01 December 2014

Rivals' Rundown, Week 13: can Arsenal overtake Manchester United?

A much better week greets us, thanks to two Arsenal wins and a number of other favorable results. Fortunately for my fingers, Newcastle lost to West Ham (who, it must be noted, sit fifth), knocking the Magpies from my list at least for another few days. There’s a fresh round of fixtures for Tuesday and Wednesday, so I’ll try to keep this brief so as to preserve my strength for another look after the dust settles on those. Off we go…

● Position: 1st.
● Record: 10-3-0
● Points: 33 (84.6%)
● Form: WDWWWD
● Key matches: Everton 3-6 Chelsea, Man City 1-1 Chelsea, Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal, Man U 1-1 Chelsea, Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea (11 pts from 15)
● Last match: Sunderland 0-0 Chelsea
Chelsea struggled to break Sunderland and, to be honest, were a bit lucky as the Cats had quite a few chances of their own despite defending deep. More fortunate for Chelsea was that Diego Costa was not sent off for a wild kick at John O’Shea after the Irishman brought him down roughly just before halftime. It was the kind of outburst that Costa has been known for over the years, and something that Mourinho will have to worry over, especially as others try to bait Costa. As it goes, he’ll sit out Wednesday’s match against Spurs after drawing his fifth yellow of the season. His absence may not slow Chelsea much, but they have come to depend on him (11 of the team’s 30 goals) and so others like Hazard will have to step up. Somehow, I doubt they’re worried…
● Next match: Wednesday vs. Tottenham.

Manchester City
● Position: 2nd
● Record: 8-3-2
● Points: 27 (69.2%)
● Form: WLWDWW
● Key matches: Man City 3-1 Liverpool, Arsenal 2-2 Man City, Man City 1-1 Chelsea, Man City 4-1 Tottenham, Man City 1-0 Man U, Southampton 0-3 Man City (14 pts from 18)
● Last match: Southampton 0-3 Man City
Man City waltzed in St. Mary’s Stadium and earned one of its most convincing results to date, scoring two goals after Eliaquim Mangala was sent off for a second yellow, this against a squad that had conceded six goals all season. City now assumes its “rightful” place in second, six points behind Chelsea, and will host an Everton squad that again looks to be crumbling (more on them later). The way that they alternately picked apart and steamrolled the Saints signals that City are gathering momentum, a notion further reinforced by an inspiring win over 10-man Bayern, which might also revive their hopes of advancing to the knockout stage. Two back-to-back wins of such quality, and the league champs might be arising from their early-season torpor…
● Next match: Wednesday vs. Everton

● Position: 3rd
● Record: 8-2-3
● Points: 26 (66.7%)
● Form: WWWWDL
● Key matches: Liverpool 2-1 Southampton, Tottenham 1-0 Southampton, Southampton 0-3 Man City (zero points from nine).
● Last match: Southampton 0-3 Man City
Despite City going down to ten men for the last twenty-odd minutes of the match, Southampton couldn’t muster any kind of response or fight-back and succumbed to the onslaught, failing in the process its first real test of the season. Even for as mighty as Man City are, it was surprising to see how thoroughly outclassed the Saints were. The injury-induced absence of Morgan Schneiderlin, who was subbed at the half, seemed to prove their undoing, and it suggests that, even more so than Arsenal, Southampton are an injury or two away from unraveling. In this case, it frequently looked as if the Saints were down a man as City ran away with the match in the second half. I’m sure Koeman was disappointed and will look for a response in the short gap between this and the Saints’ trip to the Emirates on Wednesday.
● Next match: Wednesday at Arsenal

Man U
● Position: 4th
● Record: 6-4-3
● Points: 22 (56.4%)
● Form: DDLWWW
● Key matches: Man U 2-1 Everton, Man U 1-1 Chelsea, Man City 1-0 Man U Arsenal 1-2 Man U (7 pts. from 12)
● Last match: Man U 3-0 Hull
Man U made short work of Hull to make it three wins a row, with an early goal from Chris Smalling followed by one from Rooney. By the time Van Persie chimed in, there was nothing left to do but wonder what the final scoreline would be. A few last-ditch clearances off the line by Michael Dawson kept things manageable and offered proof that, once in a while, a Spur is good for something. More seriously, Man U look to have found some rhythm; since losing 5-3 to Leicester, they’ve gone out and gone unbeaten in seven of eight matches, the lone loss coming 0-1 at the Etihad. Time will tell if they can sustain that kind of form. After mocking and deriding them, well, we’re looking up at them.
● Next match: Tuesday vs. Stoke.

