After 19 games we find ourselves in the midst of a title fight which we are more than capable of winning. Here are six things to consider when talking about the title fight.
1. Tricky away games
We have trips away to both Manchester teams, both Liverpool teams as well as white hart lane and Stoke. Factor in the unpredictability of the league this season where anyone can beat anyone (Southampton) and a good run in the second half of the season is not guaranteed. That being said, we have traditionally been better in the second half of the season in recent years.
2. Inconsistent performances
Results against West Brom, Norwich & Southampton to name just three are examples of dropped points where we simply didn’t perform to the level required of potential champions.
We have to ask ourselves why we put in the occasional awful performance and address the reasons.
In some cases such as Norwich we perhaps weren’t clinical enough, (Giroud). In games like Southampton we simply didn’t turn up. Is it complacency? Is it tiredness? A mixture of both?
With the aforementioned away fixtures to come we must win the ‘easier’ games in order to give ourselves some breathing space in the run-in. Dropping points against the likes of Norwich and West Brom must be a thing of the past.
If we do win the league this year we will have Mesut Özil to thank. He has been running games and creating goals on a consistent basis and as it stands he has been the best player in the league. He is also more robust and able to stand up to challenges like never before.
Giroud is having a good season by his standards and as our top scorer he’s clearly doing something right, however he is guilty of wasting far too many chances.
Alan Shearer (a man who knows a thing or two about scoring goals) said that a striker playing in front of Özil should be getting at least 25 league goals per season. We have all seen the big Frenchman miss guilt edged chances and Shearers’ point is hard to argue against. How many of the chances he missed against Bournemouth would Alexis have scored? Once Coquelin and Cazorla come back into the team Giroud may find himself on the bench, with Ramsey moved back to the right and Theo and Alexis taking the other positions in our forward line.
4. Players coming back from injury
I have already mentioned the three big names who are yet to return to the starting XI. Their return will see a team already top of the league get much better. Against Southampton we struggled with their pressing and aggression, (and the officiating) but had Coquelin and Alexis been in the side we would have had aggression to match theirs and in Cazorla we would have had the guile and skill to escape the press and distribute from deep that we sorely lacked.
The return of Wilshere, Welbeck and Rosicky will also give us greater depth for the run-in and will contribute to us being stronger in the coming months, as players returning from injury have done in previous seasons. (That’s all without any potential new signings in the transfer window).
5. The return of European football
One of the reasons that Leicester have been so successful this year has been their ability to prepare for their next opposition. With all week to drill with specific opponents in mind they have been able to meet every challenge with a tailored solution. The busy Christmas period has given them a taste of what we, along with City, spurs, Chelsea and United have had to deal with. It would be disingenuous to highlight that they only claimed one point from two games close together because these games were against Liverpool at Anfield and Manchester City, but it demonstrates that preparation time, as well as recovery time is invaluable in the Premier League.
Whilst we, City and Chelsea have at least two more games in the Champions League to contend with, Leicester will return to having a major advantage domestically. Write them off at your peril.
6. The League
There has been a lot of argument over whether the league has declined in quality.
Leicester are the poster boys for decline, as their presence in the top two allegedly proves that the league is in worse shape than previous seasons. There is no doubt that they are a surprise package, but it doesn’t mean that the league is poorer as a result, in fact the league is better. The argument that a United, Chelsea or Arsenal side of old would ‘walk’ the league this season ignores how much better the rest of the teams are. United and Chelsea’s decline is a consequence, not a cause.
Using us as a benchmark, (because we’re top and also one of the traditional top four) one can argue that there are players in several teams outside of the current top three who would get into our squad or first XI, whereas in previous seasons this would have been rare.
Lukaku or Kane would make a strong case for starting ahead of Giroud, whilst Watford’s Ighalo or Stoke’s Arnoutovic would push hard. Yanick Bolasie of Crystal Palace would fancy his chances of displacing Joel Campbell, whilst Payet of West Ham would make a great addition to our squad.
In days gone by the ‘big four’ could poach any player they liked from ‘lesser’ clubs, however with the money available to Premier League clubs these days smaller teams are able to hold on to their stars with not only the promise of first team football, but big wages too, (think of Chelsea’s failed pursuit of John Stones). That ultimately means that they can improve not just the quality of their game but their consistency too, rather than losing their top player even year and having to start all over again.
These factors are all things to consider in what is probably the most exciting season for some time.
Winning the league as it stands will be a crowning achievement for Arsene and Arsenal.