As it often does, the crammed festive period brought around some interesting results, plenty of goals and pretty much everything except an Aston Villa win. Here’s 5 things we learned:
Arsenal will keep bouncing back
There was a lot of talk about how Arsenal suffer under the pressure of being true title contenders, after a 4-0 hiding at the hands of Shane Long and Southampton. While a home game against Bournemouth was a pleasant opportunity to respond, Arsenal do tend to respond to their domestic calamities quite well. They opened the 13/14 season and then this season with home losses to Aston Villa and West Ham. Both losses were followed by several wins, most coming in the comfortable fashion we’re accustomed to seeing Arsenal win in.
The main issue with Arsenal is that their defeats are never all that quiet. A tough, usually televised game suddenly becomes a disastrous flaming inferno fueled by Arsenal fans screaming #WengerOut. This time however, it might have worked in their favour. The pressure was definitely lifted from Arsenal a bit after the two results this week and now they’re free to tackle what looks a soft-ish schedule in January. Barring any complete slump in form, the Gooners next big test will be when Bayern Munich come to visit in February and potentially distract them from their league opponents too.
Aston Villa are going down
Remi Garde’s reign has been very quietly documented but that’s because essentially very little has changed. Villa are awful. That is not up for debate, and the comparisons to Leicester’s grave situation last year and the possible escape are a little off the mark. At this point in the season last year, yes, Leicester were bottom but they had 13 points and were only 3 points from safety. For comparison, Villa are sitting on 8 points and are 11 points shy of climbing out of the danger zone. As well as this, Leicester were playing good football just without the results to show for it, which is a far cry from the product Tim Sherwood and Garde have trotted out this season.
Is there anything to salvage from this season, surely lost now to the waiting arms of relegation? Jordan Ayew has looked lively under the new manager, and will provide a different option all season in the sub-6.0 range. But Ayew, the small bright spot is now suspended for 1 game which sums it all up really. Rudy Gestede…maybe? That’s really starting to scrape the barrel there and shows just how devoid of quality Villa’s squad is right now. Maybe the Championship will be good for them.
Stoke reaping rewards of Shaqiri investment
Everton’s defensive faults manifested themselves at home once again, but sometimes things happen. Sometimes, those things are sweet, sweet strikes from a certain Swiss right boot. Xherdan Shaqiri’s half-volley was a gorgeous strike but Mark Hughes will have been equally pleased by the way his side is now creating and converting chances. The Potters are starting to harness the potential of summer signing Shaqiri while getting consistent contributions from Marko Arnautovic. The bulky Austrian with a spiky temperant is often a handful but his talent was often seen in flashes.
Stoke have a very similar makeup to Crystal Palace, given that both attacks are largely reliant on good performances by their wingers. Hughes in recent weeks has mirrored their South London counterparts by playing 4 winger-type players with Bojan as the main forward. It seems to have unlocked the space for Shaqiri and Co. to attack from behind but I’m sure Mame Biram Diouf still has an influential part to play this season. Peter Crouch continues to look on in lanky bemusement.
Spurs will go as far as Kane and late, late goals will take them
While their North London rivals had a more dramatic week with opponents from the South Coast, Tottenham are creeping up on the title race. Spurs scored freely in the win over Norwich before pulling out a tight one against an ever-stern Watford outfit. Late goals, often from Christian Eriksen, were a huge feature of their wins last season but their wins this season appear a lot more sustainable.
It’s easy to forget that Spurs have only lost twice this season. One of those came courtesy of a Kyle Walker OG in a stodgy season opener at Old Trafford. The second was at home to Newcastle, which has proven to be something of a bogey fixture for Spurs in recent years. Their defence has conceded the fewest goals in the league and that level of performance should be maintained during the season. But to seriously entertain title chances, they will need Kane to continue excelling. Perhaps involving Son Heung-Min more would help, as the Korean often provides another outlet up front and allows Kane to drop deep where he is most effective.
Morgan Schneiderlin could prolong Louis van Gaal’s reign
For most of the season, the main gripe with what the Dutchman was doing with Manchester United was that they were boring. Stout, solid and extremely difficult to beat – but judged by most as dull. Their defensive prowess led to many raving about Chris Smalling, but the man who really deserved credit was Schneiderlin. It was he who was dropped by LVG looking for some more inspired play going forward, but the stagnant attack remained and United had sacrificed their one redeeming quality – a suffocating defence.
Although injuries did play their part in United’s recent swoon, Chris Smalling was present while United shipped goals to below par teams. It’s clear that Schneiderlin is United’s best defensive midfielder and if Louis van Gaal wants to remain at the helm he will have to keep playing the Frenchman. United arrested their slide with a sober draw against Chelsea, keeping a clean sheet on Schneiderlin’s first start since the 0-0 draw at home to West Ham. If he’s getting a run in the team again then picking up United defenders would be highly recommended.