16th Feb 2017 – Battle For Top 4 & Safety

Arsenal’s Form

James: The win against Hull was needed, but it’ll all be forgotten about now. I wrote an article about why I want Wenger to stay, and I stick by what I said, because Arsenal’s doom and gloom is only based on their own high standards. Yes, Bayern killed the gunners but as I said before, at least they were there to compete. Arsenal have too much uncertainty surrounding them at the moment and it’s completely killed their rhythm. Sanchez, Ozil and Wenger may not be there next year and these are three huge names. They all need to make decisions on their futures, and then the club can build. If they leave, that’s fine, they’re replaceable, and that’s based on the fact that none of them have delivered Arsenal a Premier League title. Joachim Low is the only manager I can think would improve Arsenal, other than that, I’m lost, as are this club.

Sam: During the Hull game, the atmosphere at the Emirates was a bit nervy after back-to-back defeats and therefore the end of Arsenal’s title run, so to get three points in that game was very important. As for the Bayern game, Arsenal were actually decent for 60 minutes; Bayern were always going to have the vast majority of the ball and the Gunners looked like they were going to get something out of the game. The loss of Laurent Koscielny after 48 minutes was a big blow – he’s Arsenal’s experienced leader on the field and why Gabriel certainly didn’t have the same effect as the Frenchman, it’s very difficult to come on as a substitute in that type of game and atmosphere, so the Brazilian centre back isn’t really to blame. From what I see, different players are on different wavelengths in this Arsenal team, some are focused on the job in hand, while others’ heads drop when the pressure gets too much. Is that the manager’s fault? Not for me, as Wenger set up the team in the right way, the first hour of play showed that.

Burnley 1-1 Chelsea

James: I think it was just one of those days for Chelsea, but for Burnley, it was another strong reminder to the rest of the league how strong and resilient they are at home. They didn’t sit back, they pressed Chelsea’s back three and because of that Chelsea lost fluidity. I always said Sean Dyche would keep Burnley up and do well, and it’s looking like they’ll be safe. Chelsea will go on and win the title as expected by everyone, but I expect the form to drop off too as the title becomes clearer in sight and teams learn how to play against them. No style of football has been successful for a club for more than a season, so Conte may have to start looking forward at how he can avoid predictability getting the better of this side.

Sam: I wasn’t surprised by this result at all. Burnley are very good at home, if their away form wasn’t so bad then they’d be thinking about European football, while Chelsea have been picking up points while not playing at their best. What a free kick it was by Robbie Brady. It’s so tricky to find a player who can get a free kick up and over the wall but away from the goalkeeper’s grasp so effortlessly. Burnley will stay up and Chelsea will win the league, so this game didn’t affect too much.

PSG 4-0 Barcelona

James: The Spanish papers said it themselves ‘This is not Barca!’. I’m not a huge fan of Guilleme Balague, but he said something really interesting about Barca’s struggles; he put the blame on Enrique, claiming that he’s taken the emphasis off the midfield, something Barca did expertly under Guardiola, and placed far too much responsibility on the MSN. Whilst this makes sense, as they’re so brilliant, it’s meant the roles of Iniesta and Busquets has severely diminished, and without the ball, they get over run and overpowered in midfield. Barcelona need new ideas, or at least to go back to their old model. I believe Pochetino could be the man to take them forward. With regards to PSG, I think this result may overhype how good they really are, but nevertheless they took on a Barca side that was there to be exploited and they did it brilliantly. I expect them to see it out in the 2nd leg but go out to a superior side in the next round, or next after that.

Sam: Barcelona really surprised me in this game. Both sides were polar opposites on the night. PSG packed the midfield with flair and team spirit, while the Catalans were so open you could cut through their midfield line like a knife through butter. Marco Verratti, Angel Di Maria and Adrien Rabiot were superb in this match, their work rates were unbelievable. It felt like Barcelona were waiting for Suarez or Messi to do something special and it never arrived. Messi and Iniesta were guilty of often giving the ball away cheaply in the middle of the park, and I thought I’d never say that. Even with the world’s best attack, I’d be surprised if Barcelona turned this one around, but stranger things have happened…

Swansea 2-0 Leicester

James: Leicester’s form is going from bad to worse, and whilst Ranieri, like Wenger, deserves to go out on his own terms, I think it’s looking very worrying for the Foxes. I think they’re one or two missing cogs away from regaining form again. If Mahrez and Vardy find even half their form of last season, then Leicester will be fine. Swansea however are looking like the Swansea of old! Paul Clement has stamped his authority on this team, and they’re playing with real confidence. Alfie Mawson looks like a good prospect for the future, of which Swansea have many! Jay Fulton and Oliver McBurnie are also youngsters Swansea will be looking to bring through, and mixed with the experience they have, this squad could continue to add many more years to their stay in the Prem.

Sam: Swansea have fallen into the ‘new manager syndrome cliché’ recently. The change of head coach has given them some new found belief as players are competing for places again and are putting in extra effort in the training ground. The question is if they can keep this up, they’re playing well but they’re not safe yet. Swansea’s turnaround in form is a worrying sign for Leicester, as not only the Swans but also Hull and Sunderland have been picking up important wins here and there, so they are in real danger of dropping into the bottom three. I genuinely believe the champions are capable of being relegated, especially if get through in the Champions League as they shouldn’t have too many other priorities other than trying to stay up. Will the Leicester fans take relegation in order to try and win the Champions League? It surely won’t happen, but it’s a conundrum that will test the opinions of even the most loyal Leicester fan.

Liverpool 2-0 Tottenham

James: Probably the most typical result of the week, bar Arsenal’s 5-1 defeat in Munich. Liverpool have been really poor all year but turn up in big games and Spurs have struggled in their own big games this year, especially away from home. I think both sides have a real fight to get into the top 4 and it’s these ‘6 pointers’ that will make all the difference if you ask me. Liverpool need to find consistency and the return of Sadio Mane should be the catalyst for it. More importantly though, if Sturridge gets firing again, this side can begin to climb the table again. Tottenham will be hoping for Europa League success, and FA Cup run and win, and a top 4 finish. If they achieve any of this, they will have had a great season. So, the chances are looking good for Tottenham, but you never know!

Sam: The return of Sadio Mane is a big boost for the Reds. He’s a man on a mission with something to prove after a dismal African Cup of Nations tournament. He’s a very direct striker, with great movement and has a special talent of creating goals out of nothing. Like in their game against Man City a few weeks ago, Spurs were guilty of being too casual at the back. Eric Dier was guilty for the second Liverpool goal; is the pressure getting to him a little bit? Liverpool are excellent in the big games, but next season they have to work on beating the smaller teams more consistently if they want to make a better attempt of a title challenge.