THE latest midweek games proved to everyone that this season’s Premier League really is up for grabs, but the contenders are all having a few wobbles. If the season was just a few weeks longer, you might see a late attempt to retain the title from Chelsea!
It’s very clear now that Leicester City are trying to hold their nerve but Arsenal are talking themselves out of contention. Tottenham may not believe it, but they are now title favourites in many people’s eyes. This week’s results were quite remarkable:
Arsenal 1 Swansea City 2
Arsenal take the lead and fall to a rare goal from Ashley Williams. Jeers from the stands. Wenger says he’s worried about recent form and urges “back to basics” approach. Volatility factor: High
Leicester 2 WBA 2
Leicester trail, lead and are eventually held. “We never, never give up,” says Ranieri. Rumours abound that the Leicester boss is set to move to Italy. Volatility factor: Low to medium
Liverpool 3 Manchester City 0
Vincent Kompany says City cannot make any more mistakes. Pellegrini says he team looked stale. Volatility factor: High
West Ham 1 Tottenham 0
Mauricio Pochettino admits his side was poor. Volatility factor: Medium
When Leicester dropped two points, everyone was talking of a slip-up and the possibility that Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City could all take advantage. It didn’t work out that way.
Arsenal endured a dreadful week. Unsurprisingly beaten by Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League, they were poor at Old Trafford and unconvincing at home to relegation threatened Swansea. The doubters are starting to emerge at the Emirates and the odd banner of treason could be seen in the ground. In this season of Premier League democracy, “it must be Arsenal” have thrown away any advantage they might have had.
What was interesting – and telling – about Arsenal against Swansea was their post-match reaction to losing. Wenger looked distressed and their players had the body language of a team that had just been giant-killed in the FA Cup (when they really cared about such setbacks). As always, they tried to play good football, but as ever, their problem is firepower. We’ve known for some time that Olivier Giroud is not a man who will win you titles, but Arsenal persist with him. You sense, however, that even Arsenal are not too convinced these days with the profligate Frenchman. And then there’s Alexis Sanchez, who looked marvellous in his first season at the club but hasn’t quite lived up to the standards he set himself. And what of Walcott, a player still struggling to prove that his early-career hype was justified? It may just be time for Arsene Wenger to admit that his side just does not have what it takes to win a title. Like Mourinho’s way at Chelsea, have the increasingly irritable Wenger’s methods become passe? Nothing lasts forever.
Spurs slipped-up at West Ham and they will need to bounce back if they are to convince everyone that they can be crowned champions. Spurs have a young side and they have a tough run-in, certainly harder than Leicester City’s. As we’ve said before, Spurs will need to make sure Harry Kane stays fit and against West Ham, he was apparently jaded and off-colour. He has scored just two goals in open play since Christmas. Kane needs help to ensure he remains fresh and alert for the remaining weeks of the campaign. Should Spurs have signed someone in the January window? They may regret not doing so.
The game at White Hart Lane will not decide the title, but it could crystallise the credentials of Leicester City’s two main challengers. If Spurs win, they are in the mix, if Arsenal lose, they are almost certainly out of it. Spurs cannot afford to lose, so a draw will be adequate, but will put pressure on them to make more ground up on Leicester.
As for Claudio Ranieri’s side, they they have still only lost three times. Watford will be hard, but they have won at tougher places this season. Still the softly-spoken Italian prefers to talk of others as favourites – his latest tip is Spurs – but we are now just 10 games from the end of the season. At the same time, he hailed his team’s display against West Bromwich Albion as “fantastic”, despite the game ending 2-2. He’s not letting on that he’s chasing that title.
It’s difficult to write-off Manchester City, but they are still hot and cold. Just a few days after beating Liverpool in the Football League Cup final, albeit on penalties, they were beaten heavily at Anfield. They have the resources to come good, but it is starting to look difficult – and the fact that the Pellegrini regime is coming to an end may be having a negative affect on the team.
It’s a fascinating Premier this season, especially compared to the other main leagues, which are looking like business as usual for Bayern, Barca, Juventus and PSG, but the story could all change again this weekend.
This weekend’s fixtures Tottenham v Arsenal; Watford v Leicester; Manchester City v Aston Villa
Football Web Pages’ predicted final table, as at March 4, is as follows: