Despite the loss of Robin van Persie, manager Arsene Wenger’s move for Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla helped Arsenal fans keep the faith at the start of the season. After results such as their 6-1 hammering of Southampton and a win against Liverpool, the Gunners manager even allowed himself to speak of Arsenal’s title chances.
However, things look drastically different now. Some blame a lacklustre defensive showing for their loss against Manchester United, but after watching the game and their previous fixture against Queens Park Rangers, I believe the entire team must hold their hands up to take responsibility for putting on one poor performance after another. The Gunners have become shadows of their former selves, and almost seem too disillusioned to fight for the club’s aspirations.
Naturally, Wenger has not escaped criticism, with some sections of the Arsenal support placing the blame for the club’s slide squarely on him. While I continue to hold him in high regard, he seems to have run out of ideas on how to take the team forward.
Arsenal might be able to grind out a win at the Emirates Stadium against Fulham this weekend, but I do not see them having any chance of winning the title, simply because they are no longer good enough.
Defending champions Manchester City find themselves two spots behind their aim in the table, but as things stand, third place is a good position for Roberto Mancini’s men. The City squad has been ravaged by injury, which leads me to believe the best is yet to come from them, so long as they do not allow expectations and the never-ending media circus surrounding the team to affect their play.
Much has been made of Mancini’s tactical tinkering and his discussions to take over AS Monaco last summer. The Italian appears to be ruffled by all the attention, but with a player like Mario Balotelli in his squad, one would expect Mancini to have gotten used to his team being in the headlines for the wrong reasons.
As any previous Premier League winner will attest, retaining the title is a much harder task, and it is an objective Mancini cannot afford to be distracted from. With the squad struggling in their Champions League campaign, finishing the season without a major piece of silverware will likely spell the end of his time at City’s helm.
Andre Villas-Boas’ Tottenham squad are the visitors to the Etihad Stadium this Sunday, and Spurs will go into the game in dire need of points after suffering a shock loss to Wigan. In my opinion, the Portuguese made some bizarre tactical decisions in that game, like taking off Jermain Defoe for Emmanuel Adebayor despite being a goal down. Any team chasing the game should play with two strikers, instead of just one.
The Spurs team boasts some impressive attacking talents like Clint Dempsey, Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Gareth Bale, on top of Defoe and Adebayor, but their manager has not found a good enough system to bring out the best in them. I believe Villas-Boas needs to improve both his tactical and man-management skills if he is to halt what could be the start of a drop down the table.
Without Luis Suarez’s form, Liverpool might have slipped all the way to the bottom of the league. The striker has been an absolute livewire for the Reds in recent games, and he will present the team’s best chance of getting anything out of their upcoming clash with Chelsea.
While Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is not wrong to maintain that his team have not gotten the points they deserve for their efforts, he must find some way to rectify a lack of firepower upfront. Suarez is doing an admirable job of shouldering the goal-scoring burden, but other players must step up to the same, at least till the January transfer window, instead of counting on the Uruguayan to save them time and again.
After draws with Everton and Newcastle, I am expecting Liverpool to struggle against a Blues team that is clearly superior to them in all departments. Reds fans must pray Suarez stays fit and in-form from now till the turn of the year, because I simply cannot see Rodgers’ side climbing up the table until they strengthen the squad’s quality.
—Former Liverpool and England International Steve McMahon is a football expert with ESPN