Arsenal Still Winners Despite The Draw

We can't see Manchester City not winning the title but one draw against a good Southampton side should not lead to any wailing and gnashing of teeth for Arsenal...

Last Updated: 30/01/14 at 13:54 Post Comment

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Winners

Manchester City
A victory aided by Danny Rose's dismissal, but nonetheless enormously impressive, with Tim Sherwood labelling Tottenham's opponents on Wednesday "the best team on the planet". "We've played the champions today, without question," he opined at the end of another painful thrashing for Spurs.

As we said before Christmas, the title is City's to lose and the past month has only reinforced that belief. Hordes of moaning Gooners were outraged by what is hardly a surprising opinion, but now Arsenal have surrendered top spot we imagine quite a few will be inclined to agree - especially if they dare to look at the contrasting fixture lists over the next two months.

After a premature title decider against Chelsea on Monday, City play six successive matches against the dross in the bottom half before back-to-back games against Manchester United and Arsenal at the end of March. They should stroll to 18 points in those fixtures, which could potentially see them possess a commanding lead in the table with only eight matches remaining.

There might be complaints that City's spending has skewed the competition - with Daniel Storey detailing their embarrassing squad depth here - but that would not undermine their status as worthy title winners. They have been by far the most entertaining team in the division, scoring three or more goals on 13 occasions and playing with the wonderful attacking freedom that often seemed alien to Roberto Mancini.

That is the most impressive aspect of City's success this year. While Jose Mourinho has done a superb job to transform Chelsea into title challengers after three years of underachieving, Pellegrini's instant achievements at City are on another level. The speed at which the players have adapted to the new manager's plans have made a mockery of 'transitional' safety nets, although spending £90m in the summer obviously helped.

Monday's game will be an intriguing contest. It will be claimed that Mourinho's intention is merely to park the bus and steal a point, but Chelsea have shown in matches against Arsenal, Schalke and Manchester United that they are a real threat on the counter-attack. The thought of Oscar and Eden Hazard pressing Martin Demichelis and Gael Clichy (or Aleksandar Kolarov) is already enough to convince us that the Blues can become the first team to win at the Etihad in the Premier League this season.


Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool
A victory and performance that underlines the point we have been preaching all season. With two of the finest strikers in the league, Brendan Rodgers has realised that the benefits of quick transitions outweigh those of his previous death-by-passing philosophy, enabling Liverpool to become much more efficient.

At around 75 minutes on Tuesday evening, a statistic popped up on the screen to reveal that Everton had totalled 400 passes compared to Liverpool's 223. It highlighted both a remarkable and rational change of approach from Rodgers, who was happy for the Toffees to average 61% possession in a game that the Reds thoroughly controlled.

In truth, Liverpool have performed better on other occasions this year - notably Manchester City away - but rarely have they been more clinical. Both Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez scored opportunistic strikes to double the scoreline from 2-0, demonstrating the speed of thought that should shoot down West Brom on Sunday and pose a serious threat for Arsenal on February 8.

The biggest concern ahead of that clash at Anfield is Lucas' injury absence. Rodgers adapted his system on Tuesday to provide more protection for the defence than in the 2-2 draw with Aston Villa, but an Everton side who lost Romelu Lukaku after 21 minutes - and were also missing the excellent Seamus Coleman - are undoubtedly an easier test than Arsenal.

Reports that a deal for Yevhen Konoplyanka is close are both encouraging and slightly worrying. The winger will hopefully bolster Rodgers' attacking options in the way Victor Moses hasn't, but surely recruiting a new defensive midfielder - even on a short-term basis - is the priority? It certainly seems that the position is in the manager's blind spot.


Tony Pulis
A fifth win to nil in his Crystal Palace reign to lift the Eagles four points above the relegation zone. The only explanation for Palace's form under Pulis is that he is in fact a wizard, which perhaps demeans the entire profession of wizardry. But how else can you account for the Eagles conceding only ten goals - THE LOWEST NUMBER IN THE DIVISION (joint with Chelsea) - in Pulis' 11 matches in charge? This is a defence containing Dean Moxey, Damien Delaney, Danny Gabbidon - yes, that Danny Gabbidon - and Adrian Mariappa. It's sorcery at its finest from a manager often accused of being more wand than magic.


Sunderland
Out of the relegation zone for the first time since August, but Sunderland still face a huge challenge to survive - hence I'm not going to be very nice in the next three paragraphs, so if you can't handle that, go and look at a picture of a kitten or something.

