Now on his longest run without a goal since joining Arsenal, it really is time for Giroud to snap out of his slumber. The striker spent last week telling the media that he was still trying really hard, but that isn’t what Arsenal supporters want to hear. Just get it done.
With Theo Walcott presumably relegated back to the bench after his Old Trafford stinker, Giroud once again has the chance to try and play his way back into form. It’s pretty worrying that a title challenger finds itself choosing between the lesser of two evils.
There may be a long-term fallout from the gutless defeat against Manchester United, but Arsenal must respond immediately. Arsene Wenger is no stranger to moaning about fatigue and fixture scheduling, but he must be mightily relieved to have a home game against Swansea in between visits to Old Trafford and White Hart Lane.
Arsenal are not yet out of the title race, but there is no room for error. Before the FA Cup fixture against Hull, Petr Cech said that Arsenal needed 12 victories from 12 games to ensure the title. The goalkeeper’s hopes of perfection didn’t last long.
Swansea have taken as many points as Arsenal (eight) in their last six matches, but Wenger will be all too aware of the need to make a statement. His own post-match talk of regaining their psychological edge will have fallen on angry deaf ears, but Arsenal must enjoy a statement victory in order to arrive at White Hart Lane in the right frame of mind for a battle.
With Leicester suffering injury concerns and Arsenal busy being Arsenal, Tottenham really do have a chance to press ahead with their unlikely title bid. Beat West Ham on Wednesday and this will be Spurs’ seventh straight league win, their longest streak since May 1967.
Winners and Losers described how impressive Tottenham’s energy and fitness is so late in a long season, but questions will continue to be asked as to whether Mauricio Pochettino’s side can keep it up. Wednesday’s game at the Boleyn Ground will be their 41st of the season. They still have at least another 12 after that, including fixtures against Borussia Dortmund (twice), Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Southampton. Whatever happens, this squad should enjoy their brief post-season break.
Having eventually got the job done against Norwich, Claudio Ranieri will be aware that teams are starting to nullify his side’s counter-attacking threat. Norwich manager Alex Neil operated with a 3-5-2 with Russell Martin almost playing like a sweeper on Saturday, and it almost worked.
If there is one manager who will be confident of effecting a sturdy defensive plan, it is Tony Pulis. West Brom will be mightily tough to break down, sitting deep and hoping to use Saido Berahino on the counter.
Leicester have been least successful this season when faced with this defensive approach. Matches away at Aston Villa and home and away against Bournemouth returned only three points, while Jurgen Klopp operated with the same tactic at Anfield on Boxing Day.
Having led for so long, Leicester may now be asked to win a different way. They now face a run of ‘gentler’ fixtures ahead of a difficult end to the season. It is the next month that their title challenge will be decided.
And then this happened…
“N’Golo Kante I think we’ll lose for the next two matches. He has a little pain with his hamstring so I give to him some rest” – Ranieri, February 29.
Andy King will replace Kante. Is this where it falls apart?
Mahrez received deserved plaudits for his magnificence against Manchester City but, actually, that has been the recent exception rather than rule. Take out that wondrous match (I know, if my auntie had balls), and the winger has no goals and two assists in his last nine Premier League games.
More worrying still is how Mahrez’s creativity has dried up. In his first seven games of the season, the Algerian created 18 chances. In the last seven, he has created four.
“I think we can end up in the top six. We’re on the fringes of contesting for a Champions League place. Our dream isn’t 10th again as we’re good enough to finish top six. Let’s cement ourselves in sixth” – Pardew, December 12, 2015.
“We were cruising but suddenly it [relegation] is creeping up on us. We need to put it right, at Sunderland or against Liverpool. We need a win in one of those games” – Pardew, February 29, 2015.
What a difference two months makes. Pardew desperately needs a victory at Sunderland. Defeat might even put his job in danger. More jeopardy than party with Pardy.
Arguably the biggest event of the footballing weekend. After 427 weeks looking for a new owner, Everton welcome billionaire Farhad Moshiri to Goodison. They’ve been awaiting your arrival with some frenzy, Mr Moshiri.
Speaking after the news broke, Roberto Martinez declared himself delighted at the new investor’s arrival.
“I set the bar really high, I wanted a winning team and I wanted to get into the Champions League and that is still the case,” Martinez said. “With a new investor and fresh blood into our club all of a sudden you have a new opportunity to get to those aspirations quicker.”
That’s pretty amazing work from Martinez, going back to his original intention of Champions League now that Everton have all the money. Bobby M didn’t exactly mention this ‘if we get a s**t tonne of cash’ clause at the time.
“Farhad Moshiri will bring us a different dimension,” Martinez continued “It is a big moment in the club’s history with a new investor coming in. The vision Moshiri is sharing will take Everton to the next level – and every single department will be assessed.”
It is this last sentence which rings most true, and could leave Martinez worried for his own future. The record for a manager surviving and thriving under new rich owners is hardly favourable. Just ask Mark Hughes and Claudio Ranieri.
A manager with a fine squad of players who sits 12th in the league is in particular danger. Martinez might have jokingly talked of Everton spending “a billion pounds”, but the Spaniard has a job on his hands convincing the club’s new owner that he is the right man to spend it.
Great news for Everton, great news for Merseyside and great news for the club’s supporters. Yet, for Martinez, it could be Moshiri, mo problems. Failing to beat Aston Villa wouldn’t help.
They last won a league game on January 2, after which they were six points outside the bottom three, a point and a place behind Southampton. One point out of a possible 24 later, and Alex Neil’s side are getting desperate.
Revenge is a dish best served cold, but the best time to serve it is as soon as bloody possible. Victory at Anfield will not atone for a lethargic Wembley display ending in penalty heartbreak, but it could at least take Jurgen Klopp’s side into seventh place with a game in hand.
Now comfortable fourth favourites for the title after victories for Leicester and Tottenham, if City lose at Anfield that might well be that for the title, potentially 12 points adrift with ten games left and three teams to climb past. Following the guy who won the League Cup won’t cause Pep Guardiola to lose any sleep.
A massive bonus weekend for Newcastle, who avoid their customary defeat while also watching their relegation rivals all slip up. Now to take advantage.
Steve McClaren is fortunate to still be in a job, but his next four fixtures will either seal his fate or see Newcastle pull clear of relegation. Stoke (a), Bournemouth (h), Leicester (a) and Sunderland (h). They need at least seven points.
Lose to Crystal Palace on Tuesday, and Sam Allardyce’s record as Sunderland manager will read 20 points taken from 20 Premier League matches. Brings a smile to the face of a football writer with OCD, but not Sunderland supporters.
Sorry, but it’s not quite the Big Sam effect he stakes his reputation on, particularly after a significant January spend. Things need to improve, and sharpish. Sunderland are lucky that Newcastle and Norwich are trying to outdo them in the incompetence stakes.