29 December 2014

Rivals' Rundown: where does Arsenal stand in the Prem?

This is about a good a set of results as I think we’ve seen so far. In my opinion, it’s still a bit too hope for one rival over another, and the draws between Tottenham and Man U and between  Southampton and Chelsea are very nearly ideal for now. It may be a pipe-dream to think we can still reel Chelsea in, but seeing them share a point with the Saints means both clubs drop two. It would be a bit churlish to look at Man City’s draw with Burnley as anything other than manna from heaven. Of course, none of this would matter had we dropped points, but we’re alone this week in claiming all three, and at the home of a top-four rival to boot. Let’s have a look at how it all shakes out.

Chelsea
● Position: 1st.
● Record: 14-4-1
● Points: 46 (80.7%)
● Form: WLWWWD
● 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, Chelsea 2-0 West Ham, Southampton 1-1 Chelsea (18 pts from 24).
● Last match: Southampton 1-1 Chelsea
A tough, tough match  results in a hard-fought draw for Chelsea, who nonetheless continue their position atop the lead. Barring a significant slump, though, it’s hard to see anyone joining Man City in chasing Chelsea. Southampton put forth a strong, determined effort, playing out Koeman’s strategy to-near-perfection. Chelsea, however, might have  something to complain about when it looked like Fabregas was fouled in the box but was cautioned for diving instead of earning a penalty. However, Chelsea will have questions to answer after dominating possession (61%) but only putting one shot on target. If not for Hazard’s moment of brilliance, Chelsea might have left St. Mary’s entirely empty-handed. If Southampton have shown a template for how to blunt Chelsea’s attack, others would do well to borrow from it.
● Next match: Thursday at Tottenham.

Manchester City
● Position: 2nd
● Record: 13-4-2
● Points: 43 (75.4%)
● Form: WWWWWD
● 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 2-2 Burnley
Having gone into halftime up 2-0, Man City might be forgiven for applying a little bit handbrake against Burnley, who had only scored five goals in eight previous matches away from Turf Moor. Instead, a stirring second-half fightback saw the Clarets come away with two goals to earn an important draw. It’s a stinging setback for City, who squandered a chance to end the weekend just a point below Chelsea. That Burnley’s first goal should have been disallowed because Boyd was in an offside position is almost beside the point. City didn’t take care of its business and paid the price for an uncharacteristic lack of ruthlessness. They’re still very much on Chelsea’s heels but can’t afford many more banana peels like this one.
● Next match: Thursday vs. Sunderland

Manchester United
● Position: 3rd
● Record: 10-6-3
● Points: 36 (64.5%)
● Form: WWWDWD
● 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, Man U 3-0 Liverpool, Tottenham 0-0 Man U (14 pts. from 19)
● Last match: Tottenham 0-0 Man U
Perhaps the most interesting stat from this one is that Man U named an unchanged lineup for the first time in 85 matches—since November 2012. It’s an apt symbol for the upheaval the club has gone through in the last few years. However, Van Gaal is trying to have it both ways by both lamenting the cluttered fixtures this week and naming a side unchanged from 48 hours before. It did start to look as if they were losing their legs in the second half as Tottenham looked a bit more incisive. However, they failed to test de Gea and a weary Man U side looked a bit fortunate to come away with the draw. There are a fair few players long in the tooth in this squad, and some of them look a bit jaded. Has the squad already peaked?
● Next match: Thursday at Stoke

Southampton
● Position: 4th
● Record: 10-3-6
● Points: 33 (57.9%)
● Form: LLLWWD
● Key matches: Liverpool 2-1 Southampton, Tottenham 1-0 Southampton, Southampton 0-3 Man City, Arsenal 1-0 Southampton, Southampton 1-2 Man U, Southampton 1-1 Chelsea (one points from 16).
● Last match: Southampton 1-1 Chelsea
Scoring six goals in to matches has helped Southampton stabilize a bit after losing four in a row, and a draw at home against Chelsea means the Saints have claimed their first point against a key rival all season. Whether they’ve weathered the storm and come out the other side is an open question, but there’s enough in this latest result to suggest that Koeman has enough tactical nous to keep this squad in the hunt. Deprived of Clyne from the start and having lost Schneiderlin for the last eight minutes of this one, Southampton still showed the kind of defensive stolidity that has been their calling-card. They’re sure to prove rude hosts for us on Thursday…
● Next match: Thursday vs. Arsenal

