03 November 2014

Where does Arsenal stand in the Prem? A look at our rivals' form and ours

They can't all turn out as well as last weekend when it seemed like everyone but Arsenal dropped points. Referees intervened here and there, sometimes fairly and sometimes not, to alter outcomes mostly in favor of our rivals. We earned our three points the old-fashioned way, facing eleven men and scoring our goals from open play. None of these spot-kicks and short-sided opponents for us. On to the run-down, which I pray is virtually error-free. 


Apologies for the repost, but there were technical problems with the feeds.
Chelsea
● Position: First
● Record: 8W, 2D, 0L
● Points: 26 (86.7%)
● Form: DWWWDW
● Key matches: Everton 3-6 Chelsea, Man City 1-1 Chelsea, Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal, Man U 1-1 Chelsea (8 pts from 12).
● Last match: Chelsea 2-1 QPR
In what feels like completely typical Chelsean form, a late penalty gave the Blues all the help they needed in escaping a much tougher than expected QPR, who had equalized in the 61st minute—only the third goal Chelsea have conceded at home (the other two coming in a 4-2 win over Swansea). It’s the kind of ugly win we’ve come to expect from Mourinho, although he was playing at home, not away, and their midweek fixture against Slovenian side Maribor hardly intimidated Mou enough to change his starting XI against QPR, so there’s some hope to be taken from the slog. Back to the Prem, it may be too early to suggest that this Chelsea squad will run the table, but they’re pulling so far away from us that we may soon have to swallow our pride and hope that they continue to take maximum points from matches against our key rivals while losing to someone like Crystal Palace or Stoke.
● Up next: 05/11/14 at Maribor (UCL), 08/11/14 at Liverpool (Prem).

Southampton
● Position: 2nd
● Record: 7W, 1D, 2L
● Points: 22 (73.3%)
● Form: WWLWWW
● Key matches: Tottenham 1-0 Southampton (3 pts from 3)
● Last match: Hull 0-1 Southampton
I do admit to enjoying Southampton sitting above Man City, Man U, and Liverpool. Of course, the admiration ends there, as they also sit above us, thanks in part to their fixtures to date. Unencumbered by European commitments, they could continue to ride this kind of form all the way through to the final run-in. If they can continue to take maximum points from everyone below them and manage to nick points here and there against top five/six sides, that might be a recipe to stay in the top four. Of course, this isn’t the first time that the Saints started strong enough to make the bigger boys worry only to fade as the season progressed. Like Everton a season ago, time will tell if they have the bottle to step out from the Cinderella-role into the klieg-lights of challenging for Champions League qualification. The end of November and start to December see them host both Manchesters either side of a trip to the Emirates, after which we’ll have much better sense of their ambition and ability.
● Up next: 08/11/14 vs. Leicester (Prem).

Man City
● Position: 3rd
● Record: 6W, 2D, 2L
● Points: 20 (66.7%)
● Form: DWWWLW
● 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 1-0 Man U
A tense, tight Manchester derby was ruined when Chris Smalling, apparently not content to earn one yellow card pointlessly, saw fit to scythe down James Milner eight minutes later and get sent off shortly before halftime, all but gifting the match to City, who eventually found a way to score through Sergio Aguero. I don’t know what it says about City that they couldn’t break down a side whose defensive weaknesses are rife and whose only real response to Smalling’s second yellow and losing Rojo to injury was to send in Michael Carrick in place of Adnan Januzaj. On one hand, City have faced the toughest string of fixtures to date and have failed to impress—is this because they suffer by comparison with Chelsea’s domination? On the other, they’ll almost certainly look to build on softer fixtures later on. They may not be dominating opponents to the extent that they did so often last season, but they’re still winning well and have performed very well against other top four-five contenders.
● Up next: 29/10/14 vs. CSKA Moscow (UCL), 8/11/14 at QPR (Prem)

Arsenal
● Position: 4th
● Record: 4W, 5D, 1L
● Points: 17 (56.7%)
● Form: WDLDWW
● Key matches: Everton 2-2 Arsenal, Arsenal 2-2 Man City, Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham, Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal. (3 pts from 12)
● Last match: Arsenal 3-0 Burnley
To say that we’re now undefeated in three straight matches obscures the fact that we’ve only lost once. We are, after all, far off the face set by Chelsea but also Southampton. Cynics might have hoped for a more-confident display against Burnley after waiting 70 minutes for a goal. However, unlike other such outings when we’ve struggled to break through against stubborn side, we were creating chances (okay, “we” refers mostly to Alexis) and doing well with them only to see an inspired performance from the keeper. I felt more a sense of inevitability rather than irritability at how long it took to score. That it was again Alexis was no surprise; that it was Chambers who assisted was a pleasant one topped by his first goal two minutes later. By the time Walcott came on, the outcome was no longer in doubt—a far-better setting than asking him to come on and deliver us a game-winner. His ten-minute cameo, and the final score, might indicate that we’re hitting a stride and building momentum going into a tougher stretch of fixtures in a few weeks.
● Up next: 04/11/14 vs Anderlecht (UCL), 09/11/14 at Swansea (Prem)

