Arsene Wenger believes his current Arsenal squad is one of the best he has managed in his eighteen years at the club. That claim will look slightly ridiculous if his side lose at West Brom in the first live televised match of the weekend. Gus Poyet played for Chelsea but he will be determined that the Sunderland side he manages brings about his former club’s first defeat in the league this season.
Southampton are 6/4 to finish in the top four but that looks a short price when you consider that Sunday’s match at home to Manchester City is the start of a run of fixtures before Christmas in which they also play Arsenal and Manchester United. Tottenham and Everton were potential qualifiers for the Champions League at the start of the season but their match on Sunday looks to be about the side with the best chance of finishing fifth.
In beating Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League Arsenal got their season back on track. Losing to Manchester United at home in the league was a crushing blow that was only worsened by the injury to Jack Wilshere that could see him out of the team for three months. Former player Paul Merson described Arsenal as clueless after high profile poor results from winning positions against Swansea and Anderlecht.
Wenger retorted that Merson had been the manager of a football club for zero matches. That was a surprising statement from somebody as meticulous as he forget that Merson was the manager of Walsall for a short spell. The former Arsenal player writes a column in the Daily Star and is a reporter on Super Saturday on Sky Sports. He is paid to express an opinion but probably has Arsenal’s best interests at heart.
However, he will be best remembered for his gesture at the end of matches in which he is pretending to drink a pint of beer. He has admitted to a gambling addiction and Wenger maybe could not identify with any type of weakness and lack of willpower. Perhaps both men had a hidden agenda but Arsenal have defended poorly in recent matches and shown an inability to manage a winning situation.
After beating Dortmund Arsenal are now through to the knockout stages of the Champions League for the 15th consecutive year. Wenger is proud of this record and he will be pleased with a clean sheet against the Germans. Borussia are managed by Jurgen Klopp who is seen by many as a potential successor to the current manager at Arsenal. That man is being asked by some of his players to change his tactics and adapt to the demands of the modern game which Klopp appreciates.
When Wenger was leading his side to three Premier League titles he appeared to be ahead of his time but now some supporters and more critically Arsenal players believe he has now fallen behind some of the more forward thinking coaches like Klopp and Jose Mourinho. Wenger had opportunities to manage Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich but he has never contemplated not seeing out a contract with his beloved Arsenal.
The match at West Brom will be a test of his player’s resolve especially as it comes less than 72 hours after playing in the Champions League. West Brom are three points ahead of the relegation places but look good enough to stay in the Premier League. They just survived last season and the new manager lost some support and credibility by changing the kit style and doing away with the traditional the stripes.
Albion were 17th last season with 36 points and won only four of their last 28 matches, with just seven wins in the Premier League. The signing of experienced Joleon Lescott seems to have been a success despite the controversy because he used to play for Wolves. However, home form is a worry as West Brom have won just one of six matches at their own ground this season.
Chelsea have been heavily backed to go through the league season unbeaten and that process can continue by avoiding defeat at Sunderland. Poyet got them out of trouble at the end of last season and there has been an improvement this time. In mid-April Sunderland were massive favourites to go down but five remarkable matches later they were safe and able to coast over the finishing line. They won away matches against Chelsea and Manchester United in that spell and were the only team in the league to beat both those sides away from home.
Young forward Connor Wickham was a major part of Sunderland’s recovery with six goals in his last six appearances. He has now signed a new contract but Fabio Borini has moved on after a season on loan. Poyet had a full pre-season and the signs are encouraging but not good enough to suggest Sunderland can beat Chelsea. Mourinho always wins the league in the second full season at a club and that trend will continue with Chelsea in his second spell at Stamford Bridge.
Southampton were no better than average in drawing with Aston Villa on Monday. They lost to Liverpool on the opening day and then drew at home to West Brom. Since then the Saints have won eight of their last nine matches. However, they have had an easy run of fixtures and they will be in a more realistic position in the league after playing the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea in their next three matches. Sunday’s home match against City will be their biggest test to date.
Tottenham and Everton are both in mid-table but are likely to end the season in the top third. However, on the evidence of current form qualifying for the Champions League may be beyond them. Tottenham are a sacking club while Everton show more loyalty to the man in charge. Mauricio Pochettino and Roberto Martinez need a run of good results but the former’s job is under more threat and he could even go before Christmas if an Everton win begins another run of poor results.