Things have continued to heat up at blistering temperatures at the top of the Premier League table. This applies more to the battle for 3rd and 4th place which is gathering monumental momentum with the race wide open. Before getting into that, a quick throw back to the top three worked out mostly as predicted. Liverpool went onto beat Manchester City in a surprisingly low scoring game. And Chelsea’s continued winning run was slightly easier to foretell than Pep Guardiola’s meltdown, which to some extent has been blown out of proportion by the press as usual. That’s their job I suppose.
Back to the fourth place saga. It looks like a three-horse race at the moment between Arsenal, Spurs and United, although City could be drawn into that if their form does not improve.
Arsenal did an amazing job of coming back from 3-0 down against Bournemouth and in doing so; they will have restored some belief in pursuit of their title ambitions, although that ambition looks like a bridge too far. It has been a case of business as usual for the Gunners. A blitzy start to the season after the scare of an opening day defeat was followed by the same old questions about their resolve and ability to win the league. Little to nothing has to be said about that. Defensive problems has crept in which is ironic given the signing of an established centre half in Mustafi which their fans craved. Their away form has been dismal as of late and if not for Bournemouth’s inverting intensity as the game carried on at Tuesday evening, coupled with their red card, it would have been 3 away defeats on the spin for the London outfit.
Hardly title winning form, and worryingly for them, not quite top four form either, an unthinkable reality for the Arsenal. On current form, they look most likely to lose out on an honour that they have monopolised over the years. They are ranked 17th in defensive blocks and have the lowest number of clearances in the league. With Giroud firing on all cylinders, Wenger needs to consider a more direct approach to their style of play and get more crosses into the box especially away from home. They are currently fourth from bottom in the crosses table and this might be an opportunity worth exploring if they are to stop the rot away from home. Wenger probably won’t do that. At the current rate, they look nailed on to finish outside the top four for the first time in what feels like forever. They have always found a way to make this happen, and that is the saving grace that makes one feel that they can’t totally be written off. Interesting times ahead at the Emirates then.
Tottenham is a curious case. Mostly because Pochettino is a young manager and does not have much from the past to indicate a clear trend from a management point of view. What we can tell is that as a boss, he keeps improving, and doing better at every club that he has gone to, although Spurs are the best resourced club of the three that he has managed. He has done a good job and Sir Alex was not far off when he retorted that Poch is the best manager in the league. He took a mediocre looking squad and got more out of them consistently, to the point that the former term of “big 4” no longer exists, and it is now more of a big six. The use of this term alone gives an indication of what the North London club is about under their Argentinian coach. Without winning much in the form of trophies they have crept into being categorised alongside the traditional big clubs.
The team has also developed a thick skin in terms of their ability to avoid losing. They are joint with Liverpool and Chelsea where defeats are concerned, only having dropped all three points twice this season. A flurry of early season draws has not helped them but if they can continue to avoid defeat a top four place is well on the cards, and they also have St Totteringham’s day to motivate them. A finish above their North London rivals is a huge incentive given that it last happened 21 seasons ago. You feel that if it is to happen then this must be the time for that. Spurs face Chelsea on Wednesday and it will go a long way to reinforcing or undermining their credentials. They were the first team to halt Man City early in the season with a display of real intensity and impressive pressure, and they’ll need to repeat that to stand a chance against their rivals from West London.
They will also have learnt from their experience last season where their title push came to naught against Chelsea in the face of what looked like a calamitous collapse, although in truth a win against the Blues back then would probably not have thrown Leicester off course. Finishing fourth at the expense of Arsenal though will be Spurs’ biggest achievement for as long as they can remember, even if it is just for banter purposes.
Manchester United is having a season of what ifs. What if Carrick and Mkhitaryan played regularly from the beginning of the season? What if the referee gave the nailed on penalty against Arsenal? What if Heaton never had the best game of his career in the United vs. Burnley game? What if Stoke and Everton were wins instead of draws? Indeed, things could have looked very different, but they are what they are and the red devils has done amazingly well to match their longest winning run since Sir Alex left the club.
Fans have been patient, because of the improving football on show. All eyes have been on Jose Mourinho since he took charge of the red Manchester club and after some teething problems, he seems to be delivering. It has been classic Jose for much of the season, especially during the more challenging times. When the results were not forthcoming, all the talk and attention was on Mourinho, not on the poor results. Touch line bans, bottle kicking, referee outrage, etc. The man who promised box office gave exactly that and during the turmoil United has recovered remarkably well. The good vibes are back at Old Trafford, as promised by Robin Van Persie and Ryan Giggs. One defeat though and there will be a melt down from some quarters, especially if it comes in the cross canal derby against the Mersey siders in red.
United have it all to do if they are to salvage anything from the season and they can’t afford to stutter along the way. The Europa League might present a get out of jail card however to prioritise only that would be a bit of a lottery as anything can happen in those cup games.
Zlatan has been everything he promised to be and Paul Pogba is finally coming good after taking some time to adjust to his “new” club. Furthermore, chances are he’ll only get better which bodes well for United. The red devils gave themselves too much to do though and their only chance of a top four finish is sustaining the winning run, along with more dropped points by their rivals. In other words, plenty has to go in United’s favour for their league position to improve. They’ve done well to narrow the gap, but a gap it still is. The return of Patrice Evra in any capacity will also liven up the place a tad more during this spell of recovery and re-establishment.
To sum these few sets of paragraphs up – current evidence suggests the following top six at the end of season table:
Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs, Man City, Man United, and Arsenal.
It can all change of course and that is what makes this season the most exciting yet, in addition to an amazing cast of management and players J