What a strange, strange season.
For a long time, it seems as if all of the Top Four teams are weaker than ever before. Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool are losing a ridiculously high number of games this year, and as a result teams like Aston Villa, Spurs, Manchester City and even Birmingham aren’t a million miles away.
Last season, the Champions lost 4 games and runners up lost 2. The year before, the title-winners lost 5 games and second place lost 3, and it was exactly the same the season before that.
But this year, Chelsea have lost 3 (and should have lost today at West Ham), United have lost 5 and Arsenal have lost 4 games. And Liverpool, have amassed an amazing 7 defeats.
And we haven’t even reached the halfway point of the season yet.
The fact is that for whatever reason, the Premier League is there for the taking this season and no-one is taking advantage. Chelsea’s excellent start has stuttered slightly, and the ageing squad seems to be feeling the effects of the campaign, United have struggled with the absence of Ronaldo and have significant injuries, and Arsenal haven’t played well since Van Persie got injured. And the size of Liverpool’s problems are surprising even to me.
The infuriating thing is that Arsenal are just about still in the hunt and you feel that if Arsene addressed our problems then we’d be top of the table and be taking advantage of the rest of the leagues collective problems. I firmly believe that if Van Persie was still fit then we’d be a good 6 points better off this season.
But that’s just one of the problems this season. Despite his match defining penalty save yesterday, Almunia is simply not good enough. Lehmann had his critics but the bottom line was that he was a damn fine goalkeeper, and his performances in the 49 game unbeaten run were magnificent. You can’t argue with that. The problem with Almunia is that he just doesn’t have that consistency that our previous goalkeepers had.
Alex Ferguson has gone on record saying that once Peter Schmeichel moved away from Manchester United they struggled to find a proper replacement until Edwin Van Der Sar joined in 2005. Arsenal seem to have a similar problem.
I hate to bring up Van Persie again, but his injury for the rest of the season is just massive. Firstly, his goalscoring and assist contribution is priceless – the goal and assist ratio he had before he was injured was sensational. Another, and equally important asset he had was his desire as well as the impact his presence had on the team. He is such a motivated player and you can see how much winning means to the guy – every time he scored a goal he’d celebrate by going crazy. And you can tell his passion rubbed off the on others – since he’s been out we’ve been lethargic and sloppy and there just isn’t that desire to win. Against Sunderland, Chelsea, Liverpool and Burnley the effort was woeful. There just isn’t that urgency anymore.
At Anfield, it took a stupid own goal and a piece of magic from the Russian to take home all 3 points. We can’t rely on Arshavin again and again to save the day.
And yesterday against Hull, it was another slow and sluggish performance, and not enough players were up for it.
But amazingly despite our failings, we currently sit in 3rd spot in the league, 6 points behind Chelsea with a game in hand. In any other season, we’d be trailing by a much larger margin and would be completely out of the race.
So Arsene needs to sort it out, because the league is there for the taking.
When you think back to the 2007-2008 season when we had Flamini, Hleb, Fabregas, Rosicky, Adebayor (and later Eduardo) in top gear, it’s obvious that team would have cruised to the title this year.
We’ve thrown points away against Burnley and Sunderland in the last month, so we need to get our act together and play as if we want to win the league.
If that means bollockings by Wenger every week then so be it.
Because Chelsea and Manchester United aren’t going to be slipping up every week until May.