The international break is upon us and normally we would be worried about the multitude of players away, whether they would come back injured. As I look at the list of absentees, I think the only ones I am worried about are Clichy and van Persie. Elsewhere, we have the cover to handle any enforced absences.
It is for once, a timely respite from the Premier League. The chance for the players to get out of the club and clear their heads should not be underestimated. The chance to get Fàbregas, Walcott and Song fit for the Blackburn game is a huge opportunity to boost the squad’s mood.
The attacks on the goalkeeping situation are of no surprise. The soft centre that the media talks about presumes that the two centre backs failed to mark Reid at The Hawthorns; they did not, he was tracked by Ramsey after a fashion at least. Arsenal do not do zonal marking at corners, if they did more goals would probably be conceded.
Otherwise, the back four was rarely caught out. Albion’s second goal was down to Almunia, Squillaci for all of the criticism he gets was not in a bad position to force Odimwingie wider of goal. The soft centre actually does not exist in that context.
Equally, Chelsea’s challenge for the title is not on at the moment. If they win at Old Trafford in May – other results being equal – they will be still be three points behind Manchester United and four to Arsenal. Obviously a collapse in the form of the top two would let them in, as it has allowed them to recover four points to Arsenal in the last two games. Even so, for them to win the title would highlight the paucity of talent in the Premier League.
The last statement is at odds with the perceived wisdom that others have improved, challenging the status quo at the top. That does not bear scrutiny. The Premier League table is propped up by Wigan Athletic on 30 points. Cast your eyes north and seventh placed Bolton are on 40 points. Not so much an improvement of standards, more an acceptance of the mediocrity which currently plagues the English game.
With double that gap to the top, the evidence of equalisation to the Champions League places is not there. The unpredictability that Arsène referred to recently is more down to the lack of consistency shown by the top six teams,
When anybody plays against anybody, you cannot predict the result. Individual games are unpredictable, so (the run-in) will be down to consistency and character.
It will indeed. The key factor is that Arsenal and Manchester United have the title in their own hands. All of the rest require points dropped by other teams. This season has seen Arsenal lose home games they would normally expect to win – Tottenham included – whilst away from home, Manchester United continue to struggle to win.
Why this has happened is unclear. A lot of the players of all nationalities have returned from South Africa’s World Cup beset by injuries and loss of form. Consistency has been hit. Look at the top scorers charts to see the evidence of this. Those who went to last Summer’s jamboree have not played a great deal of football, scoring less goals as a result. Too much football is hurting the Premier League but they will not admit it.
Anyhow, this fortnight presents an opportunity to reduce stress levels following an awful month in March, results-wise. Let’s hope the players return to the club and fitness ready for the final charge.