08 December 2014

After staggering against Stoke, where does Arsenal stand in the Prem?

Busy, busy, busy. I had hoped to offer an update midweek but it’s just been too hot to handle. As it turns out, I probably should have as it would have at least given us at Arsenal a chance to celebrate. As it currently stands, we have to settle for schadenfreude after stumbling ignominiously at Stoke. However, never underestimate the almighty power of spite, as we get to celebrate the downfall of Chelsea, the slumping of Southampton, and the possible irrelevance of Everton. It’s not all sunshine and lollipops, but it ain’t stormclouds and pitchforks either. Added is Newcastle but still waiting on the wings is West Ham.  To the rundown!

Chelsea
● Position: 1st.
● Record: 11-3-1
● Points: 36 (80%)
● Form: WWWDWL
● Key matches: Everton 3-6 Chelsea, Man City 1-1 Chelsea, Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal, Man U 1-1 Chelsea, Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea, Chelsea 3-0 Tottenham (14 pts from 18)
● Last match: Newcastle 2-1 Chelsea
Ten-man Toon barely held off Chelsea at St. James’ Park, going up 2-0 before losing Steven Taylor to second yellow. It may not do much to alter the dynamics of the Prem race, but it’s more than enough to take one monkey off our own backs. No longer will Chelsea affront morality or common decency with an assault on our Invincibles season. It’ll happen someday, but we at least are spared the spectacle of seeing Cesc lead that charge. Speaking of the prodigal, he’ll serve a one-match ban after picking up his fifth yellow of the season. However, a relatively soft week, in which they’ve already secured top-spot in Group G and host relegation-denizens Hull, is unlikely to slow them any further.
● Next match: Wednesday vs. Sporting CP (Champions League); Saturday vs. Hull (Prem).

Manchester City
● Position: 2nd
● Record: 10-3-2
● Points: 33 (73.3%)
● Form: WDWWWW
● 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, Southampton 0-3 Man City, Man City 1-0 Everton (17 pts from 21)
● Last match: Man City 1-0 Everton
For all the glitz and glitter around Chelsea’s early season romp, City are now but three points behind, although their ability to sustain the charge is very much an open question. Sergio Aguero’s knagging knee injury flared up again over the weekend, knocking him out of action until mid-January. For as stocked as the Citizens are, they rely on Aguero extensively. He’s scored 14 and assisted on three other goals, making him more essential to his squad than Costa is to Chelsea or Alexis is to Arsenal. Also looming on the horizon for them are match-bans for Toure, Kompany, and Mangala, each of whom has four cautions at the moment. However, they look likely to lay waste to Leicester on Saturday. Separately, they can still advance in the Champions League if they defeat Roma (among other permutations too numerous to list here).
● Next match: Wednesday at Roma (Champions League); Saturday at Leicester (Prem).

Man U
● Position: 3rd  
● Record: 8-4-3
● Points: 28 (62.2%)
● Form: LWWWWW
● Key matches: Man U 2-1 Everton, Man U 1-1 Chelsea, Man City 1-0 Man U Arsenal 1-2 Man U, Soton 1-2 Man U (10 pts. from 15)
● Last match: Soton 1-2 Man U
Dammit. It looks like Van Gaal might have his squad gelling far earlier than any of us might have warned. Five straight wins in the Prem—including identical 1-2 away-wins over Arsenal and Southampton—have Man U flying high, just five points behind Man City and eight behind Chelsea. For those who like to nurse grudges, a certain Dutch striker bagged a brace in the 1-2 win over the Saints. They currently stand as the hottest team in the Prem—no other can boast of a winning streak of five matches. Free of European distractions, they look poised to solidify their current position, as their own injury-crisis fades. Whereas each of their key rivals have to endure midweek challenges, bantering them off about their open week may ring a bit hollow as they can look to the January transfer-window a bit more confidently than just a few weeks back.
● Next match: Sunday vs. Liverpool (Prem).

Southampton
● Position: 5th
● Record: 8-2-5
● Points: 26 (57.8%)
● Form: WWDLLL
● Key matches: Liverpool 2-1 Southampton, Tottenham 1-0 Southampton, Southampton 0-3 Man City, Arsenal 1-0 Southampton, Southampton 1-2 Man U (zero points from 15).
● Last match: Southampton 1-2 Man U
We’ve been waiting, and it may have finally happened. The other shoe has dropped as the Saints, entering a difficult stretch of fixtures, have stumbled. Three consecutive losses to Man City, Arsenal, and Man U might not signify much other than a rough patch, but it was preceded by a draw at home to Aston Villa, making it four points taken from ten. Worse yet, key players like Schneiderlin, Alderweireld, and Rodriguez are injured, and Wanyama and Schneiderlin have four yellows. After such a bright start from such a youthful squad, can Koeman rally his squad? They’ve been battered, yes, but they have a few favorable fixtures coming up, even if three of four are on the road. Trips to face Burnley and Sheffield United (league cup) might restore some confidence ahead of a visit to Everton before another tough stretch rears its—a trip to Selhurst, followed by visits from Chelsea and Arsenal.
● Next match: Saturday at Burnley (Prem).

