It feels an awfully long time since Arsenal were drawing 1-1 with their nearest rivals and every supporter was shouting at Sarah Winterburn for saying exactly the things that most people think about Arsene Wenger’s side.
Where the mood goes next largely depends on Arsenal’s form over their next four league games. Take 12 points from fixtures against West Brom (a), Norwich (a), Sunderland (h) and Aston Villa (a) – and there is no reason why they shouldn’t – and Champions League exit can be put to the back of many supporters’ minds.
Fail to win at the Hawthorns, however, and Arsenal will have won one of their last five matches in all competitions, exited the League Cup to a Championship side and sit on the edge of Champions League elimination. For a club that has fluctuated so little in final position over the last decade, there is very little middle ground at Arsenal.
Vardy will have spent a frustrating two weeks in the treatment room after pulling out of Roy Hodgson’s England squad through injury. The idea was that the striker would take his supreme club form onto the international stage, but a troublesome hip injury – picked up in Leicester’s win over Watford – now threatens to postpone his bid to equal Ruud van Nistelrooy’s Premier League record.
Vardy will be only too keen to make the game at St James’ Park. Only four Premier League teams have conceded more goals than Newcastle this season, making Van Nistelrooy’s record seem eminently reachable. After Saturday comes Manchester United, the division’s most miserly defence.
Newcastle may have beaten Bournemouth before the international break, but it was the ultimate smash-and-grab raid. In so doing they also won their first away game against a current Premier League team since November 2014.
After the game, Steve McClaren did his best post-match attempt of looking a gift horse in the mouth: “Today we didn’t get the performance with the ball, and it just shows football at times can be unexplainable.”
“After an hour we were never going to score the second goal and were never going to keep the ball long enough,” McClaren continued, a fairly damning admission. Newcastle were not playing one the league’s best teams, remember. A side who had taken one point from their last 15 available.
After victory without performance and performances without victory, now McClaren must combine the two. Lose to Leicester at St James’ Park and the pressure will again be piled upon that weird tuft of hair on his head. Like Newcastle’s own underachievement, it’s inexplicable.
If ‘philosophy’ was the buzzword of Louis van Gaal’s first season in charge at Old Trafford, ‘pace’ is the current mot du jour. The Dutchman has repeatedly insisted the need for more speed in his attack, with Memphis Depay’s difficulty in settling into English football causing him a significant headache.
That might be updated to the status of migraine by the sight of Anthony Martial limping away from Wembley on crutches on Tuesday evening, The Frenchman has been the brightest point of Manchester United’s season; an injury would be disastrous.
Early indications are that Martial’s knock was impact as opposed to muscular (or worse), but he will miss Saturday lunchtime’s game against Watford – along with the ill Wayne Rooney. That opens the door for Depay to return to United’s side.
Some of the treatment of the winger has been hyper-critical – HE WEARS A HAT! – but there is no doubt that Martial’s form has increased the pressure on Depay to perform. Time to take an unexpected opportunity with both hands.
Gomes’ excellence before his ricket against Leicester afforded him plenty of goodwill from Watford supporters, but they will expect the return of his reliability against Manchester United on Saturday. Once is never, twice is always.
The defeat at Stoke was an improvement in performance from Chelsea, but not result. Mourinho is now in must-win territory. Fail to beat Norwich at Stamford Bridge, and it’s surely time for him to start clearing all those photos of himself from his desk.
Hull, Sunderland, West Brom, Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Aston Villa. Can Costa add Norwich to the glamourous list of teams he has scored against in the last eight months?
“If you want the excuse, it’s there. But I tend to look at it different,” said Howe before the defeat to Newcastle.. “First, I don’t really talk about the injuries to the media – I’m obviously doing this to you because it’s more of a reflective piece. I certainly don’t talk about the injuries to the players, and for me it’s as if it’s never happened.
“I judge the team knowing what it is capable of from what I see, not because we’re missing players. So for me, it’s not an excuse – that can be a state of mind that can be a real negative track that you can’t escape from, you could blame everything on that. The reality is we’re where we are at the moment because of ourselves, not because of players missing through injury. We haven’t performed well enough and we’ve made some individual mistakes.”
Admirable honesty from Howe, but that places the buck at his own feet. His team are not taking their chances, not stopping shots and not saving them either. It’s an unhappy blend.
It is no underestimation to state that injuries have rained on Bournemouth’s promotion parade, whatever Howe says to the contrary. With American investment announced last month, they must (literally) limp through until the January window until reinforcements can be recruited. How depressing.
If rumours of Monk’s impending sacking appeared harsh before Swansea’s trip to Norwich, he used up most of his goodwill during a dire, dismal display. The Swans failed to register a single shot on target while extending their rotten run to five points from eight league games. The similarities with the last days of Michael Laudrup are obvious.
Swansea’s key attackers
Andre Ayew – No shots or chances created in last two league games. Three chances created in last seven league games. Five shots in total in last eight games.
Bafetimbi Gomis – No goals in last eight league games. Two shots on target in last six games.
Gylfi Sigurdsson – Three shots on target in last nine league games, Four chances created in last eight league games. No assist in eight games.
There are plenty of reasons for Swansea’s poor form, but the contributions of their three most prominent attacking threats have been woeful. A dramatic improvement is needed.
If the point at home to Manchester City was a welcome bonus, things don’t get any easier for Remi Garde. None of the club’s signings had settled quicker or impressed more than Jordan Amavi, but the left-back has now been ruled out for the rest of the season.
Enter Kieran Richardson, stage left, to worried gulps from the audience.