● Position: 6th
● Record: 5-5-3
● Points: 20 (51.2%)
● Form: DWWLLW
● Key matches: Everton 2-2 Arsenal, Arsenal 2-2 Man City, Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham, Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal, Arsenal 1-2 Man U (3 pts. from 15)
● Last match: West Brom 0-1 Arsenal
Good week—a confident, even dominant win over Dortmund, followed by a dour, tetchy win over West Brom. It might have been nice to see us put a few more past the Baggies, but we’ve struggled to break them down recently. Then again, unlike Chelsea, we found a way through courtesy of Welbeck’s powerfully headed goal. Despite losing two in a row coming into the week, we are now just two points from fourth place, behind resurgent Man U. The return of Giroud gave us more of a focal point after weeks in which our offense felt adrift, and the return of Kos gave our defense much more steel as well. Soon to return are Debuchy and Walcott. Even the competent play of Damian Martinez has helped us forget the injuries to Szczesny and Ospina.  Let’s not get carried away, though.
● Next match: Wednesday vs. Southampton

● Position: 7th
● Record: 6-2-5
● Points: 20 (51.2%)
● Form: LLWLWW
● Key matches: Tottenham 0-3 Liverpool, Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham, Tottenham 1-0 Southampton, Man City 4-1 Tottenham , Tottenham 2-1 Everton (7 pts. from 15).
● Last match: Tottenham 2-1 Everton
Satan checked the thermostat on Sunday when he felt a chill. It wasn’t Hell freezing over; it was simply Soldado scoring. From open play. To that point, Tottenham were playing predictably poorly at White Hart Lane and looking like they’d again lose at home after conceding an early goal to Kevin Mirallas. However, getting just about as lucky as they’ve gotten in other recent wins over Hull and Aston Villa, they relied on gifts from their opponents to seize victory. In those matches, late fouls led to free-kick goals; this time through, it was sloppy play that allowed Spurs to score. Both goals came as direct results of Everton errors. It might not be strategic, but it was enough to give the game to Spurs, and they’re now level on points with…with…us.
● Next match: Wednesday at Chelsea

● Position: 10th
● Record: 4-5-4
● Points: 17 (43.5%)
● Form: WWDDWL
● Key matches: Everton 2-2 Arsenal, Everton 3-6 Chelsea, Liverpool 1-1 Everton, Man U 2-1 Everton, Tottenham 2-1 Everton (2 pts. from 15).
● Last match: Tottenham 2-1 Everton
We touched on this last result just moments ago, but it bears revisiting. Everton ended a streak of eight matches unbeaten (including Europa play) in comedic, shambolic fashion, gifting two goals to a Spurs side they really should have beaten. It raises anew questions about Martinez and about key players. Where is the strategic elan, the tactical nous, that elevated him from Wigan to Everton? Is the core of the squad too old? Jagielka (32), Howard (35), Barry (33), Baines (29 but looks 40) have all made 12 appearances. That kind of veteran leadership should steady a squad, but two of them were directly culpable for the goals Spurs scored. Whatever else is ailing Everton, they’d better address it or I’ve dropping them from these posts (among other consequences perhaps considerably more dire).
● Next match: Wednesday vs. Hull.

● Position: 11th
● Record: 5-2-6
● Points: 17 (43.5%)
● Form: WDLLLW
● Key matches: Liverpool 2-1 Southampton, Man City 3-1 Liverpool, Tottenham 0-3 Liverpool, Liverpool 1-1 Everton, Liverpool 1-2 Chelsea (7 pts from 15).
● Last match: Liverpool 1-0 Stoke
As with Everton, I’m about one more loss away from dropping Liverpool from these posts. On the subject of being dropped, the big story going into this match was that Gerrard had been dropped from the lineup. He subbed on in the 78th minute, but it raises pointed questions about his role given persistent questions about his pace and mobility. He was one the pitch when Liverpool found the game-winner, courtesy of a brazen diving header from Glen Johnson that left him bloodied on the pitch. It was just enough to see off the Potters and just enough to keep Liverpool alive for another week.
● Next match:  Tuesday at Leicester

I tried to keep it brief as the next round is only days away. Aside from that top spot, it feels like everything is still up for grabs. Can we bring ourselves to cheer on Tottenham against Chelsea in order to (a) reel them in a bit and (b) deny them a crack at an invincible season? It’s hard to know where the schadenfreude would start and the gluckschmerz would begin. 

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