When Arsene Wenger recently declared that the Premier League title for 2014/15 season would be Chelsea’s to lose, some fervent Arsenal fans got furious and called for his sacking. Of course, the Arsenal manager was being realistic with himself and with the fans. The ruthlessness with which the Chelsea machine has been crushing opponents this term and the 12-point gap between them and Arsenal is too big for just 11 games and is quite difficult to bridge, especially if you have a defense such as Arsenal’s.
But Arsene Wenger was also trying to deflect pressure away from his underperforming team with the hope that Chelsea will soon be caught up in a nasty wave of complacency, or will just crush like last season’s Liverpool team whose excitement and premature 19th title celebrations caused a collapse at Anfield against Chelsea and away against Crystal Palace. It is unlikely though that Chelsea will collapse. Yes, they will probably lose one or two matches, but they will match on to the title come may next year. With Jose Mourhino at the helm of a team, you cannot expect complacency to set in.
What of Arsenal? Will they win their usual “trophy” at number four come May? I believe they will be number four again. Well, teams like Southampton and West Ham have caused plenty of excitement. Many neutrals are betting on the two teams to hang on to their flashy runs till the end of the season, while some disappointed Arsenal fans are praying that Wenger does not finish in fourth place so he can get his sack. But I think such prayers will not be answered and those who bet on Southampton finishing in the top four will lose their wagers.
Arsene Wenger is a master at finishing in top four. He is experienced in pushing and shoving for those spots when it really matters. He displaced a formidable Everton team last season and has disappointed Tottenham and Newcastle fans in the past few seasons. He is good at it and Southampton, West Ham or Tottenham cannot displace Arsenal this season, however good they try. Besides, the Saints are yet to compete with the top cream of the Premier League. Their fans may be excited about their good run so far, but they failed to show they have the muscle to compete for a top four finish when they were beaten by both Tottenham and Liverpool, two teams that have not been at their best this season. Moreover, while their defense has not conceded as many goals as Arsenal’s, they are yet to face the Premier League’s top strikers like Sergio Aguero and Diego Costa. When that time comes, they will be ripped apart and will be displaced to a mid-table position.
West Ham did so well against Manchester City, but they really had their luck intact on that day. They did well to score their few chances and when Man City got glorious opportunities, the posts and bars were there to block the balls. The West Ham keeper also did well on that day, but it was more of a lucky day for them. They cannot have their luck every day when playing against the big boys and certainly they will be put to their place by May. Tottenham is out of question. It is definitely a team with its own share of woes and cannot challenge Arsenal for a top four finish. Liverpool will try to push hard for a spot but with their terrible run already, they should not be expected to finish higher than number five.
The only teams that will comfortably challenge Arsenal for the top four spots are Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United. Even though Manchester United has not been the best of teams this season, they have a really lethal attack capable of unsettling any Premier League defense. Indeed, Chelsea still tells the tale of two points lost in extra time. But even without that equalizer, it was solely on Thibout Cortouis’ genius that Chelsea survived Man United’s earlier attacks, with Januzaj putting Van Persie through on two occasions. Against Man City, the United team did convincingly well, even when they were down to ten men. Therefore, Arsenal must beware of the challenge likely to be posed by Man United. But even if Arsenal tries harder, especially when they meet Man United on Match Day 12, there is a greater possibility that they will still lose that game if the previous three seasons is anything to go by.
So what is in it this season for Arsenal fans? They should be prepared for a top four finish. Hoping for something bigger than this will just crush their enthusiasm. Besides, their persistent demand that Arsene Wenger should be sacked is justifiable but will probably not help Arsenal in the next few years after Wenger’s departure. Recent lessons from Premier League teams that have sacked or let go their managers indicate a potentially gloomier post-Wenger Arsenal than many Arsenal fans are prepared to tolerate. Apart from Southampton and probably Everton that have not been significantly affected by their recent managerial changes, the other teams have had to brave terrible performances after the departures of their managers. Just look at Liverpool after Benitez, Chelsea after Mourhino or Man United after Ferguson. It is not always easy to hire a new manager and begin the same season celebrating the team’s performances.