02 January 2015

After the Southampton debacle, where does Arsenal stand?

Ugh, I can barely bring myself to revisit Thursday’s results. We had a golden opportunity to overtake Southampton and we went in knowing that Man U had drawn away to Stoke, which would allow us to end the day just a point off of third place. Instead, well, we all know what happened, and we’re marooned in sixth behind Tottenham. After Sunday’s results had inspired so much optimism, Thursday’s bring us crashing down a bit. Still, all is not yet lost, even for as much as it might that way. On to the rundown, then...
Chelsea
● Position: 1st.
● Record: 14-4-2
● Points: 46 (76.7%)
● Form: LWWWDL
● 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, Tottenham 5-3 Chelsea (18 pts from 27)
● Last match: Tottenham 5-3 Chelsea
What the hell happened at White Hart Lane? Tottenham scored five goals. Chelsea allowed an opponent to score five goals. Shocking. It seems as if Chelsea’s aura of invincibility is in pieces now after losing for a second time in six matches, allowing Spurs to nearly triple its haul of goals scored at home in the process. When I saw the scoreline, I figured that surely Chelsea had gone down to ten or even nine men. Nope. They might have had a legitimate claim on a penalty on Vertonghen when the ball looks to have hit him on the hand, but that doesn’t explain how the wheels came off on this one. They’re now tied with Man City, level on points, goals scored, and goals conceded. That’s progress of a sort, isn’t it?
● Next match: Sunday vs. Watford (FA Cup), next Saturday vs. Newcastle (Prem).

Manchester City
● Position: 1st
● Record: 14-4-2
● Points: 46 (76.7%)
● Form: WWWWDW
● 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 3-2 Sunderland
Sunderland gave Man City about as much as they could handle, and it took a late goal from Frank Lampard to finally see off the Black Cats. As mentioned above, the win takes City level with Chelsea. Were this the last matchday of the season, they would need a playoff to determine who wins the Prem. I’ve suggested that this is very much a twohorse race, so it’s no surprise that the two in question or now even on each measure. For what it’s worth, Man City might have a tougher set of fixtures to get through, having faced fewer key rivals and having to visit Stamford Bridge, but it looks as if they’ve shaken off the early-season doldrums and are in firm control of their destiny.
● Next match: Sunday vs. Sheffield Wednesday (FA Cup), next Saturday at Everton (Prem).

Man U
● Position: 3rd
● Record: 10-6-3
● Points: 37 (61.6%)
● Form: WWDWDD
● 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: Stoke 1-1 Man U
A third draw in four outings has closed the gap between Man U and their closest pursuers (who might have been us) and opened the gap between them and Man City, which now stands at nine points. Those six dropped points might have closed the door on Man U’s ability to reel in City or Chelsea, and this presents Southampton, Tottenham, and Arsenal with an invitation if not a dare. Van Gaal has a history of second-half surges, but recent evidence has not been convincing. They wouldn’t be the first squad to drop points at the Britannia, and any squad with the firepower this one has can’t be written off. Should anyone of those scorers find his shooting boots, that might be enough to pencil in Man U as this year’s third-place finishers.
● Next match: Sunday at Yeovil (FA Cup), next Sunday vs. Southampton (Prem).

Southampton
● Position: 4th
● Record: 11-3-6
● Points: 36 (60.0%)
● Form: LLWWDW
● 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, Southampton 2-0 Arsenal (four points from 19).
● Last match: Southampton 2-0 Arsenal
I think it’s fair to say that Southampton have rediscovered a bit of momentum, wouldn’t you? After suffering through its toughest string of fixtures a few weeks back, they managed a well-earned draw against Chelsea before handing us our arses on Sunday. How can a squad lose its manager and so many key players and improve on its performance from a season ago? Elsewhere, that former manager and those key player’s new teams are looking up at the Saints (well, except Shaw…). Koeman has done an excellent job at getting a young group to coalesce and believe in his game plan. If they can find a way to play like away from St. Mary’s, a top-four finish will be comfortably in hand. ● Next match: Sunday vs. Ipswich (FA Cup), next Sunday at Man U.

Tottenham
● Position: 5th
● Record: 10-4-6
● Points: 31 (54.4%)
● Form: WWWDWW
● 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, Tottenham 5-3 Chelsea (11 pts. from 22).
● Last match: Tottenham 5-3 Chelsea
Irony of ironies, Tottenham scored five on Thursday to bring their haul at White Hart Lane to 16. Spurs have been admirably efficient in finding points without scoring many goals, and they now get to lord it over us, sitting one point above us on the table. So much for goal-difference. It’s hard to tell if this was one of those days for Tottenham, one when everything seems to go right, or if this shows what the squad can really do. I’m not suggesting they’ll go out and hang five goals on each opponent. For all of our taunting of Tottenham, there is a bit of quality in the side, enough to sit within a point of third place, and results like this one can instill some confidence going forward.
● Next match: Monday at Burnley (FA Cup), next Saturday at Crystal Palace (Prem).

Arsenal
● Position: 6th
● Record: 9-6-5
● Points: 33 (55%)
● Form: LWDWWL
● 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, Southampton 2-0 Arsenal (10 pts. from 27)
● Last match: Southampton 2-0 Arsenal
Feh. Here we were, thinking we could smash a Schneiderlin-less Southampton side, and look at where that got us. Without Giroud, our attack seemed to lack any cohesion. Worse, our first-choice back-four looked horrid, compounded by boneheaded gaffes too numerous to mention. How did Kos let Mane past and then turn his back and trot off? More to the point, why did Szcz come out to the edge of area? And so on. We failed to score for the first time in 17 matches but looked absolutely toothless. Seven goals conceded from errors, and it could have been eight or nine. We now sit sixth and might have to worry more about staying above West Ham and a rising Liverpool than about reeling in Tottenham or Southampton.
● Next match: Sunday vs. Hull (FA Cup), next Sunday vs. Stoke (Prem).

West Ham
● Position: 7th
● Record: 9-5-6
● Points: 32 (53.3%)
● Form: WDWLLD
● 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 1-2 Arsenal (6 pts from 21).
● Last match: West Ham 1-1 West Brom
West Ham have now dropped eight points from their last three matches, and this latest one will have the Hammers pulling their hair out. First, though, Carroll will have to undo that librarian’s bun he’s been sporting. The slump raises anew the questions about West Ham’s ability to stay up this high through the second half of the season. It’s one thing to lose away to Chelsea; it’s quite another to draw at home to relegation-threatened West Brom. If Allardyce can’t get his ducks back in a row, West Ham might join Liverpool and Everton in the rubbish bin. Making matters worse, the Africa Cup of Nations starts 17 January, depriving West Ham of key players Sakho and Kouyate. By the time they return, West Ham may have sunk even lower…
● Next match: Tuesday at Everton (FA Cup), next Saturday at Swansea (Prem).

It’s a dispiriting and depressing week, to be sure, but there’s silver lining. Chelsea dropped points for a second week in a row, as did Man U. Despite us losing and in fine fashion, we’re still just four points off of third place. Heck, it could be worse. We could be Everton. More seriously, we do have to keep one nervous eye on that rearview as Liverpool claw their way back towards respectability. On the horizon is some FA Cup madness, in which each club seems to have gotten a favorable draw. More enticingly or maddeningly, depending on your appetite for such things, the transfer-window is now officially open. Somehow, I suspect that more will be said than done. We’ve already heard reports that we’ll loan out Sanogo and Podolski. Will we—or anyone—make moves of a more-dramatic variety? Sit back and watch as the silly season begins. Or continues. Whichever.