I always thought in would be a cold day in Hell when I agreed with Jose Mourinho but when he observed that Manchester United will not win the Premier League title following their defeat at Stamford Bridge yesterday, it is hard to come up with a credible reason why they will. Instead of clearing matters up, the performance merely served to cloud issues with the biggest question being how did Arsenal lose to that shower?
The top six begin their sequence of meetings next week with the Merseyside derby the night before Tottenham entertain Manchester City. In the mini-league of those clubs, City sit top but like Arsenal have to visit four of the other five. Their trip to Anfield in April comes a week after Arsenal’s to the other side of Stanley Park. That signals the end of matches where either side can ‘damage’ a rivals title aspirations; everything beyond those points is in the hands of the team which sits top of the Premier League.
There is still some bemusement that Arsenal are in a race that is becoming more fragmented. The top three are six points clear of Liverpool in third. Three points separate the final European placings with Manchester United four further adrift in the beginnings of mid-table; fourteen points off the top, nineteen from relegation. The Premier League table makes strange reading with tenth a mere six points from safety. Normally you look to three or four places beyond the safety zone and wonder who will get pulled into the relegation mire; Aston Villa, the head of that pack, are so abject at home that it is not unbelievable that it might be them despite take seven points out twelve from three of the top four teams this season. Is it a one-off season or a signal that the bottom half of the table is becoming more of a level playing field?
But it is the top end we are concerned with and Arsenal are serene. Trying to read anything into Arsène’s words is fraught with dangers unless you can see his body language and there was no mistaking his barely stifled laughter at his interview on Match of the Day as he revelled in the embarrassment of his interrogator as they pushed for the ever-elusive ‘exclusive’ about transfers, ending with a whimpering, “anything?”
There was nothing, of course; it isn’t the Arsenal way and to be honest, we should not expect anything either. January has always seen a signing of some sort by the club but this time feels different, the lethargy has spread to the media who are not interested in instigating any feverish interest in who, where and what. Even Chelsea’s signing of Nemanja Matic failed to rouse any ridicule or more pertinently, investigation as to how a club can be FFP compliant having taken a £15m bath on a player. It’s all a bit “Meh” to be honest; Arsène may get his wish in having his squad take on that of his rivals with all camps largely intact from August.
Not that he is averse to signing anyone, of course. Despite Nicklas Bendtner returning to training today and Yaya Sanogo next week, he is still open to offers on a striker but there is, as he put it, a serenity about the place. People are happy with their lot and a settled squad has found consistency. The weekend’s goalscoring hero is Santi Cazorla, noting that there was a toughness enveloping Arsenal,
This season, we’re much more consistent, much more solid, especially when we’re on top of a game because, last season there were matches when we would go 2-0 up and could let it escape from us. That makes it practically impossible to win a title and this season that has changed for the team.
The pendulum with defence has swung from creaking but intact to confidently sharp in keeping clean sheets. Whilst plaudits are rightly pointed toward the back four, Wojciech Szczesny’s consistency this term should not be overlooked. Outwardly never lacking in confident, what turned out to be the short, sharp shock of being dropped whilst reportedly sending his father into apoplexy, had the desired effect on Junior to the point where I am struggling to recall costly mistakes he has made. Of course they have happened but it is a reflection of his growing maturity that consistency of performance has developed to the point where you feel he is a goalkeeper who can win matches. As a young player, particularly one in goal, it is difficult to grow up and learn your trade in the public eye but that is exactly what he has done and continues to do. His progress has not been steady, it is peaks and plateaus as with all youngsters. Criticism if constructive is find but too often, one mistake consigns a career to the dustbin when a little more understanding is needed. Perhaps we as supporters need to show the maturity that we demand of the players?
To finish with, a reminder that Orion Publishing Group have very kindly provided a copy of Patrick Barclay’s book which can be won if you answer this question correctly:
Who were Arsenal’s opponents when they won the FA Cup for the first time in 1930:
A. Newcastle United
B. Preston North End
C. Huddersfield Town
Answers to email@example.com with your answer in the Subject field. The winner will be selected at random from those who give the correct answer after the closing date, which is Midnight GMT, Thursday 23rd January 2014.
If you can’t wait that long, click on this link to buy The Life and Times of Herbert Chapman: The Story of One of Football’s Most Influential Figures.