23 February 2015

Rivals' Roundup #26: Where does Arsenal stand in the Prem?

Sorry to have missed last week’s roundup. The midweek fixtures, combined with a wicked cold, made things too complicated at my end. Good news, I’m more or less clear-headed; even better, it’s a great  damned good weekend to come back to. We won, of course, but Chelsea drew at home, Man U lost, Tottenham drew at home, and Southampton lost at home. All told, it’s hard to imagine a better weekend—well, okay, losses for Chelsea and Tottenham would have improved it, but let’s not get greedy. On to the roundup!

Chelsea
● Position: 1st.
● Record: 18-6-2
● Points: 60 (76.9%)
● Form: WWDWWD
● Last match: Chelsea 1-1 Burnley.
Chelsea will feel furious and more than a bit embarrassed to have stumbled to a draw against Burnley. Nemanja Matic’s furious reaction to Barnes’s leg-crunching tackle was justifiable (let’s remember how it feels to see a vital player’s leg snapped, after all). Ironically, Matic’s reaction might have been what distracted Atkinson from sending Barnes off. At any rate, it adds further fuel to Mourinho’s siege-mentality, something he apparently needs to keep his squad motivated. The midweek racism row seems to be reaching some kind of conclusion with five men identified and facing a lifetime bans from Stamford Bridge. It’s an ugly distraction from action on the pitch and resurrects captain John Terry’s own indiscretions. Whether this had any impact on the squad’s performance against Burnley is worth pondering.
● Next match: Sunday vs. Tottenham (League Cup Final).
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Manchester City
● Position: 2nd
● Record: 16-7-3
● Points: 55 (70.5%)
● Form: DLDDWW
● Last match: Man City 5-0 Newcastle.
City emerged from a slump in which they dropped nine points from four matches and now trail Chelsea by five and are “just” seven points clear of Arsenal. Their boom-and-bust cycle—in which they scored just three goals in four matches, then nine in two—looks unlikely to sustain over the long term, but, then again, it’s worked well enough to this point. After all, they emerged from that rough patch no worse for wear, with the gap between them and Chelsea only widening by a point or two. Of all of the contenders, City are perhaps the most-mercurial squad, capable of utterly annihilating opponents (as they did Newcastle and Stoke) and staggering to draws (as they did against Hull). If they can eliminate those, results, they could just overtake Chelsea.
● Next match: Tuesday vs. Barcelona (UCL), Sunday at Liverpool.
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Arsenal
● Position: 3rd
● Record: 14-6-6
● Points: 48 (61.5%)
● Form: WWWLWW
● Last match: Crystal Palace 1-2 Arsenal.
Well, well, well, look what we have here. After a few weeks of gloom following the North London Derby, we’re now third and Tottenham have fallen four points off our pace. However, our focus has to be on our own business, not theirs. Palace should feel aggrieved not to come away with at least a point on Saturday; our goals came against the run of play and they were wasteful with their shots. Murray’s late-heroics notwithstanding, we ground out a gritty win. Their high press flummoxed us on defense, especially on our left, where Monreal had all he could handle and more from Zaha. But for some fortunate decisions from Clattenburg, we might have ended up down a man or worse. However, we found a way to win even if it was less than commanding. Did I mention we’ve climbed to third?
● Next match: Wednesday vs. AS Monaco (UCL), Sunday vs. Everton.
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Manchester United
● Position: 4th
● Record: 13-8-5
● Points: 47 (60.3%)
● Form: LWWDWL
● Last match: Swansea 2-1 Man U.
Man U fell to Swansea, and with that result, fell from the third-place position they’ve held for weeks, clearing the way for us to at least temporarily overtake them. The injury to Robin van Persie might prove to a blessing in disguise, as he now stands openly accused of taking the mickey. His lackluster play and diffident attitude might be a part of what clogs the gears of Man U’s attack. We’ll have to see how long he’ll be out and what impact this has on the ability of Falcao, Rooney, di Maria and others to deliver. Like Southampton, Man U are essentially free to focus on the Prem (although there is the small matter of an FA Cup quarterfinal…ahem.). Has this squad already peaked, or is it poised to go on a run?
● Next match: Saturday vs. Sunderland.
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Southampton
● Position: 5th
● Record: 14-4-8
● Points: 46 (58.9%)
● Form: WWLWDL
● Last match: Southampton 0-2 Liverpool
An 0-2 loss to Liverpool means we’ll hold onto third for at least another week, but Southampton now have one of the softest schedules among the top five clubs. No European competition, no FA Cup, and trips to Stamford Bridge and the Etihad loom ahead of them. Whereas almost everyone else save Man U have to deal with those continental entanglements, Southampton know for a fact that they have only twelve matches left to play. Those of us hoping for them to fade or regress to the norm or whatever might find ourselves whistlin’ Dixie as the Saints look pretty well-positioned, even after this weekend’s setback. They have a young, hungry, and determined squad, well-drilled by Koeman, and I’d say they’ve earned more than a bit of respect.
● Next match:  Saturday at West Brom.
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Liverpool
● Position: 6th
● Record: 13-6-7
● Points: 45 (57.7%)
● Form: DWWWDW
● Last match: Southampton 0-2 Liverpool
Since the return of Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool have not lost in their last seven outings. It’s not that he’s been stellar (two goals and an assist in six appearances), but he’s been good enough, and the pressure he’s taken off of Sterling might matter more than the goals Sturridge delivers. Considering that Liverpool have had to bed in so many new players while losing Suarez and Sturridge, they’re actually poised to continue to climb, as suggested by Sunday’s win at St. Mary’s. After all, they’re now just three points off our pace. They’ll have an FA Cup quarterfinal to play, along with more Europa League fixtures to contend with, but they also have won of the harder run-ins of the top five clubs (visits from both Mancs and trips to the Emirates and Stamford Bridge).
● Next match: Thursday vs. Besiktas (UEL), Sunday vs. Man City.
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There you have it—a quick rundown of who’s who when it comes to finishing among the top four in the Prem. I have a nagging feeling that I’ve forgottenham something, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I have a feeling that if I did put my finger on it, it would go to ground faster than a lead balloon, then bray for a penalty only to muff it on the first go anyway, then manage to finish the job and celebrate as if one had just won a treble. More seriously, we have a very crowded group of clubs, with just five points separating four of them from third to seventh spots. All banter aside, Tottenham are hardly out of it yet; they’re just excluded—for purely objective, rational reasons—from this week’s roundup.