What an interesting weekend that was as far as the title race is concerned.
In addition to our game I was lucky enough to watch Chelsea against Fulham, Liverpool versus Southampton and the Manchester derby.
This feast of football left me with some very clear conclusions. Firstly, that most other teams – and their players and their fans – are humungous chuff-munchers. But then most of you knew that already.
Secondly – and more pertinently – I saw nothing to deflect me from the view that Arsenal can be serious title contenders this season.
Let’s start with the Manc derby, which pitted Arab oil money against institutionalized favouritism. In this case petro-dollars won out over patronage.
Man City, in fairness, looked good as they have done in their home games this season. The movement up front from Aguero and the Fat French Pitchwarmer in particular was first class. But away from home it’s been a different story for the Sky Blues, with defeat at Cardiff and a tame 0-0 draw with Stoke.
They will certainly be in the mix towards the end of the season – the strength of their squad almost guarantees it – but if they don’t find more consistency soon they could be playing catch-up come April.
Then there’s the Surrey half of Manchester. Frankly they were awful. Brave Sir Robin did not play (here’s hoping his “thigh injury” represents a bit of karmic payback) and the rest of the team was bereft of creativity. The only time Rooney looked up for a fight was when Kompany knocked off his alice band. Meanwhile watching Fellaini lumber around like a deranged totem pole made me feel very pleased he did not come to The Home of Football this summer. Give me the Flamster any day.
In United’s favour, they have a lot of players in and around the squad who have won the league and who have the habit of winning. That may be enough to keep them in the race, but I have my doubts.
They were poor champions last season (no-one in years to come will be talking about the great United team of 2012-13) and without Ferguson’s influence over the match officials they have lost an advantage which must have been worth 10 points a season. (Incidentally, Mark Halsey’s memoirs have revealed that many refs had way too close a relationship with Surralex – the sort of you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours relationships that would be deemed deeply unethical in most professions. There should be an inquiry but I’m not holding my breath).
The more I think about it the more I come to the conclusion that Ferguson retired last season because he did not think United would be serious contenders any more. Right now they are in danger of the sort of top six finish that David Moyes is very comfortable with.
And so to Liverpool. After their three-games-three-wins start I was reminding anyone who would listen that this is still Liverpool; that they have a prize prat for a manager and that the wheels will inevitably come off.
Two games and one point later for the Scousers, I see nothing to change my mind. Yes, they still have Suarez champing at the bit to come back – but they had him last season too and it wasn’t enough to get them into the top four.
In the West London derby the unfashionable dull team with lots of money beat the unfashionable dull team with less money. But Chelsea were a bit lucky to get the win and were unconvincing throughout.
On paper they have a creative midfield that’s almost a match for ours (in place of Ozil, Cazorla, Wilshere, Arteta. Ramsey, Rosicky read Mata, Oscar, Hazard, Willian, Lampard). But whereas our creative midfielders are playing for a manager who craves beauty and creativity the way a Spudder craves a top four finish, the Chav midfielders are under the yoke of someone who demands organization, discipline and defensive-mindedness above all else. Our square pegs are in square holes, Mourinho’s are in round holes.
I still think Chelsea will be serious title challengers, if for no other reason than Maureen has been so successful in all his jobs. But right now it looks like he has a set of players who don’t suit his style of football, so maybe it won’t be all plain sailing for the 10-year-old club
As for Arsenal, well, we put in a decent “seven out of ten” performance against Stoke. And before we get too carried away with our start to the season, someone in comments pointed out that in the equivalent five fixtures last season we took 15 points, so we’re actually three points down on last year.
But you get the feeling that something positive is brewing in N5. It started after the defeat to the Spudders last year and has gained momentum ever since. Adding a genuine superstar to the mix has given an extra psychological boost and has lifted the fans too.
Right now I don’t see any team that’s better than us, either in their current form or in the strength of their squad.
I deliberately haven’t mentioned our noisy neighbours because I did not see their game. It looked bang on for a 0-0 draw, but they snaffled a late winner – just like they did so often last year, courtesy of Ape Boy.
This time round they have no chimp, but they managed to get the result anyway. I think they will struggle to gel all their new players and I expect them to get beaten by the Chavs next weekend – but you never know: maybe this is the year when the two North London teams fight it out for the title. If so it would be tremendously exciting (not to mention nerve-wracking).
If I had to predict the end-of-season top five today it would be this:
What do you think?