Paul Merson described Arsenal as “clueless” and Manchester United are worse off than they were this time last year under David Moyes. The teams’ fixture on Saturday is seemingly bringing together two clubs in crisis but come next May both will have probably qualified for next season’s Champions League.
Southampton are currently in one of the qualifying positions but they have had an easy run of fixtures. The end of this year is the best time to judge whether Ronald Koeman can pull off one of the greatest achievements in the history of the Premier League. Southampton seemed to have sold all their best players last summer but now are ahead of Liverpool who bought most of them in the current standings.
Tottenham are playing with a total lack of confidence and it’s hard to judge whether the international break came at a good or bad time for Mauricio Pochettino. Chairman Daniel Levy does not have a history of giving the managers he recruits time to get things right. If Spurs don’t improve soon Pochettino will get sacked and the process will begin again. Surely in this case it’s the chairman who should be shown the door as he employs all these managers who fail.
Everton are difficult to weigh up as they are not defending as well as this time last year. However, in Ross Barkley they have one of the best young players in England. In three years he won’t be playing for Everton and it’s a case of how many more seasons can they enjoy his influence on the field. Sooner rather than later he will be playing for one of Europe’s superpowers.
West Ham United are another side that could be said to be overachieving. Sam Allardyce is not seen as the most sophisticated of managers but he has created a winning style suited to the players at the club. The Hammers have a much smaller wage bill than the major teams and ultimately that will determine where will be positioned in the hierarchy of the Premier League.
Apparently Manchester City are the richest club in the world but throwing money at a project will not always bring success. They have won the league twice in the last three seasons but doing well in the Champions League is now the next objective. They seem to be getting worse in the context of the competition but although they are unlikely to qualify for the knockout phase they will make the competition next season by finishing second in the league.
In what is supposed to be a competitive league Chelsea are head and shoulders above everybody else and could have won the league by Christmas. Eden Hazard is playing wonderfully well and in Diego Costa Chelsea have signed the goal scorer missing from the squad last season. Cesc Fabragas was another good signing and Jose Mourinho will feel he has been justified in offloading Juan Mata and David Luiz for huge fees as his side now looks more balanced.
Second season success has been a feature of Mourinho’s career and Chelsea are living up to their status as title favourites. In the Special One’s four seasons following a full first campaign in charge he has at the very least won the domestic championship, and usually the results after his initial bedding-in process have been spectacular. In the second season of his first stint at Stamford Bridge Chelsea recorded 20 wins in 22 matches as Jose again built on the foundations he laid in season one.
The manager has dismissed the possibility of Chelsea playing a full season in the Premier League without losing a match. Some of their toughest fixtures are now out of the way and there are probably only four matches over the remainder of the season that Chelsea could potentially lose. If the league is won early this achievement will appeal to Mourinho and his players are unlikely to lose motivation in meaningless matches if the record is in sight.
Arsenal are the only side to be unbeaten in a full Premier League campaign as the Invinicbles of 2003-2004 never lost one of 38 league matches they played that season. Arsene Wenger was still the manager back then and he is now the longest serving coach in the league following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. Wenger has had some crises to handle during his time at the club but the latest issue could prove to be the most damaging.
His side were leading by three goals with 30 minutes remaining at home to Anderlecht in the Champions League. With the points secure the players could not close out the match and the Belgian side score three goals to force an improbable draw. Wenger’s team will still qualify for the next round and more significant was losing to Swansea City in their next match from a winning position. Wenger will no doubt justify his tactics by pointing out that that Arsenal will make the last sixteen of the Champions League and are just one point out of the qualifying positions for next season.
Arsenal’s fixture against United is one the biggest north-south clashes of the season and the Manchester club always seem to do well when they play in London. It might be the desire for the provincial club to get one over the soft southern sides from the capital but that stereotype does not fit with Arsenal or Chelsea for that matter. Others might say there are more United fans in London than Manchester but that is another football myth like the one about the Liverpool Kop on match day being full of Norwegians.
United have made a relatively poor start to the season but they are just two points behind West Ham in fourth place. It’s fair to say they have had an easy run of fixtures but Louis Van Gaal is talking about three years to build a side to his satisfaction but he won’t get that long if United don’t qualify for the Champions League this season. Defence is a problem area but one of the richest clubs in the world will invest to solve that problem by signing Mats Hummels or Gerard Pique in January.
Historically United have had the better of this fixture winning 76 and losing 60 of the 177 matches between the clubs. Arsenal have won just three of the last twenty meetings including just one of the last fourteen. United have not lost away to Arsenal on their last three visits to the Emirates and won the last five fixtures at home. If that overall run continues Arsene Wenger could be under more pressure than at any other time during his spell at the club.