At the beginning of the season, the race for the Premier League title was amongst the four Premier league juggernauts (Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea) but owing to the latter duo’s dip in form and inconsistent start to the season, coupled with the two Manchester teams jumping out of the blocks, the odds for the premier League fight was halved and instead of a 4 horse race, it became a two horse race between just the teams from Manchester.
Manchester United knew they had a fierce competitor in their “noisy neighbours” but seem to have titled the title balance in their favour when Sir Fergie convinced his old time foe Arsene Wenger to sell him his best player Van Persie, the Dutchman was also coveted by Mancini, but with Wenger growing frustrated at how Manchester City have been pinching his stars (Adebayor, Nasri, Clichy and Toure), he decided to help his arch-enemy win the title by selling him the wantaway Dutchman. Or how else can one explain Arsenal selling RVP to United?
That decision seems to have helped Manchester united as they sit pretty comfortably at the summit of the Premier League log 12 points ahead of their “noisy neighbours” Manchester City and the 19 league goals and assists of Van Persie have been pivotal to this comfort.
City still held the hopes of catching Manchester United going into last weekend but the last few embers of fire was effectively extinguished by the Saints who had their Premier League status to preserve when they put the Champions to the sword at St. Mary’s and Sir Fergie been who he is, he wouldn’t let an opportunity to pronounce the lead slip, he made sure the Red devils beat the Toffees to add three more points to cushion the gap and heap more misery on Mancini.
Arsenal’s inconsistent form have seen them go from title hopefuls to top 4 hopefuls then top 4 clingers but a recent burst of form has seen them cut the deficit between them in 5th to those in 3rd and 4th to just 5 points. While Wenger’s main goal after the traumatic summer and turbulent first half of the season would be to ensure a top 4 finish and qualify for the Champions league for the 17th straight year but beyond a top 4 finish, I believe Arsenal can set the bar even a little higher by seeking to topple Manchester City from the 2nd spot.
The Blue half of Manchester hasn’t been noisy for a while owing to recent dropped points, the most recent been against Southampton and with the axe dangling over Mancini’s head like the sword of Damocles, Wenger and his wards can profit from the uncertainty and unbelief that have enveloped Etihad. Arsenal are currently 9 points adrift of Manchester City and with 12 matches to go for both teams, the Gunners can still replace City as the runners up to Manchester United.
Arsenal have played all but two of their tough ties with only the games against Manchester united and North London derby remaining while Manchester City still have Chelsea, Tottenham and the Manchester derby to play. It is not as though Manchester City have suddenly become poor and cannot win fixtures even against seemingly weaker sides that Chelsea and Tottenham represent but towards the twilight of the season, there is a psychological effect performances have on the teams. A team that goes on a good run of results would likely keep winning as is the case with Manchester United while the team that suffers an inconsistent run could even drop more points. This has been Arsenal’s pastime, the Gunners would go into the last lap of the season looking like genuine title contenders but a sudden slip would lead to further slips. This happened in the era of the big boys (Henry, Viera, Bergkamp, Seaman e.t.c). In the 2002/2003 season, Arsenal looked like they were going to win the league unbeaten and were already runaway league leaders but closing in on the 30 league matches unbeaten, Arsenal faced Everton and their teenage prodigy Wayne Rooney unleashed a pilediver that beat Seaman and ended Arsenal’s unbeaten run. That goal not only ended the Gunners unbeaten run, it also robbed them of the psychological edge in the title race. Manchester United eventually crawled back into the title race and beat the Gunners to the title. Well, it is better to be late than never, the Gunners did the seemingly impossible the season after.
How about in 2007/2008, Arsenal look like title winners already after having opened a healthy gap between them and Manchester United until the unfortunate incident of Eduardo’s leg break and Birmingham stealing a draw at the death. For the following league games after that infamy, Arsenal kept drawing and loosing matches until they were edged out of the title race. That season, Arsenal finished third.
In the 2010/2011, Arsenal were been tipped for a record breaking quadruple after making it to the Carling Cup final, through to the second round of the Champions League, still in the Premier League race and FA Cup but things took an entirely different turn when Arsenal lost the Carling Cup final against all odds and were bundled out of the Champions League after a contentious loss to Barcelona and also the FA Cup against Manchester United. Their Premier League form also suffered as they started recording embarrassing draws like the last gasp draw against Liverpool, draw against Tottenham after cruising to a two goal lead and a loss to Bolton. A season that Arsenal should have finished the season as league winners or in the least, first runners-up, they finished in the 4th spot as both Chelsea and Manchester City leapfrogged them.
If Manchester City could make the most of Arsenal’s misfortune in 2010/2011 season, I don’t know why Arsenal cannot return the favour this season? The Gunners have every reason to believe they can pull the rug from under their moneybags rivals’ feet. Arsenal have scored more goals (50) than City who have only managed 48 goals but have conceded 5 more. When City play Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United, they would certainly find goals hard to come by, besides their Manchester neighbours wouldn’t do them any favour with regards to points even if the title had been won before the Manchester derby. The derby is more than just fight for points, it is a battle for bragging rights.
What then can Arsenal do to snatch the 2nd spot, they need to keep up the momentum. Arsenal’s Premier League form in the last 5 games have been WWDWL while that of Manchester City have been LDDWW. In the top 5 besides Manchester United, Arsenal has the best form in the last 5 games which has helped them garner 10 points as against Manchester City, Chelsea (WLDWD) and Tottenham (WWDDD) that all mustered only 8 points.
It is not going to be easy usurping City considering the fact that unlike Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham they don’t have European distraction after crashing out of the Champions League at the group stage but if Wenger can successfully juggle Arsenal’s European pursuit with domestic ambition, second position is up for grabs and well within reach.
Written By Kolade Omotosho (207)