15 January 2015

Rivals' Rundown #21: Where does Arsenal stand in the Prem?

I know that we're all abuzz at the apparent confirmation of Krystian Bielik and other rumours of a less-certain variety, but it's always worth a quick check-in and events that have already occured and what they mean for the future of our status in the Prem.
I’ve done away with the key-matches feature for the moment; it’s just too much for my pea-sized brain to keep track of what should still count as a key-match with certain clubs dropping in and out of contention. Moving forward, as the top-five picture distills itself, I’ll reintroduce it to matches against the top four or five. Again: brain=pea-sized. For now, a decent week sees us smash Stoke and overtake Spurs, while the Manchesters drop points. On to the rundown...

● Position: 1st.
● Record: 15-4-2
● Points: 49 (77.8%)
● Form: WWWDLW
● Last match: Chelsea 2-0 Newcastle
Chelsea overcame a bit of a slow start against Newcastle but took control just before halftime courtesy of a goal from Oscar. It was a third straight game during which Chelsea struggled, though, coming on the heels of the draw at Southampton and the loss at Tottenham. In Mourinhoian style, though, they ground it out nonetheless and created a bit of breathing space thanks to Man City’s draw at Everton. Pity, as it was Newcastle who shattered Chelsea’s chance at an Invincible feature, having beaten them in the reverse-fixture. They had their chances but were denied by someone named Cech—a recent call-up, I’m sure—as well as the woodwork early on. You can’t make mistakes against this side, especially when it comes to scoring. They’re now the stingiest side in the Prem with only 19 goals conceded.
● Next match: Saturday at Swansea

Manchester City
● Position: 2nd
● Record: 14-5-2
● Points: 47 (74.6%)
● Form: WWWDWD
● Last match: Everton 1-1 Man City
So much for the logjam at the top of the table as City dropped points at Goodison Park. To be fair, though, City were without Toure and Kompany, and Aguero looked rustier than something made of metal left out in the rain for several years (I’m not so good with the metaphors). Everton might have felt harshly done-by when Jagielka’s goal was disallowed, or when it looked as if there was a handball just before Fernandinho scored, but, like Newcastle, the Toffees couldn’t quite find the back of the net, with Hart making fine saves and getting a bit of help from the woodwork as well. When Naismith finally did find the equaliser, it felt like justice done. City will have questions to ask of itself, though, after failing to see off a side that had lost its four previous Prem matches.
● Next match: Sunday vs. Arsenal

● Position: 3rd
● Record: 12-3-6
● Points: 39 (61.9%)
● Form: LWWDWW
● Last match: Man U 0-1 Southampton
Four wins from five and the Saints are back to third place. Winning at Old Trafford doesn’t just let them leapfrog those Devils; it suggests that the Saints might just be for real, perhaps real enough to (a) hold onto key players rather than lose them and (b) potentially add one or two for the run-in. Yes, they drew 1-1 with Ipswich in the FA Cup and have a midweek replay to distract them from, but what once may have been a Prem pipe-dream but is becoming increasingly real. Other flashes in the pan—Newcastle, perhaps West Ham, have faltered, but Southampton endured a rough patch none the worse for wear. We might have hoped for a Saints win, seeing Man U as the larger threat. Be careful what you ask for…
● Next match: Wednesday at Ipswich (FACup), Saturday at Newcastle

Man U
● Position: 4th
● Record: 10-7-4
● Points: 37 (58.7%)
● Form: WDWDDL
● Last match: Man U 0-1 Southampton Man U continue to stutter in recent weeks, this time losing to the Saints at home—for the first time in 27 years. Despite having luminaries like Rooney, van Persie, Falcao, di Maria, and Mata among their attacking options, Man U failed to register a single shot on target, revealing both how stout and well-organized Southampton are but also undermining van Gaal’s reputation for creativity and all-out attack. The revamped squad is barely faring better than they were last season. They’ve scored the fewest goals of any club in the top five and are just a point above us. Still, that roster should never be counted out, and we’ve just now entered this much vaunted van Gallian second half surge and will have to watch warily to see whether it manifests itself.
● Next match: Saturday at QPR

● Position: 5th
● Record: 10-6-5
● Points: 36 (57.1%)
● Form: WDWWLW
● Last match: Arsenal 3-0 Stoke
Thank God, we’re above Tottenham again. The icing on the cake comes courtesy of Stoke, who all but rolled over and died inside of five minutes. But for a pair of fine saves from Begovic, it might have been 3-0 by the time Kos scored. Of course, this being an Arsenal-Stoke match, we had to suffer an injury from an uncalled-for and uncalled foul as Arnautovic gave a forearm shiver to Debuchy while both men and the ball were well out of bounds, and Debuchy could be out for a while with a shoulder injury. No whistle. No card. No sanction. Vintage Stoke. There were others, but this was took the, uh, cake. Still, we mowed them down, playing some vintage Arsenal football along the way, and have tightened a three-way fight for third and fourth (with a few other clubs nipping at our heels). If we could just get back to (something resembling) full fitness…
● Next match: Sunday at Man City.

● Position: 6th
● Record: 10-4-7
● Points: 34 (53.9%)
● Form: WWWDWL
● Last match: Crystal Palace 2-1 Tottenham
After losing just once in their last nine Prem fixtures, trouncing Chelsea in the process, Spurs slipped up against Palace, who hadn’t won in their last eight. There was something in the air at Selhurst Park as Pardew found a way to inspire his side—imagine that—to victory. Harry “Heavy Dew” Kane opened the scoring (his 18th of the season, it must be noted), but Palace were awarded a penalty that turned the tide. Spurs, who have been so much better on the road than at White Hart Lane, failed to respond and crumbled, failing to seize the chance to climb as high as third and will rue the missed chance. They may have already squandered the confidence from that win over Chelsea last week and now find themselves looking up at us yet again.
● Next match: Wednesday vs. Burnley (FA Cup), Saturday vs. Sunderland

West Ham
● Position: 7th
● Record: 9-6-6
● Points: 33 (52.4%)
● Form: DWLLDD
● Last match: Swansea 1-1 West Ham.
I don’t know, West Ham. I warned you of my mindset last week. This is now ten dropped points from your last four matches. After climbing so high, the slump is hard to ignore or gloss over. Yes, Swansea are a tough nut to track at the Liberty Stadium, but the Hammers come away with themselves to blame after a Mark Noble own-goal allowed the hosts to equalise. While it’s true that West Ham went in without Kouyate and Sakho (at the Africa Cup of Nations), Swansea were without Wilfried Bony for the same reason. With a resurgent Liverpool now nipping at their heels, the Hammers must find the confidence that delivered them to this position or risk being dropped. Second warning in two weeks…
● Next match: Tuesday vs. Everton (FA Cup), Sunday vs. Hull.

That should do for now. We do have to eye up Liverpool, who have now gone five matches unbeaten and now trail Arsenal by four points. Elsewhere, an intriguing Swansea will now have to cope with losing Wilfried Bony and will likely be lucky to stay in the top half of the table. Newcastle continues to fade, looking more likely to join Everton in the bottom than to do anything else. In coming weeks, of course, we’ll have a number of high-profile matches, but almost as important—if not more so in some cases—will the transfer-activity or lack thereof. Hey—maybe Debuchy’s injury will “inspire” Arsene to sign someone…