If the 0-0 draw at the Emirates last week is anything to go by, it seems likely that neither Arsenal nor Manchester United will be lifting the Premier League trophy come the middle of May.
Certainly United will not be retaining their title. The draw leaves them a staggering 15 points off leaders Chelsea, with David Moyes’ attention now persistently trying to secure Champions League football at Old Trafford next season. Again, however, this looks like a step too far for last season’s run-away champions.
The Gunners themselves are very much still in the title race however, lying in second place, just a point behind Jose Mourinho’s “little horse”, but this blunt and uninspiring performance, greeted with a loud chorus of boos by the Arsenal faithful, would lead many to suggest that Arsene Wenger’s side are still not quite ready to end a barren nine year drought for silverware this season. You would probably fancy the free-scoring Manchester City and the “chihuahuas” of Merseyside to stand a better chance of finishing top of the pile.
So, with it seeming unlikely that Arsenal will win the League, and with United definitely out of the running, the question to ask is this: will United win the League again before Arsenal?
Arsenal seem more likely to achieve that goal; they could still win it this season remember. However, the main worry for Arsenal would be their ability to win the big games, being able ‘to beat the teams around them’.
Since the 2005 FA Cup success, the last piece they won, their record against last year’s ‘Big 4’ is not great: they have won just four of 18 matches against United; four of 17 against Chelsea, and eight of 17 versus Manchester City. That’s 60 points from 52 matches against these sides, which may not seem overly awful; averaging just over a point a game. But consider that United picked up 32, Chelsea 31 and City 21 against Arsenal alone, before even considering their results against the remaining two. Also, in that time, they managed not a single win in any of the other 10 matches in European and Domestic competitions, including a Champions League semi-final defeat by United, and numerous FA Cup and League Cup losses.
Recently, this record has become worse; they have played 16 league games in the last three seasons (2011/12; 2012/13; 2013/14), and won just two games (H v City 2012 and A v Chelsea 2011). Overall, they have picked up 11 points out of a possible 48; United have picked up 13 against the Gunners in this same period.
So, as history so evidently illustrates, the chances of Arsenal picking up the results needed against these top sides seems unlikely. They still have to play against top four challengers in Spurs and Everton, as well as City and Chelsea (all within the space of three weeks in March/April), and if they win these games, they will more than likely win the title. But fail to win these, and indeed the chances of winning the title, and the possible mental scarring of continually failing to overcome the other challengers for the title makes the next game even harder to win.
Remember, Arsenal were seven points clear at the end of November – finishing anything but top would surely represent a failure after being at the top for so long. There is a sense that Arsenal will not get a better chance to win the league, and if they blow it, they might have to wait a while longer before they can add to their trophy cabinet.
As for United, where shall we begin?
This season has reinforced to us all that this United squad is one of the weakest seen in a very long time; Sir Alex Ferguson seems to have abandoned ship at the right time, with United sinking to the unknown realms of seventh in the Premier League table under the stewardship of new manager David Moyes. The former Everton boss has got to undertake a huge rebuilding process, by turfing out deadwood and bringing in players that will make United competitive again amongst the best in Europe.
This rebuild seems to already be taking shape, with captain Nemanja Vidic announcing that he is leaving the club at the end of the season, and all signs point to fellow centre-half Rio Ferdinand following him out of the exit door, whether to retirement or a last hurrah somewhere else. Arguably, these centre-backs are two of the best to have ever graced the Premier League, and although age may be getting the better of them, their presence and leadership on and off the field will no doubt be missed.
Moyes will then have a huge decision to make; are the current crop of young defenders, namely Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans, good enough to step-up to the mark and fill in the huge boots these two will leave? Only time will tell, but it is a decision Moyes needs to make decisively and commit to, especially with the United defence looking extremely leaky throughout this current campaign.
However, the United midfield seems to be where to main issue lies, which is rather worrying given the defensive situation aforementioned. In the front three of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and new signing Juan Mata, as well as the talented youngster Adnan Januzaj, United boast one of the strongest offensive units in the country. It’s who plays just behind these three though that is the big problem.
A world-class central-midfielder or two is needed to strengthen that United backbone, someone who is calm and composed on the ball, has an array of passing pedigree and is not afraid to get ‘stuck-in’ and do the dirty work. Paul Scholes and Roy Keane were notable Man United midfielders who carried out these duties to a world-class standard, hence the enormous success they had. They have been linked with Borussia Dortmund’s Ilkay Gundogan in the past year or so, someone who ticks all the boxes. Exactly the player United need.
Moyes needs to break the bank to get the man, or men, he needs if he wants to make a success of this job. He will get time, it is in Man United’s nature, but he knows he needs a strong and successful summer transfer window, especially given the shambles of last year’s.
As for which will win it again first, your guess is as good as mine.
Images courtesy of dailystar.co.uk and telegraph.co.uk