Arsenal

Times Are Changing In The Premier League

As I write this, December 30th 2015, a simple look at the Premier League table will provide plenty of shocks to football fans across the world.  At the halfway point of the season, you would expect the traditional top four teams to occupy the lucrative Champions League places.

The traditional top four consisting of Arsenal,Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea have barely changed since the Premier League era began in 1992. The only change has been the emergence of Manchester City and it’s Middle Eastern mega rich backers. Their money have allowed them to usurp Liverpool in the traditional top four. These traditional super powers of English football have dominated for over two decades. Until this season.

This season has been hugely unpredictable, with the traditional ‘big’ clubs dropping off slightly as those below them have risen up. This perfect storm has manifested itself into a current Premier League table which no one could have predicted before the season.

Yes, Arsenal may currently be top of the league, but after years of ridicule thanks to a recent lack of success, their accession to the top of the league has been slightly surprising.  The London’s clubs fortunes this season pale into insignificance thanks to the sterling performances of lowly Leicester City. The team that produced a miracle to stay up last season have been Premier League leaders for a huge portion of the season, currently sitting second in the league, level on points with Arsenal.

What is remarkable is that at this point Leicester were bottom of the league and looking certain to be relegated. Their survival was a fairy tale, but under new manager Claudio Ranieri, words cannot describe the unexpected success the team has had so far this season.

With a first team bought for less than £20 million pounds, Leicester have matched and beaten the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United. The team’s transfer policy has been rewarded massively with bargains such as Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez in particular stealing the headlines. Costing a combined £1.4 million, the pair have linked up beautifully this season to devastating effect.

jamie-vardy-riyad-mahrez-leicester-city_3375357Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez celebrate one of the dynamic duo’s many goals for Leicester this season. Photo copyright Sky Sports.

Vardy has taken most of the plaudits thanks to setting a new Premier League record of scoring in eleven consecutive games, and currently sits joint top of the goalscorers list with 15 goals in 16 games. Mahrez is not far behind his team mate, with 13 goals in 17 games so far in the league.

Below Leicester there are plenty more surprises. Pre-season favorites Manchester City’s struggling away form limits them to third currently, with Tottenham the current form team in the league sitting pretty in fourth.

They have rose steadily up the league, and this season finally looks to be the season they can break through into the top four and the all important Champions League, after years of just missing out in fifth.

Crystal Palace are another high flying team, who have gone from lower mid-table to fifth in just over a season under Alan Pardew. In any other season their performances would have garnered plenty of press attention, but amongst the struggles of others and the rise of Leicester they have been regrettably been overlooked so far.

One team who have certainly not been overlooked by the press have been Manchester United. Arguably the world’s most famous club are floundering in sixth, with a under fire Louis Van Gaal the most likely manager to be next sacked. Since the Sir Alex Ferguson era ended, the clubs management and transfers have not been up to scratch. Their traditional role as a perennial top four side is seriously under threat for the future if something does not change at the club soon.

3118074087Louis Van Gaal feeling the strain after their defeat to Stoke on Boxing Day. Will he still be in charge next season? Photo copyright PA.

Throughout the league there are shocks, with the newly promoted Watford surprising everyone by sitting in eighth, led by top scorer Odion Ighalo and his 13 goals. Liverpool are suffering from a turbulent season and currently sit tenth in the league, giving new manager Jurgen Klopp a lot to think about with the January transfer window coming up.

Liverpool are currently in the final stages of the steady declining process bitter rivals Manchester United are just entering into now. The club needs to adjust it’s transfer policy, which in recent years has been laughable in comparison with the likes of Leicester.

In the bottom half of the table, there is one glaringly obvious surprise. Chelsea. The current Premier League champions have suffered the kind of awful season rarely experienced in the top European leagues. Everyone has been wondering quite simply how can a team that won the league seven moths ago retain the same squad and yet be 14th in the league going into 2016.

Whilst many pinned the blame on top players turning on Jose Mourinho. Whilst the unthinkable happened several weeks ago and the special one was sacked from his beloved Chelsea, even under interim boss Guus Hiddink results have not dramatically improved.

This season is not likely to get any easier for Chelsea, and realistically they would be happy with a top ten finish to the season, something laughable before the season started in August.

2C3849B000000578-0-image-a-26_1442147035612This expression from Jose Mourinho perfectly sums up their season. The look of disbelief and regret is shared amongst Chelsea fans. Photo copyright Reuters.

