As the nation rejoices at the discomfort of its leading football club – all except the thousands of expat Mancunians around the country – it is becoming increasingly evident that this could be the most open Premier League campaign since conspicuous elitism began in 1992. And guess what? It’s a lot more interesting as a result.
It’s too early to get the bunting out, but Arsene Wenger must be thinking that he has the best chance to end the silverware drought that has descended upon Arsenal since Joe Mourinho first arrived on these shores. But while Arsenal sit astride the top spot with a five-point cushion, there are signs that the early-season devil-may-care Gunners are starting to go a little flat. Everton exposed some of Arsenal’s weaknesses and in truth, deserved to come away from the Emirates with all three points. Everton are no title-chasers, but they could surprise a few people and creep into a Champions League slot before the end of the season.
But let’s not kid ourselves. Manchester United will get it right, David Moyes will not be shown the door, although he may be reminded of the club’s extensive honours board and told where his aspirations should lie. The poor guy has Sir Alex looking at him at every turn, in every corner. It’s Matt Busby all over again. Except much harder. But United will recover, will reinforce and, in all probability, they will still gain a top four place. They are “too big to fail”.
Chelsea will not win the Premier because they don’t have the necessary firepower or the customary solidity of a Mourinho team. He needs a summer of rebuilding to mould the talent he has at his disposal and unfortunately, he has a bunch of second-rate forwards – Torres, Ba and Eto’o would not get into the team at either Manchester club or indeed, Liverpool. Until Chelsea sign a genuine blue-chip striker whose best days are still in front of him, they will not challenge for the title. And, as much as they are loved in London SW6, the old guard of Cech, Cole, Terry and Lampard need to move on. Mourinho and the Stamford Bridge regulars know that it is not 2004 revisited.
Liverpool’s fans have long become used to it not being – for example – 1984, but whereas Chelsea need a striker, a striker is all the Reds really have. Luis Suarez’s recent form is frightening – not just for the Premier, but also for England in next summer’s World Cup. His display against Norwich was one of the best I’ve seen from an individual player. If only he was a likeable fellow! Liverpool have a realistic chance of a top four place, but they won’t top the pile.
Manchester City are too mercurial this season, not to mention a little tame away from the Etihad. Unless they find some consistency, the most expensive squad ever assembled in Britain will not be champions. But they could – if they avoid Barca or Bayern – have their best chance yet of European success.
Anyone expecting Tottenham to come good may be disappointed. They signed players aplenty in the summer, but the mix is not right and they don’t score enough goals. And the doubters are now questioning AVB’s methods, invariably the first sign of a loss of confidence.
Given the inconsistency of most of these teams, Arsenal’s case becomes all the more compelling. It’s open season , the sort of campaign that we saw in the 70s when Derby County won the league twice. In 1971-72, seven points (in the old money) separated the top six, in 1974-75, it was just four. More recently, the 1998-99 season saw four points separate the top three (in the three points for a win era). It could be that type of season, but if Wenger’s team remain consistent, add a little firepower in January, keep calm and the key men stay fit, they could do it. The chances are, they will go into the New Year in front and that’s always a good sign. The “era of nothing” may be coming to an end for the Gunners, but don’t be surprised if another team in red manages to sneak through, and I don’t mean that mob from Anfield….