The boast on Wearside is that the Black Cats have lost only twice in 13 games, but that statistic includes cup victories over Carlisle and Kidderminster. Slow clap.

As we're not in the business of handing out free credit, the Black Cats' record of three wins in 12 Premier League matches is much more relevant. They simply had to beat Stoke after failing to see off Norwich, Villa and Southampton at the Stadium of Light, while anything other than a victory would have left a sense of dejection ahead of Saturday's Tyne-Wear derby.

Wednesday's boost could help Sunderland claim another important result at St. James' Park but, with three away games against City, Arsenal and Liverpool in the next five matches, it won't be long until they are looking back up the table again.


Swansea
A jump of four places following their victory over Fulham, which highlights just how tight it is between the much of miserable muchness in the bottom half. The next three games against West Ham (away), Cardiff (home) and Stoke (away) are vital, with the Swans hoping to have Michu back in time for the South Wales derby.

Without wishing to be a jinx, Swansea are in little danger of going down and their Europa League tie against Napoli provides a splash of excitement amid what has been a disappointing campaign to date. The real worry is how to replace Michael Laudrup in the summer, because the chances of the ambitious Dane staying for another season are slim to none.


Aston Villa
Another stride towards survival and finally some entertainment for home supporters. Villa's next five fixtures offer encouragement that they can bridge the gap to Southampton, rather than remain worried about the teams behind them.


Arsenal
I don't understand the fuss. It might be a concern that Arsenal were poor in the first half against Southampton, but the important thing is that they still came away with a point. No-one is going to win every game from now until the end of the season. City only claimed a draw at St Mary's, while Saints also beat Liverpool at Anfield earlier in the campaign. If there is a time to panic, this isn't it.

That the Gunners have to play every other team in the top seven in their next ten fixtures (along with Bayern Munich in the Champions League and Liverpool in the FA Cup) is obviously a huge concern. But they have thrived in make-or-break situations in the last two seasons and can do so again following their remarkable improvement this year.

Those tearing their hair out over a draw with Southampton are no better than Andre Villas-Boas stroking his chin and speaking of a 'negative spiral' last March. A team is never only as good as its last performance and Arsenal have proved that they can maintain their momentum and recover from setbacks. The challenge now is to assert their quality against the other big teams in the Premier League. They really have nothing to fear.


Sam Allardyce
He did what he had to do, secured a point, didn't give a s**te what Jose Mourinho thought and now leads the Hammers into a run of winnable fixtures. Sod the olive-skinned Allardici, I'd happily go for a pint of blended pie and mash with Big Sam any day.


Manchester United and David Moyes
Welcome to the Winners Lounge, David. Please, take a seat. Yes, that is Jose Mourinho's chair. No, no we can't explain the stains. Babycham?

So, how's life? You look...happy. That's what Juan Mata does to a person, eh? You're not wrong, David, he is a fine hunk of beef.

We must be honest, you're quite lucky to be here. What was all that stuff about it being tense against Cardiff? You do know they're bottom of the table having scored only nine goals since October, right? Ah, you had to get three points and you did it. Well done. Well done, indeed. Cheese and pineapple on a stick?

What's next, anyway? We liked those feisty quotes about a squad overhaul. Yes, we're not surprised you're happy to see the back of that little tubster. But what about that five-year contract for Nani? That wasn't so, erm, overhauly.

Smoked salmon blini?

So, do you have any plans for the long term? You know, the sort of ideas that might stop Sunderland and Cardiff bossing possession at Old Trafford. What's that? No, we're not trying to aggravate you.

Please David, don't go back to the Losers Lounge.

David! David! David! David! David! David! David! Nothing.


Losers


Tim Howard
Strayed into no man's land for Sturridge's second, stayed in man's land for Suarez's strike and capped off a fine evening by giving a penalty away. And don't you lie to us, Timmy. You didn't know he was going to miss.


Everton
"Conceding two goals from set pieces is very disappointing," said Roberto Martinez after Everton's 3-3 draw with Liverpool in November. "We were (trailing twice) when Liverpool didn't even have a shot on target (from open play)."

No doubt the Everton manager was delighted to see his team concede from a corner after just 21 minutes on Tuesday and, with Romelu Lukaku subbed at the same juncture through injury, it was all downhill from there.

