how dire Liverpool are at the moment. They’re reeling and against the ropes, and there seem to be no lights on the horizon to look to. Even if Sturridge returns, their issues seem to go far-deeper. Still struggling to replace the scoring of Suarez, their razor-thin margin for success last season has disappeared. No longer able to simply outscore clubs, they have no identity and even less cohesion. If these struggles continue, the idea of team-play will crumble all the more as individuals start to audition for transfers, perhaps as early as January. With clubs like Arsenal and Man U hungry for reinforcements, will there be a carcass to pick over, or can Rodgers resurrect this squad in time to salvage the season? They face a must-win in their trip to Ludogorets Razograd, but they can hardly afford the distraction.
● Next match: at Ludogorets Razograd (UCL), Stoke (Prem).

Crazy days. Man U, Arsenal, Everton, Tottenham, and Liverpool have all staggered through the first third of the season like drug-addled, flesh eating zombies. Chelsea and Southampton have looked dominant to varying degrees. Sooner or later for better or for worse, we should start to see the race crystallize (or is it calcify?), leaving us with a stronger sense of who’ll still be in it until the end. Thanks for reading; if you notice an error, please point it out and I’ll gladly and humbly go back to correct!