Liverpool
● Position: 7th
● Record: 4W, 2D, 4L
● Points: 14 (46.7%)
● Form: LDWWDL
● Key matches: Man City 3-1 Liverpool, Tottenham 0-3 Liverpool, Liverpool 1-1 Everton (4 pts from 9)
● Last match: Newcastle 1-0 Liverpool
Let’s all laugh at Liverpool, shall we? Sellers of Suarez, buyers of Balotelli, and they just can’t get going. At one point against Newcastle, the announcer decried Balotelli’s body language and asked why it was him sending in a cross from the left wing for Moreno, the wide-left midfielder, to score from six yards out. It’s perhaps emblematic of Liverpool’s problems, not that they’re desperately off the pace (just three points behind us). They can’t settle on a formation (3-5-1-1 against Toon being the latest attempt), and they can’t find any kind of rhythm or momentum. When it’s rare if not impossible to finish top four with more than seven losses, Liverpool already have four—and they’ve yet to visit Stamford Bridge, the Emirates, Old Trafford, or Goodison Park. They can continue to point to the challenge of incorporating so many new players, but Southampton might have to stifle a small snigger.
● Up next: 04/11/14 at Real Madrid (UCL), 08/11/14 vs. Chelsea (Prem)

Tottenham
● Position: 8th
● Record: 4W, 2D, 4L
● Points: 14 (46.7%)
● Form: LDWLLW
● 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: Aston Villa 1-2 Tottenham
I’ll take the blame for this one. Seeing Villa go up 1-0, I prepared to tweet out Tottenham’s misery. Shortly thereafter, Benteke saw red and the tide turned. Once Villa were down a man, it was all Tottenham, and they got the equaliser 20 minutes later. As with Chelsea and Man City, they benefitted from the referee’s generosity, and Harry Kane’s spot-kick from about 35 yards out glanced off Baker in the wall. The celebration was about as fevered as it was when van Persie equalised against Chelsea. That it happened against a ten-man side that will be lucky to escape relegation tells us a bit about the gap between Tottenham and those they chase. As with Liverpool, they’ve already lost four times and are struggling for any kind of identity or drive. Unlike everyone else above them save Southampton, they have only the relatively softer Europa League to distract them. They might even turn to actually winning the Europa League as their hopes of cracking the Prem’s top four fade with each passing week.
● Up next: 06/11/14 at Asteras Tripolis (Europa), 09/11/14 vs. Stoke.

Everton
● Position: 9th
● Record: 3W, 4D, 3L
● Points: 13 (43%)
● Form: LDLWWD
● 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 0-0 Swansea
Everton may be starting to find some kind of form, at least enough to stop the bleeding and climb the table a bit. Yes, a draw at home to Swansea might not convince, but the Toffees look a far cry better than they did a few weeks ago, losing at home to Crystal Palace. Two comfortable wins, over Aston Villa and then Burnley, may have reminded this club of what it’s capable of. Then again, the home-draw against ten-man Swansea (Shelvey having been sent off in the 71st minute) will feel like a chance wasted, especially when a win would have sent them to sixth, just above none other than Swansea. The phoenix-like rising of Eto’o may nudge Lukaku to the bench, where he can ponder just what it means to lead the line for a squad with hopes of cracking the top four. If Martinez can rediscover the lightning that he had bottled a season ago, he’ll be a shoo-in for manager of the year.
● Up next: 06/11/14 vs. Lille (Europa), 09/11/14 at Sunderland

Man U
● Position: 10th
● Record: 3W, 4D, 3L
● Points: 13 (43%)
● Form: LWWDDL
● Key matches: Man U 2-1 Everton, Man U 1-1 Chelsea, Man City 1-0 Man U (4 pts from 9)
● Last match: Man City 1-0 Man U
Leave it to Chris Smalling to ruin an otherwise entertaining derby. As mentioned above, his second yellow reduced Man U to ten men for the entire second half, and it’s a wonder that Man City only managed a solitary goal. Perhaps the devils were able to circle the wagons a bit after losing Smalling and then Rojo to injury, but it’s unlikely to see this as the match when Man U magically fixed its defensive frailties. It’s not as if Man City boast a severely stingy defense (10 goals conceded, just one less than us…), and the idea that Rooney, van Persie, Di Maria, Mata, and Falcao can’t generate more chances for themselves or each other is jaw-dropping, all the more when you consider that, like Southampton, they’ve had a fairly easy start to the season. Van Gaal’s squads might have a record for coming together in the second half of a season, but it’s hard to see that happening with the run-in they’ll face.
● Up next: 08/11/14 vs. Crystal Palace

There you have it. I tell you one thing, I can't take much more of this "there as many as eight squads fighting for a top-four finish" business (no offense, West Ham or Swansea). Who'll lose the plot? Man U and Everton bring up the rear, but they look like they're finding form after stuttering starts. Tottenham and Liverpool stagger to and fro. What do we make of Southampton—are they in it for the long haul, or can we count on them to fold faster than Superman on laundry day? Weigh in with your comments below the fold.