The worry for Martinez is how sloppy his team were in a match of great importance. There were questions over his decision to sign AntolĂ­n Alcaraz from Wigan in the summer, and the centre-back proved himself to be a poor deputy to Sylvain Distin with a calamitous performance.

Seamus Coleman and Bryan Oviedo were also sorely missed, but it's no shame that Everton lack the squad depth of their rivals in the race for the top four. The Toffees have still only lost three times all season, but they must ensure they get this result out of their system immediately.

However, I wouldn't be surprised if more points are dropped against Villa on Saturday.


Tottenham
Am I allowed to like Tim Sherwood? Just what's so great about strong cheese anyway?

Given Danny Rose's dismissal right at the start of the second half, it is difficult to be too critical of Spurs after they suffered another hammering against City. The champions-in-waiting have outplayed better teams than Tottenham this season, and this was not the sort of collapse from the hosts that we witnessed at the Etihad or at home to Liverpool.

Sherwood was magnanimous in defeat and refused to take the easy option of blaming the officials for the result. It seems he has been judged in a harsh light so far mainly by association to Harry Redknapp, but it's time we evaluated Sherwood in his own right. He is not 'Arry, he is not Andre Villas-Boas, and nor is Jacques Santini or Juande Ramos. He might be Christian Gross clutching the ticket to his dreams, but he deserves great praise for his start to management and patience to see how quickly he can learn.


Jose Mourinho
"Wenger complaining is normal, because he always does. It's something that we know."

Oh, Jose. After criticising Arsene Wenger for being a moany-pants, the Chelsea boss should have counted to ten before having a whine about West Ham's tactics on Wednesday. Why should Sam Allardyce have cared about harming the Premier League brand? If Chelsea failed to put on a show for their supporters around the world, that sure as heck isn't his fault.

This isn't the first time Mourinho has been hypocritical this season either, after he lambasted Suarez for 'diving' against Chelsea only for Oscar and Ramires to receive bookings for simulation soon after. "I maintain they are isolated episodes," said Mourinho. Yes, and Winners and Losers maintains that it shouldn't be judged for wetting the bed twice over Christmas. It just felt weird being back at mum and dad's house. Especially as they're divorced and don't live there anymore.

The obvious angles on Chelsea's stalemate with West Ham is to question whether Juan Mata could have made a difference as well as the Blues' ongoing striker issues that were papered over briefly by Samuel Eto'o's hat-trick against Manchester United. However, I would prefer to focus on the presence of John Obi Mikel in the starting line-up. And by focus, I mean bang my head against the wall while shouting "why, why, why, why, why, why?"


Diego Lugano and Jonas Olsson (but especially Lugano)
A terrible night for West Brom's defence, summed up by the stat that Christian Benteke won a phenomenal ten aerial duels to Lugano and Olsson's three combined.


Norwich
A five-point gap to the bottom three, you say? Four final fixtures against Liverpool, Man United, Chelsea and Arsenal, I say. It's a 34-game season at Carrow Road.


Fulham
If talk of several big signings fails to pay off in the next 24 hours, Fulham are really going to struggle to survive. Alan Curbishley might be trying his very best to pull a rabbit out of the hat, but if it's been in there since his last gig, it's probably dead.


Matthew Stanger - follow him on Twitter

@diegtristan/jimi whatever you're called, are you missing today because of yet another dismal performance from United, or because you been shown to be completely wrong?
- alwaysaboutcity

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Readers' Comments

I

may well get slated by other United fans for this, but out of the three contenders, I'd far prefer Liverpool to win the title. Yes some elements of their fanbase can be a bit OTT, yes they're our biggest rivals and yes it will make our poor season feel even more like the end of an era (Fergie's gone, Liverpool are back on top). However I just have to applaud Brendan Rodgers and the way he's turned Liverpool around in just a couple of seasons. It...

Mike_Christie
Please Stop Telling Us What To Think

H

ooray! We are all excited now, we beat a very mediocre team! With all due respect to WHU supporters, not winning that game shouldn't even be a consideration. This is the problem, there is no winning mentality at the Emirates - we're all congratulating ourselves beating a team that we have a winning record against.

TheWhiz
Wenger hails important win

I

s this meant to be an aspiration for United supporters? Moyes mediocrity strikes again. I see the Bayern boys don't want to sign for him, and his reputation amongst the senior European coaches make other key signings unlikely.

redbornandbred
De Gea's Europa League target

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