Early Champions League exit would obviously be forgiven if Arsenal were to win the league, but Wenger must first earn a more immediate pardon. The crushing, humbling defeat to Bayern Munich may have caused the manager plenty of strife, but victory over Tottenham will ensure they are at least level on points with the leaders going into the international break. The vast gap in quality to Bayern will be instantly excused, if not forgotten.
This has been an odd season for Sanchez. Having taken weeks to get going, with Wenger citing his fatigue as the issue, the Chilean finally scored his first goal on September 26 against Leicester. He then promptly scored two more, and went on a run of ten goals in six matches for club and country.
As quickly as the goals came, they have dried up again, and Sanchez is closing in on 400 minutes without one. If that statistic is of minor irritation, more worrying is that the attacker hasn’t even had a shot on target in his last four matches. That is the longest barren run of his Arsenal career.
There is no worry with Sanchez’s form while Arsenal are winning matches, and his characteristics are such that he will never be anything other than a useful addition to the first team. Yet Wenger would surely like to see his star operating in more dangerous areas. He’s created just 19 chances in 11 league games in this campaign, one every 46 minutes played – down from one every 36 minutes last season.
No better way to remind everyone of your brilliance than with a virtuoso performance in the north London derby. It’s the type of game for which Sanchez was honed.
Mathieu Debuchy and Joel Campbell
After the blistering pace of Kingsley Coman, Debuchy faces a vastly different task on Sunday. Should Pochettino name the same side that beat Aston Villa, Christian Eriksen and Danny Rose will operate as a dual threat on the left wing. The Dane will tuck inside to allow his left-back to operate. The images below indicate the effectiveness of the strategy.
It is unfortunate for Arsenal that two of their back-up players are forced to fill in on the same flank, but Tottenham will surely look to exploit that fact. Injuries to Nacer Chadli and Heung-Son Min (who did return against Anderlecht on Thursday) will not curb their enthusiasm. It may be the battle which decides the contest.
Forget the support of supporters at Stamford Bridge and forget a nervy victory over Dynamo Kiev too. Should Chelsea lose at Stoke this weekend they will probably be 14 points off the top four with almost a third of the season gone. It would surely be time to consider effecting the messiest exit strategy in a long, long time.
Alex Neil and Norwich
Four defeats on the spin, Norwich are quickly being let down by their defence – unsurprising as it’s virtually the same one that got relegated last time. Neil’s side have scored as many league goals as Manchester United – and more than ten other clubs – but only Bournemouth and Sunderland have conceded more.
With Chelsea and Arsenal to come after this weekend, Neil could really do with three points against Swansea. Yet you look through the two prospective line-ups and instantly worry for Norwich. They’re trying to rock climb up a mountain using string and rusty hooks.
Oh hey, how’s that good feeling lasting? Sunderland may have celebrated their victory over Newcastle, but were brought down to earth with the bumpiest of landings against Everton. Winty might tell me off for swearing, so I’ll just say their defending was non-existent.
Sunderland’s away form is far beyond dismal. They have now taken nine points from their last 17 away league games, their sole victory since December 2014 coming at Goodison. That was the location for their latest defensive clusterf**k.
More importantly, it’s not about to change. Sunderland’s next nine league away opponents, in order, are as follows: Crystal Palace, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Swansea, Tottenham, Liverpool, West Ham and Southampton. Eight of last season’s top ten. Eeesh.
The point has been made before, but this is precisely why Sunderland’s start to the season was so rotten. Of their 14 league matches against last season’s top seven teams, they have played only two so far. Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Southampton, all still to face twice. They’re playing catch-up in the hardest part of the season.
One doubts that Mr Garde has taken out a subscription to The Sun newspaper, but the new lack of paywall means that he can print off Charlie Wyett’s short column to use as his first team talk.
‘Sunderland appear certainties to be going down – Sam Allardyce will be unable to save them,’ wrote Wyett. ‘Now, Aston Villa will be joining them in the Championship next season after the ridiculous decision to appoint Remi Garde. Villa’s chief executive Tom Fox – an American who does not appear to know much about football – has made yet another bad decision. There will have to come the time when he looks at his own position.’
‘Will’ be joining them – confirmed. There is no doubt Garde has a difficult task on his hands, but Villa are four points from safety with 81 points to play for. If there is any ‘absurdity’ in this managerial appointment then it is Garde’s decision to take the job, not Villa’s decision to appoint.
Sarah Winterburn has always been a generous, kind-hearted soul, and she put Newcastle (and therefore McClaren) in the Winners list for their 0-0 draw against Stoke. I wouldn’t have been so lovely.
Still, there it is, I’m a bastard. For all the positives of the 6-2 win over Norwich and bonkers nature of the 3-0 defeat to Sunderland, Newcastle are now coming towards the end of the five-game run which was supposed to cause their revival. Norwich (h), Sunderland (a), Stoke (h), Bournemouth (a), Leicester (h).
They would have wanted at least eight points in order to move away from the bottom three, which means at least four from their next two games. That makes it must-not-lose at Bournemouth.
A squad decimated by injury, Bournemouth seem to be going through the motions until January when reinforcements can finally be recruited. Sympathy for a lack of squad depth is lacking for the teams at the top of the league, but Eddie Howe has seen the spine of a small squad removed.
Still, there are ways to go about these things, and conceding 12 goals in three league games is not the best of those ‘ways’. Playing with enthusiasm and carefree spirit is all well and good, but letting the full-backs attack while the central defence is unprotected is not a good look. It has cost Bournemouth dear.
On Saturday they have the chance to arrest the slide against Newcastle, halting a run of one point from their last five league games. Lose and Bournemouth will be in the bottom three with Everton, Swansea, Chelsea and Manchester United to come in their next four matches. That’s enough to make the south coasters gulp.
The perfect barometer of their progress under Mauricio Pochettino, the Premier League’s quietest manager. It’s not unthinkable that Tottenham could be two points off top spot going into the international break with the youngest squad in the league. There’s something very alluring about this Spurs rise. Understated is sexy.
Unfair or otherwise (and I think it’s unfair), Monk will be desperate for his Swansea side to avoid defeat at Norwich this weekend in the Premier League’s battle of the birds in order to keep the wolf from the door. Fail to do so and the Swans could drop into the bottom six. Until now, mountains have been made out of molehills, but the slump continues – Monk could be the sacrificial lamb. Aren’t animal metaphors fun?
When the only team you’ve beaten since August is Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa, something clearly isn’t quite right. The rumours regarding his future will make Monk feel a little sweaty under his suit jacket and jumper combo.