Arsenal
● Position: 6th
● Record: 6-5-4
● Points: 23 (51.1%)
● Form: WLLWWL
● Key matches: Everton 2-2 Arsenal, Arsenal 2-2 Man City, Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham, Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal, Arsenal 1-2 Man U, Arsenal 1-0 Southampton (6 pts. from 18)
● Last match: Stoke 3-2 Arsenal
Ugh. Conceding three goals to Stoke over 90 minutes is embarrassing enough. To concede three—and what might have been four or five—in 45 is shameful. Still, we knew that a trip to the Brit would be tough; we underestimated that. (Among other questions), is the problem Per’s pace or Chambers’ inexperience? Goals from Cazorla and Ramsey offer a glimmer of silver lining, but our thinness in back is alarming. If we can’t solidify that defense in January, we might struggle to improve our current position on the table. A season ago, we could at least count on a certain consistency against clubs mid-table or lower; to this point, we’ve failed to replicate that, as highlighted by the loss to Stoke, and this exacerbates our persistent struggles against the top clubs. Separately, there’s a chance that we can still win Group D if we win Wednesday in Turkey, but our long-term interests might be better served by marshalling our energies for the Prem, all the more so against a resurgent Newcastle on Saturday.
● Next match: Tuesday at Galatasaray (Champions League); Saturday vs. Newcastle (Prem).

Newcastle
● Position: 7th
● Record: 6-5-4
● Points: 23 (51.1%)
● Form: WWWLDW
● Key matches: Newcastle 0-2 Man City, Soton 4-0 Newcastle, Tottenham 1-2 Newcastle, Newcastle 1-0 Liverpool, Newcastle 2-1 Chelsea (9 pts. from 15)
● Last match: Newcastle 2-1 Chelsea
Dammit, Newcastle. I’m torn. On one hand, you slayed Chelsea. On the other, I’m now forced to include you in this write-up—and it goes beyond that result. Nine points taken from five key matches suggest that there might be some fight to be found in St. James’ Park. Then again, whether it can be sustained is another question, as the Magpies will have to go without Coloccini, Krul, and Janmaat, who face long layoffs. Add to that Moussa Sissoko’s one-match ban, and Toon will have a hard go of it, with trips to the Emirates, White Hart Lane (league cup), and Old Trafford looming. They’ve been strong in recent fixtures against top clubs, but it remains to be seen whether they can sustain this pace over the long term.
● Next match: Saturday at Arsenal (Prem).

Liverpool
● Position: 9th
● Record: 6-3-6
● Points: 21 (46.7%)
● Form: LLLWWD
● 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: Liverpool 0-0 Sunderland.
As mentioned in the last post, I’m about one loss away from dropping Liverpool. Had we seen off Stoke, I might be able to make good on that threat. As it stands, however, Liverpool managed to beat ten-man Leicester away and draw with Sunderland at Anfield, good enough to keep them two points behind us. They’re nothing if not stubborn. Without Sturridge, that might be a summary of their season. Should he find the kind of form that he and Sterling shared a season ago, the Scousers could surge into the second half of the season. It might be best for them to lose or draw against Basel, so as to remove the distraction of Champions League play from their platter. Looking past that, they’ll have a tough weekend trip to Old Trafford to deal with, one that could make or break their season.
● Next match:  Tuesday vs. Basel (Champions League); Sunday at Man U (Prem).

Tottenham
● Position: 10th
● Record: 6-3-6
● Points: 21 (46.7%)
● Form: WLWWLD
● Key matches: Tottenham 0-3 Liverpool, Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham, Tottenham 1-0 Southampton, Man City 4-1 Tottenham, Tottenham 2-1 Everton, Chelsea 3-0 Tottenham (7 pts. from 18).
● Last match: Tottenham 0-0 Crystal Palace
As with Liverpool, I’m on the edge of dropping this sorry excuse for a squad from the rundown. While they’ve been a smidge better against the top clubs, they’ve been terrible against the rest and the more so at home. Gone at this point is the excuse that they’ve had to replace a talisman and bed in a raft of new signings. Perhaps alone among the clubs listed here, Tottenham have not had their season disrupted by injury or suspension, and they arguably have a very talented squad managed by an esteemed manager. However, they still struggle to score goals and concede just a bit too often to be rated. Poor Spuds. At least they have Spuropa, in which they’re a Tuesday draw or win at Besiktas from winning the group. I’m sure we all wish them the best!
● Next match: Thursday at Besiktas (Europa); Sunday at Swansea (Prem).

I’ve dropped Everton for the week, although they may return should they resurrect their fortunes. Still waiting in the wings (perhaps unfairly) are West Ham and Swansea. Taking a long view, it remains to be seen whether these three clubs can mount a sustained challenge on the top of the table. Everton have to find some way to reinvigorate their squad; West Ham and Swansea will have to wonder whether they can keep up their admirable pace. As for Arsenal, how much longer can we content ourselves with the idea that returns from injury or January transfers will bolster us?