26 January 2016

Arsenal in CRISIS after dropping seven points from three fixtures!!! What's it all mean?

The bloom is off the rose, at least temporarily, only it's Arsenal's and not Leicester's that's suffered. The Foxes have apparently not gotten the memo yet (Re: fading in the second half), and Arsenal have now dropped points in three consecutive matches, allowing Man City to nudge past and Tottenham to creep closer. If there's a silver lining to the weekend, it's that Man U lost at Old Trafford, creating a bit of space between a crowded top four (separated by five points) and fifth, another five points off the pace. The coming weekend brings us the FA Cup's fourth round proper, with Prem action hot on its heels Tuesday and Wednesday. Your correspondent's scratched cornea might result in a few typos, but bare with him as we get to the rundown...

Leicester City
● Position: 1st
● Record: 13W, 8D, 2L
● Points: 47 (68.1%)
● Total at this rate: 77.7
● Form: LDDWDW
● Last match: Leicester 3-0 Stoke
Confounding expectations, Leicester continue ride high and have managed to avoid losing anyone in the transfer-window, suggesting that this squad will remain intact through to the end of the season. A convincing 3-0 thrashing of the Orcs elevates their goal difference to one better than Arsenal's and marks their fourth clean sheet from five outings—an impressive feat for any squad, even more so for one that had built its early successes on hoping to outscore opponents. This new-found defensive determination could go a long way in reducing the stress and strain on Vardy and Mahrez, who may no longer have to run amok week in and week out. If they cany sustain anything closely resembling their form in the first half of the season while the squad builds on the defensive platform, the Foxes might just have enough in them to last until May. Unlike the others in the top three, they're out of the FA Cup and League Cup and were never in European competition. One competion, one mission.
● Significant injuries (return date): Schlupp (2 February)
● Next match: 2 February vs Liverpool.

Manchester City
● Position: 2nd (goal difference +7 better than Arsenal's)
● Record: 13W, 5D, 5L
● Points: 44 (63.8%)
● Total points at this rate: 72.7
● Form: WDWDWD
● Last match: West Ham 2-2 Man City
Is it paranoia or proof positive that Man City, with a record identical to Arsenal's, is touted as having an inside track on winning the Prem while Arsenal are apparently about to crash out of Champions League contention? For close to a half-hour, it looked like the Irons would deliver a famous victory over their visitors until Aguero conjured up a brilliant goal to salvage a point. Damn. If only Jenkinson had managed to stay on... In a season in which no one really impresses, though, it does feel as if Man City are the only squad truly underperforming and capable of finding truly dangerous form. Even if only Aguero, with fresh legs courtesy of early-season injury woes, finds his rhythm, look out. Too late? He's now gone for six goals and two assists in his last six appearances. Yes, Kompany will be out for the forseeable future, but, by unhelpful contrast with Leicester, if Man City can start scoring more frequently, they can overcome their own defensive shortcomings until Kompany's return.
● Significant injuries (return date): Kompany (no return date), Nasri (April 16).
● Next match: 27 January vs Everton (League Cup semifinal second leg; Everton won first leg 2-1), 30 January at Aston Villa (FA Cup), 2 February at Sunderland (Prem).

● Position: 3rd
● Record: 13W, 5D, 5L
● Points: 44 (63.8%)
● Total points at this rate: 72.7
● Form: LWWDDL
● Last match: Arsenal 0-1 Chelsea
Apparently, the Chelsea hoodoo outlasts the reign of Mou. This time, however, there's little evidence of a conspiracy as we have only ourselves to blame. A reckless Mertesacker tackle saw him sent off inside of twenty minutes. Even if Costa did his Suarezian best, there was little doubt that Mertesacker was guilty. To concede to Costa minutes later might pour salt in the wound, and we can wonder what might have been, but at the end of the day, we bottled it, plain and simple. Then again, even a man down, we pinned Chelsea back in ways that little to do with them parking the bus and just as much if not more to do with our intent, creating dangerous chances that fizzled out in frustrating fashion. There are no moral victories—and if there are, no points are earned—but the fightback we showed does at least offer a silver lining. There's more than a glimmer of hope in that: despite dropping seven points from our last three, we're still level with Man City and just three behind Leicester.
● Significant injuries (return date): Cazorla (four weeks), Wilshere (one month).
● Next match: 30 January vs. Burnley (FA Cup); 2 February vs. Southampton (Prem).

● Position: 4th
● Record: 11W, 9D, 3L
● Points: 42 (60.9%)
● Total points at this rate: 69.4
● Form: WWDLWW
● Last match: Crystal Palace 1-3 Tottenham
Proving that Pardew just can't let slip a chance to stick it to Arsène, his Eagles jumped out to an early lead against Tottenham only to concede three goals in the second half to allow Tottenham to rise to within two points of Arsenal, inspiring countless "North London is White" chants even as the club prepares to move from White Hart Lane a bit further north, on one hand strengthening a nominal claim to North London while on the other laying waste to complaints against Arsenal as a nomadic club. I'm sure they'll enjoy a spell at Boleyn Ground or Twickenham Stadium among others once construction itself finally commences. This season, then, might represent a last-hurrah of sorts as Tottenham enter a period of financial restrictions similar to those Arsenal endured while financing the Emirates. In the nearer-term, though, it's well-worth noting that Pochettino does have this squad buying into his plans and playing well. They've taken more points (13) from their last six outings than any othe club. Write off the Shite at your own risk.
● Significant injuries (return date): Vertonghen (no return date), N'Jie (5 March), Mason (no return date), Bentaleb (no return date).
● Next match: 30 January vs. Colchester (FA Cup), 2 February vs. Norwich (Prem).

It's always darkest before the dawn, as the saying goes, and this is as dark a spell as Arsenal has seen in the 2015-16 campaign. However, key players are returning to action. Alexis came on against Chelsea and very nearly stole the show in a star-turn that surely has us salivating over things to come. Add in the Comeback of the Coq and we can start to see selection-dilemmas that have more to do with plethoras rather than paucities. Despite our downturn, we're still right in the thick of things with more than a fighting chance at finishing strong. Heck, the last time we lost to Chelsea, we reeled off five consecutive wins, losing just once in our next eleven outings. Lose a battle, win the war...