By the time this weekend’s English Premier League fixtures are completed we shall have made it into the final third of the season. The winter transfer window is now behind us and all teams have to make do with what they have now. They can no longer strengthen their squads until the end of the season and they will be hoping that debilitating injuries do not stand in their way as they pursue their respective goals.
Contrary to widespread expectations, the Arsenal remain at summit of the log table and their lead has, in fact, been extended by a further point from a fortnight ago. Once Manchester City had taken the lead after their emphatic 5-1 away triumph over Tottenham Hotspur some 10 days ago, many of us believed that they would take some dislodging. Some even predicted the beginning of the Gunners’ descent.
But a combination of their own resilience and Chelsea’s tactical masterpiece to halt the Citizens’ charge has ensured that Gunners remain the team to beat. Because of their failings of the previous seasons most people have expected them to falter at some point but Arsene Wenger’s men have shown admirable consistency. The statistics clearly show them as the best performers in the league of the last 12 months or so.
They entered a tricky period towards the end of the year when they had to deal with several hot fixtures in a short time. That represented their biggest wobble of the season but they have managed to come out of that to reclaim their leadership. They are now at the beginning of a similar, if not even more testing, run of games and their mettle will be heavily examined again as we get into the business end.
Beginning this run will be this weekend’s opening encounter when the Gunners travel to Anfield. Recent history will suggest that this is not a fixture that will hold any fears for the North London side because in the last six or so years they have been the dominant side. It will be interesting to see whether this run will continue this afternoon. Or has Brendan Rodgers finally found an answer to Wenger’s tactics?
After this, the Arsenal have four home fixtures against Manchester United in the league on Wednesday, Liverpool again the following Sunday in the FA Cup, German giants Bayern Munich in the Uefa Champions League four days later before the month of February is completed when they host a resurgent Sunderland side. February has always been a tough month for them but they have never had it easy this season anyway.
Coming back to this afternoon’s early fixture, it is a must-win for both sides. Liverpool’s success this season has hinged largely on their good home form and their ambitions of returning to Champions League football depend on how much they can keep up that form especially given the fact that they are playing all the big sides at home in the run-in. Arsenal, on the other hand, cannot afford to start this run with a loss.
A word about Monday night’s epic fixture at the Etihad Stadium. Many people expected a dull match with Chelsea parking the proverbial bus and City trying to find a way to carve out a chance. Well, the Blues were indeed well organised at the back, but they never let their hosts dominate play. Indeed, an even higher margin could not have flattered Jose Mourinho’s side such was their threat upfront. They ran our deserved winners and the title race remains open.
No, I am not talking about United today.