We were about 10 minutes away from breaking out the floodpants on Sunday, since everything had come up Arsenal this weekend in the Premier League. Saturday Arsene Wenger’s first-place club benefited without so much as kicking a ball, as Chelsea and Manchester United lost while Manchester City was held to a draw with Southampton. Mesut Özil’s goal – cleaning up a miss by Olivier Giroud — vs. Everton in the 79th minute temporarily gave the Gunners a seven-point gap atop the table.
Minutes later it was down to a mere five points than to Gerald Deulofeu’s goal from nowhere, which made it 1-1 where the game would end. Instead of a seven-point advantage, Arsenal now leads Liverpool — winners vs. West Ham Saturday — and Chelsea by five points and Manchester City by six.
Maybe you don’t think a single goal in mid-December is all that big a deal. Seven points is a significant gap, which needs at least three weeks of games to overcome. Any guesses which clubs Arsenal faces in its next two EPL games? Yep, Manchester City and Chelsea. If the Gunners were able to make Özil’s goal stand up and get results against their two chief pursuers the title would have been their to lose heading into 2014.
That goal from Deulofeu keeps everything in hailing distance atop the table and moved Everton to a point behind City for fourth.
On a more immediate, practical level the 1-1 result was fair given the game. Arsenal didn’t fully out-play Everton, although probably could have taken the lead earlier in the game if not for Tim Howard in the Everton goal. (Side note: Everton played great and didn’t step onto the field at the Emirates ready to capitulate like so many opponents. With guys like Ross Barkley and Seamus Coleman improving each week, the future is bright at Goodison Park.)
Given how the last half-dozen seasons have unfurled for Arsenal, fans of the club are likely to treat Sunday’s result as a disaster. It’s more of a missed opportunity to consolidate first place that adds pressure for the next two games. Arsenal now knows if it loses its final two pre-Christmas games it could fall out of first place and once that happens it might be hard for the Gunners to reclaim first.
The next two weeks will determine whether the goal from Deulofeu was in fact a calamity for Wenger’s group or merely a bump on the way to an unexpected title.
Manchester United lost 1-0 home at Old Trafford early Saturday to Newcastle United. It’s the first time since 2002 United have lost back-to-back home matches. On top of that, it was the first time Newcastle United won a match at Old Trafford since 1972. (Another quick sidenote: absolutely fantastic win for Newcastle United. If Yohan Cabaye stays healthy the Magpies will push for a European place.)
David Moyes hot seat — assuming one exists — got infinity hotter.
Even as the poor results roll it, bar a shock relegation fight there’s slim chance Moyes is fired during the season. A club like United doesn’t tend to make rash decisions. It’s not going to ax Sir Alex Ferguson’s hand-picked successor after barely six months.
In a more practical sense, who’s out there on the open market for United to hire? After Crystal Palace and Ian Holloway parted ways and it took weeks until it finally convinced Tony Pulis to take the job. That’s Crystal Palace a promoted club that will probably be relegated again, not mighty Manchester United. I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s a very slim chance — read nil — United will dial Sven-Göran Eriksson’s number. It’s even more doubtful the Glazers ring up Harry Redknapp on the QPR sideline, either. Point is, there isn’t exactly the slam-dunk, no-brainer coach out there that United is going to install midway through the season. That, if nothing else, buys Moyes time to turn the ship around.
That is, unless you’re a conspiracy theorist, pining for a dramatic Sir Alex to return to the sideline on Boxing Day.
Or look at it like this: do you cut bait with Moyes, or juggle the roster? The sputtering start to Moyes tenure only reinforces the mastery of Sir Alex and his ability to coax a title from last season’s United squad. With Robin van Persie coping with minor injuries, United is going to struggle. Much of the roster, namely guys like Anderson, Ashley Young and Chris Smalling haven’t been good enough in either the Champions League or the EPL. Usually in American sports we see management side with the players compared to the manager/coach. Perhaps United bucks the trend?
If you’re United — now 13 points behind Arsenal — the priority shifts to a very Spurs-ian goal: finishing fourth and finding a way back to the Champions League. The quickest way for a club to lose prominence? Fail to qualify for the Champions League. It’s hard to fathom the Champions League without United, but it happened to Liverpool. There’s nothing that says it’s United’s birthright. The club has to earn fourth place, and this year will be truly be earned. Worldwide reputation and jersey sales in Malaysia and Missouri don’t translate into position in the table.
Maybe United survives a season without the Champions League, but no more than that. It turns into a slippery slope, the harder you try to climb back to where you were, the more you fall. Continental Europe is a different animal than the EPL but look at big clubs during most of the 2000s — Lyon and Inter Milan — which are currently struggling to simply qualify for the Europa League.
United trails its neighbors, Manchester City, by seven points for the fourth.
Another thought for United? Make a run at the FA Cup. It’s not what the club wants to win, but it’s probably the most realistic chance for United to win a trophy. If Moyes puts a cup in the trophy cabinet, it makes it harder to fire him.
Of course there’s always the alternative view that if you’re a United fan you want Moyes gone since the club’s potential with him pulling the strings and writing out the teamsheet seems very limited. It only looks worse in the light of Everton’s current form under Roberto Martinez, too.
Where have you gone Claude Makélélé ?
Alternately, this isn’t your cool older brother’s Chelsea. Chew on this stat in Special One 2.0.
Mourinho admitted after losing to Stoke 3-2 on Saturday that Chelsea are “in trouble.” That might be an overreaction, however expecting to win each week needing at least two or three goals in order to collect all the points is worrisome.
Goal of the Weekend
Oussama Assaidi Stoke City’s on-loan from Liverpool schemer popped in this beauty in stoppage time to down Chelsea. The Moroccan gets the nod over Southampton’s Dani Osvaldo for skinning Branislav Ivanovic worse than Luis Suarez ever did.
Deat Cat Bouncing?:
Hey don’t look now by the aforementioned Crystal Palace has won two straight games under Pulis getting goals from Marouane Chamakh of all players. Fulham beat Aston Villa 2-0 Sunday for its first win under René Meulensteen. Both teams are now even on 13 points, but remain in the relegation zone due to goal differential with West Ham.
Encouraging news? Or merely a blip on the radar? By now anybody in the bottom half of the table could play 3-4 poor games in a row and find itself staring at the drop. At this stage all that the recent victories by Crystal Palace and Fulham mean is Jozy Altidore’s Sunderland — in last on eight points — is already way behind the eight ball with each passing round of games.
R.I.P. Tim Howard’s beard: