01 November 2015

Rivals' Rundown: can Arsenal overtake Man City?

Another brilliant week keeps us level on points with Man City while humiliations galore accrue to José Mou, and Arsenal alone, at least for this week, look ascendant. For the sake of simplicity going forward, I'm going to focus on the four clubs most likely to challenge for the Prem title. While that slate will undergo changes over time, it's safe to assume that we can for now overlook Leicester and West Ham, but it does also mean that we've have to keep a wary eye on Liverpool, who look a bit livelier under Klopp. Before we get too deep into details, let's savor the bigger picture...

Manchester City
● Position: 1st
● Record: 8-1-2
● Points: 25 (75.6%)
● Total points at this rate: 86
● Form: LLWWDW
● Last match: Man City 2-1 Norwich
A brave and overmatched Man City squad fought Championship-side Norwich, winners of the 2015 Championship championship, to a stout standstill for six nail-biting, bum-clenching minutes until madness reduced the Canaries to ten men and gave Touré a spot-kick to win it. Rarely in the history of football has one club overcome such long odds to—oops. That's a bit bass-ackwards. More seriously, Man City have to wonder how they were reduced to such meagre methods as this, hoping that Norwich's keeper would go off the reservation, forcing a deliberate hand-ball from Russell Martin. After scoring 11 goals in two matches, this is not the kind of performance we've come to expect from this squad. Not against the likes of Norwich (no offense intended. Look at it this way: I made it all the way to this point without suggesting this one represents a canary in the coal mine).
● Next match: Tuesday at Sevilla (UCL), Sunday at Aston Villa (Prem).

Arsenal
● Position: 2nd (on goal-difference)
● Record: 8-1-2
● Points:25 (75.6%)
● Total points at this rate: 86
● Form: LWWWWW
● Last match: Swansea 0-3 Arsenal
We are, for what it's worth, the most in-form club in England, having won our last five Prem matches, scoring 16 goals while conceding just three and keeping three clean sheets in the process (add in a clean sheet over Bayern if you like). Yes, we crashed out of the League Cup, but so to did others whilst fielding more fearsome squads. A month that looked to be a minefield has proven to be anything but, with wins over Man U, Everton, Bayern, and away to Swansea sending a strong signal of intent to the rest of the league. While we'll have to fret over the injuries to Walcott and Ox further depleting our options on the right, Joel Campbell's performance on Saturday gives reason for hope if not inspiration. Özil is creating assists at a record-setting rate, Giroud is outscoring all comers on a per-minute basis, and we look to be firing on all cylinders. This is about as purple a patch as we've seen in recent seasons, long may it last...
● Next match: Wednesday at Bayern (UCL), Sunday vs. Tottenham (Prem).

Manchester United
● Position: 4th
● Record: 6-3-2
● Points: 21 (63.6%)
● Total points at this rate: 73
● Form: WWLWDD
● Last match: Crystal Palace 0-0 Man U
For the third time in four outings, what was meant to be a high-octane offense was held scoreless as Man U couldn't find a way past Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. While the Eagles are proving tough, Van Gaal has to wonder why his boys can't find the back of the net with greater alacrity. Man U have now scored just 15 goals, level with Norwich and worst the top seven. On one level, that's reason for alarm: how can Man U mount a serious challenge while scoring just 1.36 goals per game? On another level, what is Man U capable of should its squad find its collective shooting boots? This is, after all, a squad full of its fair share of creative, attacking options. If Rooney and Co. can find their way past this scoring drought, they'll close the current gap between them and the top of the table. They do enter a softer stretch over the next few weeks and look likely to climb...
● Next match: Tuesday vs CSKA Moscow (UCL), Saturday vs. West Brom (Prem).

Liverpool
● Position: 8th
● Record: 4-5-2
● Points: 17 (51.5%)
● Total points at this rate: 59
● Form: DWDDDW
● Last match: Chelsea 1-3 Liverpool
Jürgen Klopp found his first win in stunning style, coming back from 1-0 at Stamford Bridge that poses more questions than it answers: does this prove that Liverpool are resurrected? Does it confirm that Mourinho will be sacked? It's the first time Liverpool have scored more than two goals since doing so against Aston Villa, who apparently want to be relegated by January. After tense, scoreless draws at White Hart Lane and again at home against Southampton, it looks like Liverpool's squad are coalescing under Klopp's approach. There's been a lot of tinkering with the XI, which might explain the stuttering (just five goals scored in six matches prior to this weekend), but Klopp could whip this sorry lot into shape faster than we'd fancy. Add in the return of Sturridge (scheduled for next week), and this is a squad on the up-and-up.
● Next match: Thursday at Rubin Kazan (Europa), Sunday vs. Crystal Palace (Prem).

Chelsea
● Position: 15th
● Record: 3-2-6
● Points: 11 (33.3%)
● Total points at this rate: 38
● Form: WDLWLL
● Last match: Chelsea 1-3 Liverpool
Let's be honest here: Chelsea appear on the list because one can never count them out (and, in equal measure, because schadenfreude can be so damned delectable).  Same manager, same squad, same expectations. The performance on the pitch, however, has been howlingly bad, by which I mean amazingly good. For Arsenal. For humanity. Chelsea have now lost five of their last eight across all competitions, with their high-water mark of late a 2-0 win over nine-man Arsenal. I don't think I could have imagined a better return on my investment than to drop three points at Stamford Bridge only to see Costa banned retroactively and then for Chelsea to drop 11 points from their next five Prem outings. If Chelsea were to win every single Prem match, they'd finish on 92 points. That should be enough to win the Prem. Are they more likely to do with with Mourinho, or without him?
● Next match: Wednesday vs Dynamo Kyiv (UCL), Saturday at Stoke.

Sincere apologies go out to Leicester, West Ham, Southampton, Everton, Crystal Palace, Watford, West Brom, and Swansea for my failing to rate you a bit higher than those listed above. Apologies of a less-sincere variety are available to Tottenham and Stoke, long may you rot. It's early days yet, and who knows how it will shake out? The early trends suggest a two-team race between Man City and Arsenal, with Man U nipping at their heels. Liverpool look a bit livelier than they did to start the season, while Chelsea look worse with each waning week. Live long and suffer, Mou.