Here we are in the winter of 2016 and Arsenal currently sits at the top of the English Premier League standings with the 16 (league) matches still to be played. Many pundits have insisted that if Arsenal are going to break their title drought in the EPL then this is the time to do it. Mainly because the first half of the season was unlike any in recent memory or in other words “the teams that normally contend for the title have been terrible.” So with that in mind I get to spend the next 5 months trying not to lose anymore hair.
Arsenal has its next three matches at home. League matches versus Chelsea and Southampton with an FA Cup tie against Burnley sandwiched in between. The Gunners will be looking to rebound after two tough draws at Liverpool (3-3) and Stoke (0-0). Most fans will agree that the match at Liverpool should’ve been a win. Earlier this season, Arsenal lost 2-0 at Chelsea and were thrashed 4-0 at Southampton in December. These two matches will be key as it will give Arsenal a chance to get Alexis Sanchez – HOPEFULLY – back on the pitch. We’ll also see the return of the great Mesut Ozil as he sat out on Sunday with a foot injury. This stretch of matches could also bring about the first appearance of new signing Mohamed Elneny. If Elneny is able to bring on some positive play then it would give Arsene Wenger the opportunity to rotate his squad and rest some players. Another positive would be the return of Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck but they seem to be a few more weeks away.
As if trying to win the Premier League isn’t enough, the team will face Barcelona in February and March in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League. This will prove to be a crucial stretch for the Gunners as they could play as many as 12 matches (consisting of EPL, FA Cup, and CL) in 41 days versus the likes of Leicester City, Barcelona (twice), Manchester United, Tottenham, and Everton to name a few. It’s easy to say that this will definitely determine whether Arsenal will be in the running for the title. I want them to be competitive in the matches versus Barcelona and have a good showing. If wins are there, go for them but most importantly don’t get anyone hurt. I’d like to see them win the FA Cup matches. The match above mentioned against Burnley (please win this to avoid a replay at Burnley) and then a possible Quarterfinal match versus an opponent TBD. They’re currently going for a three-peat in the competition having won in 2014 and 2015. That leaves the seven league matches that are split 4 away and 3 home. All 21 points would be great but if I were being realistic then I’d take 15-18 points.
The closer Arsenal is to 20 points total from those 7 EPL matches the better. They currently sit at 44 points after 22 matches. My gut feeling is that the club that gets closest if not to 85 points by the end of the season will win the title. That’d mean that the Gunners would need 21 points in their final nine EPL matches. Then there is the whole goal differential situation if the decision has to come to a tiebreaker. Petr Cech’s clean sheet on Sunday was a good start. I also think the squad will find the back of the net more often as the 2nd half of the season progresses. The return of the players I mentioned earlier could play a big role in that. It’s been rough at times but I’ll take the (1-0 or 2-1) results as long as it is a win. May 7th could be a big day in the Premier League but I don’t want to get too far ahead – as I’ve already done – being that it’s only mid January. Hopefully when I return to talk about the last quarter of the season it’ll be positive for Arsenal and my hair!
We’re a bit over the quarter mark in the Barclays (English) Premier League season with all teams having played 10 matches. There have been quite a few surprises thus far with some clubs being where we expected them to be while others aren’t – looks in the direction of last season’s champs Chelsea – where we expected them to be. There have been some stunning performances from players like Jaime Vardy of Leicester City who currently leads the league in goals scored (10). Also there is Dimitri Payet – 5 goals and 3 assists – for West Ham United who started the season off with a dazzling performance at Arsenal. The familiar names in the league like Sergio Aguero and Alexis Sanchez have had moments of brilliance while struggling with fitness. Aguero is currently out with a hamstring injury suffered while on International duty with Argentina. Petr Cech has proven to be exactly what Arsenal has needed so far this season defensively with his solid goalkeeping and presence. Also, the promoted teams – Watford, Bournemouth, and Norwich City – are all outside of the “relegation zone”.
First off, let me give a brief overview of how the EPL is set up. There are 20 teams; the league consists of a 38-match season (playing each opponent home and away). There is no playoff – so at seasons end – the team with the most points wins the league. A team earns 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw and 0 points for a loss. There is no extra-time i.e. overtime to decide a winner. A match consists of two 45-minute halves. Additional time may be added onto the end of each half to account for delays such as injuries or substitutions. This is what the table currently looks like. If two teams have the same number of points, goal differential is the first tiebreaker. Thus Manchester City currently is top of the league over Arsenal. The cool thing about foreign futbol leagues is “relegation”. Relegation occurs when a club finishes in the bottom 3 of the table. It would be like the Philadelphia 76ers getting sent to the D-League. It adds to the drama both at the top and bottom.
Now to the season thus far, I already mentioned the top two teams Manchester City and Arsenal. Both currently have 22 points and 7-1-2 records (Wins-Draws-Losses). The next two in line are West Ham United and Manchester United. Both clubs have 20 points and 6-2-2 records. West Ham has the slight edge with a goal differential of +2 over Man U. West Ham is yet to walk away without points in their first 5 away matches. The Hammers started the season with a win at Arsenal (2-0) and also have wins at Liverpool (3-0) and Manchester City (2-1). Manchester City has the longest winning streak of the season at 5 games won. Arsenal currently holds two active winning streaks – longest home winning streak 3 and the longest active winning streak at 4 games in a row.
The defending champions Chelsea find themselves in the 15th spot. They have a measly 11 points and a whole heap of problems. Players find themselves out of form or in the manager’s doghouse. The manager squabbled with the fan favorite and former team doctor Eva Carneiro. Manager Jose Mourinho appears to be going through his customary 3rd year swoon. The club is struggling to score goals, stop goals, and play an attractive brand of futbol. Many don’t believe Chelsea will continue to be THIS BAD but they’ll need to find some juice starting this weekend. Could The Chosen One be added to the list of fired managers?
Speaking of fired managers, Tim Sherwood was fired after Aston Villa lost their 6th match in a row. They’re currently at the bottom of the table with 4 points and a 1-1-8 record and have a 9 match winless streak. Above them in the 18th and 19th spots are rivals Sunderland and Newcastle United. Both teams have the same record and 6 points but Sunderland holds the edge with a +2 goal difference after thumping Newcastle 3-0 on Sunday.
There are still 28 matches left to be played so the table will no doubt look different by the time we hit the half way mark. Some teams will move up while others will move down or stay put. I hope the remainder of the season is exciting and full of surprises.