With the consistent increases in TV money giving every team a lot more money to spend, it becoming clear the traditionally vast differences between the budgets of the top four and the rest is closing at a gradual pace. Whilst the likes of Man City and Man Utd of course have huge resources to spend, their performances relative to that of the likes of Leicester and Watford show that top ten teams can be assembled for a fraction of what the big clubs spend.

With increasing pressure amongst the traditional top four as to their current future’s, could this season mark a turning point in the traditional balance of power with the Premier League. With question marks over the manager’s positions at Man City,Man Utd and Chelsea for next season could we see the likes of Crystal Palace and Leicester consistently challenging the top four in years to come?

In the past it appears there was a certain fright factor associated with playing the top four clubs, but this season has consistently shown that any club in the league can beat the top four on their day. With this new found confidence, perfectly illustrated by Stoke’s recent demolition of Man City 2-0 a few weeks ago, I hope this season will become the norm as the Premier League seemingly becomes more competitive every week. I’m sure you will join me in eagerly anticipating the second half of this season.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the Premier League? Please give your thoughts below and most importantly thank you for reading.

Arsenal exposed again

Heading into last weekend’s Premier League fixtures the biggest talking point was centered around Arsenal and it’s manager Arsene Wenger. That weekend’s title crunch match with Chelsea would be his 1000th game in charge of Arsenal. The omen’s appeared good for Arsenal to stake their claim to the title. Yet it only took 20 minutes to show Arsenal are fatally flawed as title contenders. Where does this leave Arsenal fans?

This season many Arsenal fans expected different. After last season’s final day heroics the fans were promised a summer of transfer activity, to ensure the team would be challenging for the title from now on and not simply 4th place. Indeed, Arsenal were linked with a number of high profile players last summer such as Stefan Jovetic and Wayne Rooney. The biggest saga however centered around Liverpool striker Luis Suarez. Despite all the hype and rumor the only signing’s Arsenal had made by the time the new Premier League season started in August was a free transfer of young French Ligue 2 prospect Yaya Sanogo.

For the majority of fans this season has promised a lot in comparison to previous seasons yet as I type this on March 25th Arsenal currently sit in their almost customary position of 4th place in the Premier League. Whilst in previous season being 4th at this point of the season, 6 points ahead of Tottenham in 5th with a game in hand, would leave the club feeling content. This season the fans were led to believe things were going to be different as we sat atop the Premier League table for the majority of this season, backed up by the statement of intent by the club that was the record £42.5 million pound signing of German international Mesut Ozil.

The only constant therefore between this and the previous seasons is the fact that when it comes down to the high pressured games against fellow title contenders Arsenal have been woefully exposed. False hope was provided on this front after the team beat Liverpool comfortably 2-0 at the Emirates in November, yet in reality Luis Suarez didn’t play and at this point the Liverpool team had yet to gather the belief they currently possess.

Since that point Arsenal have played the current top 3 Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City 4 times and the stats have been ugly to say the least. December 14th saw Man City demolish Arsenal at the Etihad 6-3, with their only point against these teams coming soon after on the 23rd December, a 0-0 draw at home with Chelsea. Liverpool exacted their revenge with a 5-1 win at Anfield whilst things got worse last Saturday as Chelsea ran out 6-0 winners in a demoralizing display from Arsenal.

Whilst reasons behind the results and promises of a big response have been trotted out from club staff after all these defeats the simple fact appears in the trend carried over into this season; Arsenal looked second best against title opposition. This is a fact that massively saddens me as an Arsenal fan myself. I grew up being spoilt by previous Arsenal teams such as the famous “Invincible’s” side consisting of world class players such as Thierry Hnery, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie. Here’s a link to some highlights of the great Invincible’s season

Whilst now it seems Arsenal are the team everyone loves to mock and hate this season has shown the team is making the right progress to someday soon challenge for the title. The new Financial Fair Play rules coming into force in the next few seasons can only help a club traditionally prudent in it’s spending, whilst the fact the team has led the Premier League for such a long stretch until now does show significant improvement in comparison with the last few seasons. However, in the past Arsenal have had these seasons before slipping back into the mire of the 4th place battle after this. Therefore a summer of spending is needed to ensure we remain competitive going into next season as arguable all areas of the team need improvement if were to displace big spending teams like Chelsea and Manchester City as Premier League champions, bringing back previous memories of Arsene Wenger and players proudly raising the Premiership trophy aloft, of which we were so accustomed too.