Arsenal
● Position: 5th
● Record: 9-6-4
● Points: 33 (57.9%)
● Form: WLWDWW
● 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, Liverpool 2-2 Arsenal, West Ham 1-2 Arsenal (10 pts. from 22)
● Last match: West Ham 1-2 Arsenal
Alex Song very nearly ruined our trip to Upton Park with a well-struck volley five minutes in, but Sakho was in an offside position screening Szcesny, a harsh but accurate ruling. From there, we found enough chances to come away with the win, leapfrogging the Hammers and drawing level with Southampton. If nothing else, we’re finally in fourth place (okay, fine, fifth, thanks to Southampton’s superior goal-differential), which I believe is our birthright and destiny, is it not? Nothing more, nothing less, it sometimes seems. It does feel as though we’re gathering strength. The return of Koscielny provided an important boost to the defense, allowing both Mertesacker and Coquelin to turn in comfortable performances. After all, on offense, we’ve been capable if not quite commanding, but it’s at the other end that we’ve slipped. We’ve dropped more points from winning positions than anyone else and almost added to that against West Ham, a trend that simply can’t continue if we expect to sustain our tilt at the top.
● Next match: Thursday at Southampton

West Ham
● Position: 6th
● Record: 9-4-6
● Points: 31 (54.4%)
● Form: WWDWLL
● Key matches: West Ham 0-1 Tottenham, West Ham 1-3 Southampton, West Ham 3-1 Liverpool, Man U 2-1 West Ham, West Ham 2-1 Man City, Chelsea 2-0 West Ham, West Ham 2-1 Arsenal)  (6 pts from 21).
● Last match: West Ham 2-1 Arsenal
There’s little shame in consecutive losses to Chelsea and Arsenal, although the Hammers will regret that second one. Song’s disallowed goal would have changed the game if not the outcome, but the Hammers come away empty-handed, losing at home for the first time in eight outings. Could this be the beginning of a longer slide, or is it just a temporary slump as a thin squad struggles through congested holiday fixtures? Allardyce did have his men well-prepared for us and will feel hard done-by for that disallowed goal. However, they’re still top five and for good reasons. If they can fight through this setback and slump, they can stay in the hunt. The poor form of Everton and Liverpool have offered the Hammers an opportunity; time will tell if they can seize it.
● Next match: Thursday vs. West Brom

Tottenham
● Position: 7th
● Record: 9-4-6
● Points: 31 (54.4%)
● Form: LDWWWD
● 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, Tottenham 0-0 Man U (8 pts. from 19).
● Last match: Tottenham 0-0 Man U
Spurs continue a season-long trend of failing to score at White Hart Lane, netting just 11 times in nine matches. If not for their away-form, they’d be firmly mid-table, if not lower. It’s little surprise then that they couldn’t find a way to score against Man U. Were it not for Hugo Lloris’s fine performance on the day, Tottenham could very easily have ended the day on the wrong end of an 0-2 scoreline—or worse. If Spurs can’t find a way to start scoring more goals, they’ll again find themselves on the outside looking in. On current form, they might struggle to stave off Swansea, Newcastle, or Liverpool, nevermind overtaking West Ham, Arsenal, or Southampton.
● Next match: Thursday vs. Chelsea

It does look as if we’re entering a more-crystallized phase here, as Everton look to have gone full-Dortmund, dropping lower and lower in the league while focusing on European glories. Liverpool do merit continued monitoring, as might Newcastle and perhaps Swansea. Elsewhere, Chelsea and Man City continue to make it look like a two-team chase, with three or four others, including us, vie for Champions League spots. January might bring changes big or small as we and others look to bolster our squads in the transfer-window. However, there’s usually more said than done on that front (at least at Arsenal…); then again, we do have a raft of “new signings” due to strengthen us in coming weeks. We’re officially half-way through the season, with 19 played and 19 left to go. We might be the only club on this list whose first half has significantly fallen short of expectations. We’ll see if that comment amounts to anything or is just an idle wish…